Well, here we are again.
Trying to get pretty. Trying and failing. Have we ever stopped to wonder why we’re always failing at the pursuit of pretty?
Perhaps it’s because pretty doesn’t exist.
Beauty, it’s a graspless thing. A thing as elusive as fairy tales.
The reason being, beauty truly is subjective. It’s not attainable because it’s not a thing you can be. It’s just a thing you sometimes are and sometimes are not, according to whose lens you’re being viewed through.
So then, who gets to decide what ideals beauty rests on?
Well, no one really and then again, everyone.
What I mean is that beauty ideals depend on whose voice is the most powerful at the time. Throughout history, as most things go, the people with money have decided what beauty and what health look like. Currently, the people with money are part of a $60 billion diet industry. I think we can see why that could be problematic.
I know you’ve heard this all before. It seems idealistic.
“We’re all beautiful in our own way” “Just love yourself.”
Though unrelatable and oversimplified, I can explain why this is the honest truth. I can explain why the pretty you’re trying to achieve is so fluid that it makes no sense to comply to the standard.
Our Idea of ‘Beauty’ vs. Historical ‘Beauty’
When we’re shown a ‘beautiful’ person, for the most part we’re shown
A) a woman
B) a thin woman
C) a thin white woman
For at least one of these things, this wasn’t always the case. Because of our lack of media literacy, many of us have been convinced that the beauty ideal for women has always been the same. In truth, however, it’s a myth brought to us through, well, brainwashing essentially.
When we see the word beautiful paired with the images of thin, white, ageless, women over and over, what else are we supposed to base our opinions of beauty on? From children’s books, to cartoons to history text books to Facebook to Instagram, what makes us think that we could resist the social conditioning that only these bodies are beautiful and only these bodies have ever been beautiful?
During the Renaissance and Baroque period (1600-1700’s) beautiful and fat were synonymous. Basically the more fat, the merrier. A painting of a beautiful woman during this time is one where her naked body is covered in rolls of fat and butt dimples.
The Correlation Between Health and Beauty
Health and beauty were of utmost importance throughout all historical periods, just as they are now. But our ideas of health have changed as have our ideas of beauty. During most of history, bodies of size were considered healthy because people of higher class were also the people with access to food. Thin women were considered unattractive because people of lower class did not have that same access to food. Wide hips and large breasts were considered healthy and therefore attractive because a woman who could carry children and feed them was a desirable woman.
Coming out of the industrial revolution, access to food spread across classes and there was no distinguishable body type among the classes. So, high class women became thin. This ideal body continued throughout the decades, only ever changing slightly. It wasn’t until the beauty ideal was set in place that the idea of thinness being linked with health was accepted.
Now, of course, middle class and wealthy, white women have access to nutritious food that poor women do not and so it is much easier for those with money to attempt these ideals.
This has always been about class and in turn race, not health.
We believe that thinness equates to health and beauty. Without thinness you are not only ugly but you have the guilt of laziness placed on you for your lack of health.
And well, honestly, this is complete shit. (Mom, imagine me saying ‘complete shit’ with a British accent and it will sound less offensive).
Diets as a Means to Beauty
Clean eating, paleo, gluten free, Jenny Craig.
You call us ugly to sell us things and we buy what you sell.
Basically the premise of any diet boils down to, we’ll bully you into hating yourselves enough to spend money on not being bullied anymore (all under the banner of health).
We end up hating ourselves enough to develop a completely disordered relationship with food. We create an obsession with food and what’s it’s doing to our body and how it’s doing it and why it’s doing it. It takes up our time, it takes up our energy, and it takes up our emotions.
Hasn’t anyone ever told you that guilt is a terrible motivator?
Well, it is.
Here’s the truth.
95% of people who lose weight on a diet, gain it back within 5 years.
Somehow, we blame people who fail the diet for being lazy, for lacking willpower.
This hatred and obsession we have for our bodies creates sick bodies and sick minds. These bodies become much less healthy than before the dieting cycle began. In fact, it is more difficult for a person on a diet to lose weight, than it is for a person who is not dieting to lose weight. Think about that.
If 95% of your students failed an exam would you blame the students or would you toss the exam?
If 95% of people died from a treatment, would you blame the bodies or stop the treatment?
This is insanity, people.
Here’s the thing, health is an industry. If we all loved our bodies and accepted health and beauty at every size and shape, the diet industry would fail and the diet industry doesn’t want to fail. They need you to hate your body. They need you not only to hate the way you look but they need to convince you that the way you look is actually killing you or will kill you.
And it’s all a lie.
Why Diets Don’t Work
In an interview for the Washington Herald, Traci Mann, a psychologist who has been studying eating habits, self control and dieting says ‘nobody has willpower. Everyone is blaming dieters for regaining weight they lose, and that’s just wrong — it’s not their fault they regain weight, and it’s not about willpower, or any lack thereof.’
She goes on to explain her reasoning here.
Another article here states that extra weight can actually protect your health
Who Told You, You Weren’t Pretty?
When we really get down to it, we’ve let an industry built on ‘making people pretty’ tell us what pretty is, but if we all thought we were pretty, that industry would die.
So, tell me why you think you aren’t pretty again?
Who told you, you weren’t pretty?
Was it the people who are marketing of off your supposed ugliness?
I realize that knowing these things won’t solve the relationships we have with food or our bodies.
We can know everything there is to know about the beauty myth and still hate our bodies sometimes.
That’s okay. In fact, it’s something that most, if not all of us can expect because of the way we’re conditioned to think of beauty.
I can’t speak for anyone else but myself in terms of what works for body acceptance but I can explain my journey to accepting my body.
Growing up, my fear of being considered fat or becoming fat was an obsession. The first time I noticed cellulite on my thighs, I smothered it in bio oil every night. As a teenager, I would obsessively work out in front of a mirror every night and then cry when the results weren’t what I had expected.
When I got pregnant with my son, I realized for the first time that I really had no control over the way my body was going to look and over the months as my belly grew, I just gave up.
That was the best thing I ever did for my body image. I stopped looking at fitspiration and thinspiration alike because for the first time in my life I actually understood that my life and my body no longer needed to serve this idea of beauty. I understood that even if I placed this immense importance on my physical appearance, what would be the point? Ultimately, my body chooses how it’s going to look. Not me. So why fight it?
Instead of making a goal to change my appearance or lose weight, or prevent wrinkles, why not make the goal a pursuit of acceptance. Why not focus on fighting beauty standards instead of moulding to them. It was this shift in focus that began curing me of my obsession with my body. Instead of being passionate about getting pretty, I got passionate about hating pretty. I spent all of the time I had previously spent on hating my body, on learning why I was taught to hate my body and how to stop hating it.
After Jack, I had a saggy belly where I once had a flat, muscularish stomach, I had stretch marks on my thighs and the sides of my butt.
And oh, there were days.
Days of body hatred and crying and giant sweatpants. I still have those days but they’ve become less and less over time. The more I separated myself from the goal of beauty, and the pictures of beauty and the workout videos and the diet talk, the more I accepted that my body was going to do what it needed to do, to get the work it needed to get done, done. It didn’t matter what size or shape it was. It would decide what it needed to look like. Not me. Eventually, I didn’t need Matt to say things like “Your stomach isn’t fat, you’re beautiful.” or “Your thighs don’t touch.” or “Your cellulite isn’t noticeable.”
Because my body IS and has all of those things. I’m thin but I still have cellulite. I’m thin but I still have stretch marks, saggy tits and a saggy belly and I can still be beautiful despite all of it. I can still look in the mirror, notice these things and realize that I’m conditioned to think they’re abnormal and unattractive but in truth they really aren’t. I’ve learned to keep a sense of humour about my body because the importance I’ve placed on the way it looks has started to disintegrate.
And sometimes we just need to have a good laugh at our saggy tits.
I realize that I’m privileged for being a thin, white woman. For the most part, especially when my clothes are on, I fit into the beauty ideal and I realize that this makes accepting the way I look fairly easy compared to women of size.
I know it’s not easy for everyone. I don’t face the looks or comments on my weight, justified through a “concern for my health”.
I don’t face daily shame for my size. If I did, I know for a fact that accepting my body would be much, much harder. Not because that type of body deserves less love and acceptance but because it’s been stereotyped so much more negatively than a thin body.
I think of those moments where the women I love, the intelligent, well spoken, sweet, strong women openly crumble when they notice their jeans no longer fit the same. The moment when that mother who just endured the pain of child birth, trades her elation at her newborn baby for humiliation when she looks in the mirror and doesn’t see the body she’s ‘supposed to have gotten back by now’.
Imagine having a conversation where you discussed how much you hate your thighs and instead of someone saying ‘why do you hate them? You’re so tiny.’ or ‘You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.’ (Once again perpetuating that thin is all you’re allowed to be.)
What if they asked you why you had those insecurities and listened? Then discussed why it’s not your fault that your views are skewed, that you have no reason to hate your body, ever and that the reason you feel this way isn’t based in truth but in unfounded fear.
Imagine a body with cellulite and big jiggly thighs and saggy tits and arm fat and stomach rolls being fine. Not ugly, not a project, nor a work in progress, not a depiction of your health, not a before picture. Just fine and normal and healthy and beautiful.
Because that’s the truth.