I try to stay out of the debate about women’s bodies. I think that the amount of time people spend talking about women’s bodies is damaging in and of itself. But I decided to post on this topic because in the past few weeks I have seen two things that I think actually have the potential to be valuable to the discussion, if you can call it that. I say “potential” because I don’t think that the images I’ve seen have necessarily been interpreted correctly.
There seem to be a majority of people (regardless of what they look like) who think that beauty is being skinny. Period. Skinny is a prerequisite for beauty. There are men who call women fat and ugly on comment boards online if they dare post a picture that does not conform to a twig-like figure. There are women who beat themselves up for being fat no matter what size they are. And I’m going to guess that 99% of women, or maybe even more, walk around ranking themselves against other women when it comes to size. I know I’ve done it, and I’ve heard women make specific comments about weight to other women. For example, I was pregnant with a few other women at the same time. We were all due within a month of each other. I absolutely did not look good during my pregnancy. I knew it. I was swollen from head to toe and looked like Two-Face because I had Bell’s Palsy. At one of the many baby showers, one friend shared with the group that our friend who was two weeks further along than I looked like she had swallowed a basketball and she only knew one other woman who looked like that when pregnant. (FYI… that other woman wasn’t me.) That “compliment” borne out of insecurity about her own body shape cut me. People could tell me I “looked great!” all they wanted, but rest assured, the woman who has to go buy a new pair of shoes because her feet are so swollen knows that she doesn’t “look great,” especially when it only takes a teeny step of logic to understand she’s being told she does not look like she swallowed a basketball.
In contrast to the majority who believe that skinny = beautiful, there’s a substantial minority that push the idea that everyone looks, “amazing.” You could be 300 pounds and these people want to tell you that you look amazing. You can walk out of the house in sweats you’ve been wearing for three days and greasy skin, and they will tell you that you look amazing. Let’s get real: people on their way to the Met Gala are more attractive than those of us in pajama pants and no make-up at Wal-Mart. It’s just a fact. Don’t mess with reality. When people lie and say you look amazing when you know you don’t, it hurts almost as much as when people say you look fat or ugly.
Both the majority view that skinny = beautiful, and the substantial minority view that everyone looks “UH-MAZING” are damaging. In fact, this whole focus on unrealistic ideals of beauty is damaging. The focus should be health. Research shows that health and weight are not perfectly correlated. But the fact that health and weight are not perfectly correlated does not mean we should entirely avoid the scale. Or that we should not have goals to fit back into our pre-pregnancy jeans. Or whatever. Make goals. Look good. Be confident. But in all of this, remember that realistic expectations build confidence. Remember Maria Kang and her “What’s Your Excuse” bit? Stories and pictures like that send a warped view of reality. Not everyone has the same type of body, and the absence of stretch marks and saggy skin does not make you beautiful nor healthy. Which is why two pictures that have been posted recently have brought me great comfort.
A woman named Kari posted a picture of her post-baby belly on Beauty Redefined. The caption says she’s a runner, and if she had her shirt down, I don’t think you’d ever know her belly looked the way it does. This picture did a lot for my confidence because it proved that there’s at least one other person out there who is running and working out who still carries the scars of childbirth. This picture made me feel like it’s okay to focus on how far and fast I can run and how much I can lift and bend instead of what my stomach looks like. Isn’t that the real goal? For me, it is.
The second picture has gone viral on Brooke, Not on a Diet. This woman has lost something like 170 pounds and she posted a picture of herself in a bikini. Comments ranged from “eww… gross” (and more insulting versions of that sentiment) to “you look amazing in a bikini!” I think we will come to better terms with the concept of beauty when we can say that objectively, oodles of excess skin are not beautiful in and of themselves (that person probably shouldn’t wear a bikini to the beach), but the weight loss that caused the excess skin was a good good move. And a person who has a flabby stomach can be beautiful (sometimes more beautiful than the person with a six pack).
My parents always told us we were beautiful. Always. And we were. Even when we were chubby teenagers, we were beautiful (and looking back at old pictures, I realize I wasn’t nearly as chubby as I felt then). My parents have also encouraged us in every physical endeavor. I hope that my husband and I are creating an environment in our home that places value on what our bodies can accomplish rather than whether or not they meet the physical ideals thrown at us from every direction. We can shower daily, brush our hair, eat right, exercise, and still not meet the world’s definition of beauty, but we need to meet our own definition of beauty. I think that can only happen when we understand reality. Reality is stretchmarks. Reality is meat on your bones. Reality is choosing between make-up and eating lunch some days. And I’m trying to be good with that.