Posts Categorized: body image

Smooth and Firm

(NOTE: Edited for clarity. Thanks for the feedback, commenters.)

woman-checking-cellulite

Years ago, I was a squeamish gym locker room user. I absolutely adore my gym specifically because it is a marvelous melting pot of ages, fitness levels, cultures, and body shapes and I’ve been going there for so long I feel like part of a big, happy, sweaty family. But my locker room hosts a surprisingly large number of folks who walk around really, really naked a whole lot of the time. They blow-dry naked and sit on the benches talking with their gal-pals naked and walk from the shower to the locker area proudly, unabashedly naked. As my friend Miller puts it, most gym-goers are “striders or hiders.” I’m a hider. Surrounded by striders.

But as soon as I realized how uncomfortable all this nudity made me, I began analyzing my discomfort. After all, I was preaching body love HARD around these parts, so if a healthy dose of nakedness was unsettling me that needed to be addressed. And now? I’m proud of my clan of locker room striders. Because, whether they know it or not, they’re doing a little bit of patriarchy-smashing every time they hold a happy, naked locker room chat on the benches.

Anyone who is aging, or who has cellulite, or who isn’t a body builder, or who happens to be a living, breathing human being is likely aware that our current beauty ideal focuses on smoothness and firmness. Any part of you that is wrinkled or saggy or pocked or jiggly is to be hidden and disguised at all costs. In fact, you may have noticed that many of the fat women who are lauded for their beauty are the ones who have smooth, firm skin and countless skinny celebrities get written up in the lovely tabloids for daring to show patches of cellulite while sunbathing. So some of the weight-related privileges that we take for granted are weirdly waived so long as smoothness and firmness are maintained. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, fat, skinny, tall, short, differently abled, or actively rebelling against social beauty norms. The Machine requires you to be smooth and firm. Now and forever.

But guess what? Cellulite is genetic and cannot be prevented. Aging is inevitable and natural and normal. Weight is variable and each body will distribute its mass in a different way. People come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations that involve smoothness, firmness, dimpledness, rough patches, folds, sagging, bulging muscles, rolls, taut planes, and just about every texture and surface you could possibly imagine. And then another dozen or so you might not be able to imagine on your own. Smooth and firm are NOT possible for all humans at all ages, stages, sizes, and configurations. Smooth and firm are NOT the standard of anything. Smooth and firm are NOT prerequisites for beauty, body pride, or inner peace. I am a hider myself because I’m not generally comfortably with my own nakedness, and definitely avert my eyes from others for modesty and privacy reasons first and foremost. But because The Machine is huge and pervasive and sickly, sadly effective at planting its messages in our subconscious minds, I realized that – at least in part – the non-smoothness and non-firmness of those naked locker roomers was causing me to avert my eyes. Me. Someone who should effing know better. And once I realized that, I stopped averting.

Which is not to say I stare. I do not openly ogle the women in my gym locker room because I don’t want to get a reputation for being a creeper. But I do make a point of letting their nakedness seep into my consciousness. Because they are varied and unashamed and amazingly, unspeakably beautiful in their natural diversity. Some of them are smooth and firm all over. Some of them are smooth and firm in places, and not in others. Some of them are not now and have never been smooth or firm. And they are all people and they all possess unique beauty and they do not need to be smooth or firm to be important.

Image via SheKnows. (Article full of bunk.)

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Why Caring About Your Appearance Is Valuable to Self-care

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There are plenty of people who still believe that style is a frivolous pursuit. Plenty more maintain that caring for and loving your body is a waste of energy and that it’s what’s inside that matters – intellect, creativity, emotions, personality. Here are the reasons I disagree with both:

In order to move through most peopled societies, we are required to wear clothing. Nudist colonies aside, we’ve all got to get dressed every day if we want to leave our homes for any reason. Of course, economics, geography, body shape and size, ability, and many other factors can limit available clothing choices. But with thrift and fast fashion, online shopping and expanded sizing options, most people have more options now than they did even five years ago. Many, many people have choices when they dress, and what they choose to wear reflects at least a small portion of their inner lives. And in my opinion, since we’ve got to get dressed anyway, we might as well do it expressively and in ways that feel good. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention.

As for the argument that working toward body love is a waste of energy, the related argument that loving your body amounts to vanity, and the idea that your exterior self is just a vessel for your superior, interior self? All I see there is imbalance. I’ve already acknowledged that how you look isn’t the most important thing about you. You can pore over nearly eight years of archives and you will NEVER find me making that claim. But thinking of your body as a brain-and-personality-holder strikes me as short-sighted. Consider this: Someone who focuses virtually all attention, care, and love on their body is generally considered to be vain. So why would focusing virtually all attention on your intellect, creativity, and personality be any less imbalanced? You’re not a zombie – a body that moves through life without a functioning brain. But you’re also not a brain in a jar – thinking and creating in the abstract alone. You have a body. As long as you are alive you will have a body. In fact, without your body, your intellect and creativity and personality wouldn’t exist. Pitting your mind against your body is like cooking up a personal civil war.

I’ve known I’m smart a hell of a lot longer then I’ve known I’m pretty. I spent a long time trying to hide my body with clothes and wishing that my body didn’t exist at all. But I feel a lot more balanced, serene, and complete now that I’ve accepted my body as an integral part of my identity, and chosen to utilize style to express my personality to the observing world. We are thinking beings with corporeal forms. You can’t have one without the other. So why not work toward respecting and accepting both?

Image courtesy Andrea Parrish-Geyer

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