A few days ago (may be more by the time I actually get this done) a blogger I like a lot posted a thing on Facebook about how she was dreading buying a swim suit and apparently people gave her a hard time about it because she's kind of skinny. I missed the giving-hard-time part because the comment went by on my feed and I didn't bat an eyelash. Lots of people are uncomfortable in swim suits. But then she commented again saying that she had learned her lesson and apparently all the struggles she's had with body image over the years do not qualify her (or allow her or something) to make comments about her body without people hating on her. I did read the comments after that, lots of which were supportive.
And it got me thinking. Somebody used the phrase "skinny shaming" and I get that because it's happened to me. Someone used the phrase "skinny privilege" and tossed out some stats about thinner people making more money and doing better in politics. I'm too lazy/tired to look them up right now, but I believe it. It bothered me. It's not right.
I wanted to talk about physical beauty. Not "sex appeal" but whatever elusive qualities in a physical body that lead us to enjoy looking at another person. I'm not talking about having a beautiful personality here. That's important. Extremely important. Probably more than physical beauty. It's just not what I'm talking about right now.
I wanted to tell people that they don't have to listen to lies about what their bodies have to look like to be beautiful. I wanted to be like Oprah when she gave away all those cars:
|Everybody gets a beautiful body!|
Society's definition of beautiful body's is too narrow. LOTS of bodies are beautiful. Lots of people are physically beautiful. All kinds of body parts are beautiful. Lets take legs, as an example. Long legs and short ones - hairy, smooth, with or without a thigh gap, bowed or straight, pale or dark, muscular or willowy, curvy or straight or showing signs of a lifetime of hard use. Yes, even legs with cellulite and varicose veins are beautiful.
But then I thought, maybe this is a little like all those participation trophies kids get these days. They show up and manage not to assault anyone, so they get a trophy. Does it really mean anything? Maybe not. You show up and have a body and I tell you it's beautiful. Does it really mean anything? Well....
If you just read this post then no. Me telling you that you have a beautiful body is not meaningful. Sorry. Beauty is about perception. It's subjective. It's personal. You are beautiful because someone looks at you and sees beauty. I cannot do that through my blog.
But as human beings we do it all the time. We look at people and find some of them beautiful. Way more, I think, and of a far greater variety than one would guess by looking at the magazines in the supermarket checkout line or the lineup of stars at a red carpet event. Lots of beautiful bodies are walking around in the world. Lots of people out there are appreciating them.
People are even telling us so. If someone tells you your beautiful, believe them. Well believe them if they are actually looking at you rather than writing a blog. They are the ultimate judge of what beauty is for them. If you are beautiful for them then it's true. If they tell you so my advice is to give it the benefit of the doubt that they are not just being nice or trying to make you feel better, but that they really mean it. Bask for a moment in the sunshine of that "you are beautiful" moment.
Wouldn't it be great if we created more of those moments for each other?
About the trophy thing, though. Being beautiful is not a competition. It feels good to be beautiful to someone, but it's not a prize you have to take from someone else. My husband finds me beautiful but if he sees another woman who is also beautiful that doesn't take away from his appreciation of me. Partly this is because beauty is not a limited resource - we're not carving up some beauty pie that may someday be consumed. Also this is because my physical beauty is not the only part of me that he finds attractive. If that's the only part of someone we know we really barely know them at all. Human beings are so much more than physical bodies. Our worth is determined by.... so much more.
Also, while we're opening up the definition of physical beauty lets not try to push people who have enjoyed society's approval for so long out of the circle. There's room for everyone. What do I mean by that? While I was thinking about the whole issue of body image I saw a link to an article about classical paintings that someone airbrushed. The paintings are of nude women from an era where soft, voluptuous bodies were "the thing." The airbrushing slimmed them down to make them fit into today's standards. Some of them are not very attractive - to me. I think this is either because the original paintings actually distorted the bodies somewhat and it shows up more when they are thinner or because the airbrushing isn't that good. The top one especially ends up looking like she has too many vertebra. She looks a little like a Great Dane person. But the bottom one works pretty well. Maybe this is a little creepy, but I would look kind of like that... if I gained ten or fifteen pounds.
Because I'm super skinny. If there's such a thing as too skinny I'm it. Not too skinny because I starve myself, but too skinny because society tells us that a woman should have some curves and I have precious few. Because now that I'm almost 40 it kind of irritates me that the clothes that fit me best are in the Juniors section. Mostly I find this irritating because I like my pants to have a zipper that's more than two inches long and a waist that's within shouting distance of my belly button. I digress.
The point is that some people, like my husband find me beautiful and that's good. But at the bottom of the article, under the painting that looks kind of like me, it says,
"Needless to say, something is definitely lost when the contours of the skin, and all the light and shadow that play on its surface, are cut away and toned to a plasticky finish. The startling GIFs show just how much our perception of beauty has changed over the past centuries, and as well as how extreme today's "norm" truly is. When it comes to beautiful bodies, we're siding with Botticelli every time."The authors are entitled to their opinion of which versions are more beautiful. But implying that thin people are strange and not to be considered beautiful doesn't help anyone.
Instead I think we should be looking at the people around us. Really seeing them and realizing that beautiful people are everywhere. It's probably in our DNA to find all kinds of people beautiful. And maybe we can enjoy the fact that other people find us beautiful too.
What do you think? Can we expand the definition of physical beauty? Can you accept that other people find you beautiful? Can we have a healthy, balanced view of the importance of physical beauty? Did I manage to say something that makes sense?