I Shall Never Be

letting go of the celebrity standard for beauty

I know a lot about my body. I know its strengths and its graces, its quirks and defining traits. I know that I have strong legs and an elegant collarbone, pert breasts and dainty wrists, luxurious hair and an angular little nose. I know that I’ve got a lot going for me.

I also know that there are loads of things that I shall never be, and that many of them are considered beautiful, attractive, desirable, enviable even. Tall, flat-bellied, blemish-free, in possession of slender and toned arms. I’ll never be voluptuous like Halle Berry or delicate like January Jones. I’ll never be gamine like Michelle Williams or Amazonian like Charlize Theron.

We are encouraged to compare ourselves to celebrities, to strive for their appearance-related gold standard. We’re told to make ourselves resemble famous beauties as often as possible despite the fact that the average famous beauty has multiple employees tending her physique, complexion, and tresses. Staffers dedicated to making her look constantly amazing. I don’t know about you, but the number of employees on my payroll who spend their time making sure I’m tan, toned, and flawless is exactly zero. I mean, the cats do what they can, but they’ve had to take some pay cuts recently. ANYHOO, I was gazing at Sofia Vergara’s amazing figure the other day and two ideas finally slid into place.

  1. I’ll never look like that. And there are people in this world who would be more than happy with what I’ve got, physically speaking.
  2. I’ll never look like that. And acknowledging that fact is actually quite freeing.

I enjoy playing with my wardrobe, hair, and makeup to subtly alter my appearance. And I dress to elongate my legs and downplay my tum and rely on other subtle tricks for altering my perceived silhouette. But there’s a freedom in letting go of the idea that I could ever truly and naturally look like those revered beauties, that I could somehow force my physical self into their genetically different molds. And there’s a humility that comes with remembering that all of the perceived or assigned “flaws” that my own body has are utterly inconsequential in big picture context.

I’ll never look like a celebrity. Sofia Vergara’s body double I shall never be. Sounds elementary, I know, but it was a bit of a revelation to me. A revelation and a relief.

Image via glamour.com

  • tina

    Great post! So many young women do not realize that actresses work out hours every day and do have people who make sure that they look the way they do. Cracked.com posted a great article about this a while back.

  • http://www.afishcalledvanda.blogspot.com vanda

    What a great text you wrote!!! and so true! I tell this to myselfe many times, and indeed is quite freeing…but I am also very PROUD that after having 2 babies I look the way I do, and I do my Pilates lessons 3 times a week, and I do my photography classes, I work, I cook, I clean, I am a lover and wife and still look great!
    YES, we should be PROUD of ourselves for all this…of course in my dreams sometimes I dream of being…Gwyneth Paltrow!!!!

    Love, Vanda

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    So true. Focusing on others’ beauty just doesn’t create any happiness. My favorite Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

    • tina

      Great quote!!!

  • judy

    Great post Sally. I’m so glad you figured this out while still relatively young. Took me into my 60s to learn it. Such a waste of time and mental energy! I hope everyone reading will take your advice—even those who may be physically challenged. There are so many admirable qualities one can have that are not related to physical appearance. Keep on encouraging us, Sal.

  • Stephanie D.

    I don’t think I’m free yet. I just feel like I’ve got the short end of the stick in life. I was born into an obese family who didn’t care about looking good. I’m trying hard to counter that but a huge part of me is mad that I wasn’t one of the chose ones…I have hope for myself though! One day, Sal. One day and I will think better of myself compared to today. That’s why I come and read your words of wisdom.

    • Andi

      Don’t forget that plenty of women who are heavy do look good and feel good!

  • Ame

    I love this. I had a similar moment when I was pregnant recently – it was great to look at the colors and shapes in a fashion magazine, but there were absolutely no feelings of “should be like this/have this” anymore. I could just look at the pretty pictures with out any emotional fall out. (now I’m just too busy to pick up a mag to see if it stuck. hope it did though)

  • bubu

    Oh my goodness, I feel like I could have written this. I had a similar “aha” moment when I passed my 35-year mark — I was inescapably in my late 30s and saw the future road into the 40s and 50s. And I sort of had a “this is as good as it’s gonna get, physically speaking” epiphany. Not that I won’t keep exercising or taking care of myself or trying to look good, but I do think you hit your physical prime and after that cells slow down on regeneration, it’s harder to lose weight, hair will get thinner, etc etc. But for me, too, it was liberating rather than depressing. I realized I should just embrace myself as a I am now, focus and highlight my strengths, and accept with grace my shortcomings (literally, I’m 5’2″, and can only get shorter!). I also know enough women in their 50s and 60s and beyond who face more serious physical decline, who look back fondly to their 30s and wish they had appreciated what they had then, and I realized I should learn from them and appreciate it now. And the irony is, rather than making me depressed or giving up, it gave me the desire to take BETTER care of myself: eat well, exercise, dress and make-up flatteringly and so forth, so that I get the most out of what I’ve got now. Thanks for reminding me of all this, Sal, I’ve been in a funk of late and this post was very helpful for reminding me of all I’ve learned.

  • AB

    Thank you for this! I needed that type of reassurance this morning.

  • http://www.stylinstacy.com Stacy

    What a great post and reminder for everyone!

    I came to the same realization several months ago that I will never be those women. My rib cage is too big, and my shoulders are too broad to be one of those delicate ladies. I also like to eat good food and drink wine. I am not willing to go through total deprivation for their bodies.

    I have not been happy with my body lately, as I have gotten older. I had been working out consistently and the scale was not giving me any love. It DOES get so much harder to lose weight the older you get. I am going to be 39 next week. I have really noticed how much harder it is to just maintain. Add in the fact that the boobs are not as perky and the skin from having babies is quite saggy in the lower tummy…well, you just have to look at your blessings and what you do have. I definitely have a full head of hair that I get compliments on often, and I can still work my wardrobe to minimize my flaws.

  • L

    I’d like to add that you’ve never seen these celebrities in person; that also on their payroll is an agent that makes sure every photo published is scrubbed to perfection by a professional a la sharkpixel.com.

    No one. Not even those celebrities. Really. Looks. Like. That.

    It’s just not real, ladies!

  • Anne

    Your post today reminds me of a scene from the movie Notting Hill. Everyone is sitting around the table talking about who’s life if the hardest. The famous actress tells them all that she’s been on a diet since she was a teenager, had several painful plastic surgeries, and had no privacy or significant relationship. The all agree that she has is the worst.

    I don’t play the comparison game with celebrities or anyone else. Their is a saying in the Tri. and running communities. “Run your own race.” Don’t get so wrapped up in comparing your self with others that you lose sight of your own goals.

    • Anne

      Ick, perhaps I should compare my bad spelling to someone else. That , or no commenting until I’ve had my coffee.

  • poodletail

    And she’ll never look like me! Wonderful post, Sal.

  • http://journal.brokenclay.org/ Katja

    Awesome and empowering thought!

    (Wait! Halle Berry is voluptuous? Really?)

  • http://cutencomfy.wordpress.com Jasmine

    I think this was the perfect time for a post like this…right after the VS Fashion Show. I watched and followed along with the tweets as well. It was sad to see how many people were saying it lowered their self-esteem and that they must immediately go to the gym. We’re not all meant to be super skinny or voluptuous. Our individuality and little quirks is made makes us all beautiful! Thank you for this post!

  • MargeauxB

    I agree about having a lot going for you, but the more photos I see on this site, the more I scratch my head. Seriously–you’re not dressing to show off your strong points. I’m not body snarking, I’m serious. Have you ever had a professional (not a fashion blogger, not a girlfriend) wardrobe person dress you? Are there photos? What did you keep from that advice and what did you discard?

    • http://www.icyviolets.com anna

      WHOA

      • Sosia

        I’m going to stick up for Sal for a second and say, Margeaux, you don’t know what you are talking about. She has a nice waist and she highlights it. She has nice legs and she highlights them. She has said she wants to downplay her arms and her stomach and she does. You might not like certain items, but is just a matter of taste, isn’t it?

        And who do you think you are to suggest that she share with “you” information she may have received from a a personal consultation of her own? Would this be just so you can pick her apart for not following advice given to her?

        I’m pretty sure that you are really just a troll (if there is criticism in the comments, it’s usually yours). If that’s the case, I’m sorry I took the bait. But I really can’t believe you are serious with your question.

        • MargeauxB

          There’s nothing to “stick up” for. Sally thinks she’s dressing to show off her waist, but those cardigans and boxy jackets hide it more than they show off her curves. Also, 3/4 length sleeves do display wrists and forearms, but at the expense of the tiny waist–the eye goes to the lighest tone, and that’s skin, esp, if the sleeves and skirt are dark–thus, the waist area looks bigger. Her collarbones might be chisled, but the necklines she frequently wears don’t display that area–I’m guessing that she thinks she’s downplaying her shoulders. Frankly, broad shoulders are an asset, esp. if you’re trying to minimize hips (which Sally has written about before.)
          I’m not knocking Sally or her taste or color sense, but I don’t think that she’s getting the results that she thinks she is. Frankly, I’d like to see her take a 12-item wardrobe challenge and work with great pieces that really fit, than a bunch of thrifted stuff that sorta, kinda, almost works,

  • Molly

    I realized at some point in my early 20s that I was no longer wishing I had different body parts–you know, so-and-so’s breasts, so-and-so’s legs–because I was finally used to the ones I had. If one day I woke up with bigger breasts (mine are quite small) or longer legs (I’m 5′ 2″), it would feel so odd, having to haul that tissue around or see the whole world from several inches higher. I still feel better when my body is fit, but I’ve spent so long in this one that I no longer want anyone else’s.

  • Moira

    I have undertaken a fitness regiment this year and changed how I eat; I intend for those changes to be permanent. And my body has altered.But it hasn’t magically made my legs longer, my boobs perkier, my hair thicker, or my build willowy. I honestly think one reason I found this so hard when I was younger was that I’d lose a little weight, build a little strength, and then get discouraged because it hadn’t changed me into some ideal I had in my brain. Now I’m finally able to say, This is my healthiest self, and I want to celebrate it for what it is, not hate on it for what it isn’t. It’s the mental change I’d needed for a very long time.

  • http://viktoriasbookshelf.blogspot.com Viktoria

    I know this, too. It just hasn´t travelled all the way down my spine to my gut yet. Emotionally, I´m still disappointed every time I look at a photo of myself. But I´m getting there.

  • Stacy

    This was a great post. I often find myself looking at these famous ladies and focusing on the features that I want to change about myself. I realize that this is not healthy behavior and I am working on feeling better about myself. My solution is to just avoid looking at fashion magazines because I focus on the bodies and not the clothes. I feel that this is a productive first step.

  • http://www.icyviolets.com anna

    i especially love the part when you say there are others who would kill to look like you. i am not gorgeous, but there are so many others who don’t have what i have. ugh i hate for that to sound arrogant, because i’m not better than them. but i am lucky. my body works the way i want it to, it performs all the tasks i need it to do. my looks were sufficient to attract a life mate (more than looks, one hopes), etc etc. i’m just fine, and if i’m pining to death over not being waifish like keira knightley, then i’m just ungrateful.

  • Andi

    This is so true and something I thankfully adopted in my teens.
    What I would wish for is people not going out f the way to compare OTHERS to celebrities! “Oh my gosh, you are so pretty! You look like (insert celebrity)!!” Why can’t we just leave it at “You’re so beautiful!”

  • http://breebronsonsbabies.blogspot.com Bree Bronson

    I actually used to be very happy about my body, but after having kids my body confidence just…disappeared. Now I feel ashamed of it and think about surgery to restore at least some of my self esteem. I have no idea if it’s the right way to go but I feel I need to do something.

  • jennifer

    Love this. I think part of the reason I hate shopping so much is because in my mind’s eye, I’m supposed to look like a magazine cover…. realistically I know that’s never going to happen, but in the Twilight Zone that is the dressing room, reality is often lost.

  • tracy

    I absolutely love this post!

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  • Lina

    So very true, Sally, thanks for posting!

    Actually, one thing that helped me make peace with my body was dumping the magazines and reading fashion blogs like yours (written by real women, rather than anonymous Cosmopolitan/Glamour/Vogue staff members)

    :)

  • http://www.cometoyoursenses.ca Lynn

    Like Lina, I don’t read magazines anymore. This has helped quite a bit.
    Also, when my friends and I look back at photos of of ourselves when we were younger, we think “we were looking pretty good” but at the time felt horrible about and not at all great.
    A lot of it is mindset and that’s a really hard thing to change. But it’s possible.