I don’t need to lose 10 pounds. This statement is both foreign and freeing, as I have felt 10 pounds away from satisfaction since puberty. This is true for me despite consistently wearing a size 6. My size is socially acceptable but not ideal. It is a privilege that somehow felt short of “good enough.” Western beauty ideals condition us to worship the tall, thin, large breasted woman, with her tiny waist, curved hips, and thigh-gap. How ironic it is to carve space between one’s thighs in search of wholeness. We are so starved for acceptance we become blind to how much these ideals separate us from each other. It sets our minds to a default judgemental state and we continuously compare ourselves to other women. Not only do we evaluate worth by physical attributes, but we must also identify as straight, cisgender, white and rich to have power. These heteronormative, gender binary, racial and socioeconomic assumptions of superiority are embedded in our concept of the “ideal” woman. This is precisely why I highlight my privileged identities as a straight, white, cisgender woman. Although we are all exposed to similar messages of beauty standards, how I internalize and apply them is shaped by culture, access, and resources. My identities ultimately protect me from further rejection and discrimination. This is the safety of privilege.
For me owning my own privilege is necessary, especially when working to understand human behavior patterns that contribute to self-loathing, self-harm, and eating disorders. Impossible to achieve beauty ideals destroy self-esteem, yet they are created by people. What maintains the rigid standards that make a drive for thinness the norm? We can look to patriarchal ideology that oppresses women into subordinate positions, yet must also recognize the grossly underrepresented population of men who suffer with similar pressures to achieve a physical ideal. It is not surprising that we all suffer in this system that promotes perpetual dissatisfaction with oneself. I suppose if you feel “good enough” you wouldn’t need anything. This would not be good for the sociopolitical structures that maintain inequality and discrimination. We need to be unhappy with ourselves to keep the system in motion. A need translates to a purchase and we all know there are infinite things on sale. Like our self-worth, disguised as a waist-trainer.
I’ve often intellectually expressed challenges to social standards of beauty that I never actually felt emotionally. Over the last year I’ve noticed a shift in this pattern. My training as a therapist has also taught me the importance of gratitude and self-awareness, which I think makes me increasingly more attune to cultural shifts. This maybe why I’ve been drawn to the growing body-positive movement, and believe it is having a legitimate impact on how I see myself. Tess Holliday, is the first size 22 model in history and creator of #EffYourBeautyStandards, a national trend on social media. Celebrities like Mindy Kahling, Adele, Gabourey Sidibe, Amy Schumer, and Melissa McCarthy have all challenged societal standards of beauty through “unapologetic” expressions of self-acceptance. It is empowering to see women advocating for acceptance and diversity, especially on social media. Among the millions of ads trying to sell you happiness by highlighting your inadequacy, there are increasingly more messages reminding you of your worth in the present moment. That is, until you read the comments section.
Iskra Lawrence, a British plus-size model, made headlines after calling out a body-shamer on Instagram, @seanzbrown: “Fatcow. It’s only cus every F****r on this planet is obese that that’s the norm… Plus-size models? give me a F****g breaking.” In response, Lawrence brilliantly uploaded a video of herself wearing lingerie and eating chips in slow motion (https://www.instagram.com/p/BDqqDSVLk5-/).
What possesses people to spout hateful rhetoric about what is “beautiful” and “healthy?” These individuals likely believe in an objective truth. The “facts” they learn are never challenged because they think concretely. Everything is either black or white. If we were to concede that knowledge evolves, that nothing is permanent, that we exist in infinite shades of grey – we wouldn’t feel in control. Perhaps the drive to shame others serves to reinforce this false sense of security that we “know” things. It likely reaffirms a fragile sense of intelligence, power, and superiority. Rather than seeking to understand the nuances of experience, those who want to be right just look for confirming information and disregard everything else. Regardless, there is substantial support for body-positivism. Dr. Linda Bacon’s book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight presents solid scientific evidence that blows apart widely believed thin ideal myths that “fat kills” or “anyone can lose weight.” A stunning plus-size model with millions of followers has to be brought down because her very existence threatens an illusion – the idea that you know how to do things the right way which makes your futile path towards “perfect” seem purposeful rather than pointless.
Why do we continue to perpetuate the misguided idea that perfection is the final step to the mecca of happiness? Perfect is an illusion that we cling to like a desperate nomad chasing a mirage in a desert. We value the “rational” and “logical” functions of our minds that presumably lead us on a righteous path of achievement. If we spend our time counting calories, doing cardio, and judging other bodies, we won’t have to feel the pain of inadequacy. Oh wait, but it’s still there. Nothing you do actually makes you perfect. This is intolerable and infuriating. This is why body-shaming is a thing. People who feel inadequate find others who seem even further away from perfect. They don’t see them as whole people because that would require understanding a different experience. One that may not be awarded the same privileges as your own. Acknowledging this is painful because it exposes our own weaknesses. How threatening that is to our goal of perfection. Emotions get dragged in the streets of the empathy starved cities of our minds, run-down by the fear of vulnerability. Being vulnerable implies we are not perfect.
In every person who engages in body-shaming, there is deep-rooted anxiety about what their target represents. Their expression of self-love shatters the ideology of perfection, exposing weakness and lack of control in worshippers of beauty ideals. Shaming others is a power-play that serves to distract and avoid anxiety. We need to reinforce an ideology of imperfection by celebrating differences and honoring mistakes as opportunities for growth. All we need for a revolution is to be happy with ourselves in the present moment. The ultimate rebellion is realizing you are, and have always been, good-enough.