Ideals of Beauty

Fresca has told me countless times that I look like a Renaissance beauty. She sends me greeting cards and postcards featuring lush, sensuous paintings of such women, which I love. But I always look at them and sigh. If only I had lived back then, I would’ve been the ideal.

Beautiful bodies now are different from beautiful bodies then. Now, beautiful bodies belong to Jessica Alba and Angelina Jolie and Penelope Cruz. Theirs are not my ratios, dimensions, curves. I am big where they are small, puffy where they are flat. I can diet and exercise till the cows come home, but without major surgery I will never achieve the body shape of the current ideal. And it niggles, dammit. No matter how confident and comfortable I become with my own shape, I can’t keep from comparing myself to theirs. And I pale in comparison.

But I am biased. I’m me. I’m the harshest judge around, and far from objective. It’s possible that even if I DID have Penelope’s bod, I’d still wallow in dissatisfaction. So perhaps I should try to see myself as others see me. And since I, like most, discard the opinions of friends and family as lovingly biased, that mainly leaves the opposite sex.

The last time I struggled to get a date was when I was 15, and all the men I’ve ever been with have told me how gorgeous and sexy I am. I secretly believed they were just being kind. I figured they were settling for me, with my squish and my booblets and my thunderthighs. They must’ve been silently wishing I looked more like a movie star. Right?

Maybe not. A recent British survey which is not safe for you to look at at work because the landing page features nakedidity reports that while we chicks desperately want to be spindly, dudes generally prefer us non-spindly.

And, you know, surveys have bias. And this one is from a magazine I’ve never heard of, and mixed in some pretty leading questions with the science-y ones. And I don’t live in Britain, so maybe the results would be different if American men were polled. And it doesn’t mean that the world has shifted it’s paradigm.

BUT IT STILL GAVE ME PAUSE. For several reasons:

Could our desire to emulate the current body ideal be driven by competition with each other? It may be important to us to look and feel attractive enough to snag a mate, but is it actually MORE important to us to feel bodily superior to other women? Because if men like us curvy and we like ourselves straight, then we are either ignoring or discarding their signals. Forces besides heterosexual pairing are at play, subtly convincing us that size 8 is too big, b-cups are too small, and arm flab is Satan. And I dig that striving for fitness and beauty is not all about biology and procreation. But if we’re driving each other to anorexia out of senseless competition – and especially if we’re doing it under the guise of wanting to be beautiful “for ourselves” – then things will get a lot worse before they get better. Because we girls don’t give up easy, not when it comes to proving ourselves. It’ll take something big-and-drastic or slow-but-relentless to turn that tide.

When asked, “If you could change one part of your partner’s body, what would it be?” one of the men polled replied, “Slimmer thighs – but only because that would make her happier, and I want her to be happy.” A nice, direct reminder that happiness is the ultimate beautifier. It doesn’t even have to be happiness ABOUT YOUR BODY. Just the general kind will do. A thin woman with a great rack who brims with hate will never be seen as sexy or pretty or appealing. There is more to beauty than body.

Finally, maybe ideals are bunk. Maybe the reason that celebs are expected to have a certain body type is because a highly vocal minority demands it. Maybe – just as some people prefer pepperoni thin crust and some prefer stuffed spinach and some prefer a stromboli – some people prefer body types that vary from the ideal. Like ACTUALLY PREFER, not just accept or tolerate.

Excellent food for thought, yet challenging to embrace and believe. But hey, we’ve gotta have goals, right? And maybe those goals shouldn’t be to force our bodies toward a fraudulent ideal, but instead should be to welcome home the notion that beauty is a spectrum. That bodies come in multitudinous types because tastes come in equal number. That we’re already pretty, just as we are, right now.

Which means I can start enjoying my postcards from Fresca for what they are: Beautiful images of beautiful bodies. Just like mine.

P.S. God, I really want a stromboli right now. Who’s game?

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Already Prettypoll: Where Do You Draw the Matchy-Matchy Line?

My mom is gonna send me a seldom-used caramel-colored leather handbag of hers that I’ve been coveting. And as I was busily fantasizing about wearing my caramel-colored leather oxfords when I carry it, I thought about the boundaries of matchy-matchy.

And this morning, as I put on my brown sandals, red pants, brown v-neck top, and cherry quartz necklace, I thought about them again.

I definitely tend toward the matchy-matchy end of the spectrum. I mean, clearly. It supports my desire for an orderly universe, and is easy to fall back upon when I wake up and simply can’t be fussed to be fashionably creative. But have I crossed the line? Am I, once again, veering into old-ladydom?!?

Let’s find out with a little Already Prettypoll.
1. Do you wear black and brown together?
2. Yellow gold with silver?
3. Would you match a handbag to shoes?
4. Shoes to a top? Or dress?
5. Earrings to a necklace?
6. Earrings to a necklace AND bracelet?

As for me:
1. Yes, but only within the past 3 years.
2. No, but mostly because I don’t own (or like) any yellow gold.
3. Yes. See above.
4. Yes. And didn’t think twice about doing so until I saw this post from fellow Minnesotan FutureLint yesterday.
5. No. I’d want them to be complimentary (as in, both made from brushed metal, both featuring green stones, etc.) but not truly matching. Similar, but not congruent. I recently bought a necklace that came with matching earrings, and I CANNOT force myself to wear them together.
6. Not a chance. Even I have limits of matchy-matchydom.

OK, now you.

And feel free to weigh in on that burning question: “Has Sal Achieved Old Bat Status at 31?”

Image courtesy my girl Natalie Dee.

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