To be honest, stop telling me to love my body. I know I shouldn’t hate my body like I do. We shouldn’t hate our bodies like we do. But telling someone to just magically feel differently about it is unrealistic and frankly pretty damn irritating because it’s not just my fault. I know that there have been multiple articles, PSA videos, middle school seminars and other media dedicated to ending the social woes that celebrate grossly unrealistic physical appearances and ignore the other incredible attributes humans have. But, honestly, get over it; this is still a problem, and it still pisses me off.
First off, I want to make clear that I do not think of body image as solely a women’s issue. I know that men experience pressure with regard to their appearances, whether that be in the context of athletic performance, the wonderful world of dating or just society in general. However, as a woman, I cannot adequately speak for that, so I’m not going to pretend that I can. All I can do is try to deal with how society treats the human body in general.
We all know that models and celebrities act as unfair points of comparison for our facial features and physical fitness. For some reason, though, that doesn’t stop us from comparing ourselves and those around us to the images of these people anyway. I’m sorry, but how am I supposed to look like Scarlett Johansson when I got four hours of sleep last night because I was finishing my essay that I worked on meticulously for days? More importantly, why do I end up caring about the fact that I don’t, in fact, look like Scarlett Johansson more than the good grade I received on that essay? We should be celebrating the beautiful intellects around us, and this is particularly pertinent given the highly concentrated environment of academic flourishing that is Jewell. We should be celebrating the hugely impactful changes we could make in this shit-show society by reading and experimenting and learning about each other’s interiors more so than our exteriors.
I used to dance extensively, and I can tell you that the ballet world is vicious on your self-image. The things your body “should” be able to do are packed on top of how you look in those damn leotards and tights, which you see in what I still believe are funhouse distortion mirrors. Being small enough for men to carry you around a stage is a constant worry. Plenty of incredibly talented young women with whom I danced went through cycles of binging, purging and simply not eating to try to meet these crazy standards, and most of them ended up injured because of it.
I know that this is not an isolated issue with dance. I know that there are sports that require peak bodily performance, and sometimes being smaller is part of that. Because of this, eating disorders are ignored or even encouraged with reinforcements from those around the person. If you do better at your game or your best friend tells you that you look killer in those high-waisted jeans, you’re probably going to feel like whatever you’re doing is exactly what you should be doing.
There is also a tendency to focus on what your body looks like rather than what it can do. I have absolutely gorgeous friends who can run upwards of seven miles, glide across dance stages like angels, absolutely kick ass on baseball and football fields and climb mountains. Yet these magnificent humans are constantly displeased with where on their incredible bodies, which have these incredible abilities, is lacking in muscle and has more fat than they’d like and who they will be able to attract. I so, so wish this were not the case.
What I think, ultimately, is that the most powerful pathway of this perpetuation is the fact that those comparative tendencies I mentioned above have translated into comparisons with those around us. I know that I am guilty of looking at women’s bodies, hair and makeup and thinking about how much more like them I wish I looked. And then I immediately chastise the hell out of myself because I’m doing the same thing that my very prevalent feminist agenda is disgusted at the patriarchy for doing. I bet all of those women were creative, intelligent, passionate and interesting in addition to outwardly beautiful. It gets worse when you start comparing yourself to your dear friends. Unstated, but clearly present, competition can start so easily, leading to unnecessary lack of comfort in otherwise majestic and fruitful human relationships.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to celebrate people’s outward beauty. I will continue to tell someone when his or her ass looks killer, eyes are mesmerizing, hair is flawless or outfit is just cute as hell. What I’m saying is that this should be secondary to and not used in place of our celebrations of inner beauty and capability. And I know that us doing this is not going to end body image issues and turn our society into a magical bubble of Skittles and rainbows. I think, though, that starting small is at least doing something. And maybe one of these days when someone tells me to love my body, I’ll be able to say that I already do.