Posts Tagged: beauty

This Week I Love …

eff your beauty standards

… Tess Holliday’s Instagram, Eff Your Beauty Standards.

So first, if you don’t know Tess, she’s a size 22 model with a major agency contract and a huge fanbase. As you can imagine, she is the target of a whole lotta body hate, and she does her best to take it in stride. And because Instagram is social, you’ll find some godawful comments on her Eff Your Beauty Standards feed, but the posts themselves are a marvelous mix of inspirational-but-not-sappy quotes, photos from fans of all sizes and ages, a general celebration of bodies, beauty, and humanity.

I highly recommend following Eff Your Beauty Standards.

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It’s Not About the Ad

Lovely reader Patty sent me this link a while back, and I hesitated to include it in any roundups because it gets into some diet-y, fitness-y, pushy stuff toward the end. In fact, I’d say if you struggle at all or are in recovery, skip it.

BUT. The first bit was pretty fab, and has stuck with me all this time. Particularly this passage:

Because if we’re honest, this isn’t a war on Photoshop, this isn’t a war on consumerism, and this isn’t a war on glossy magazine ads. Sure, mass media has a collective responsibility to be more honest with their portrayal and we, as consumers, have a collective responsibility to hold them accountable. BUT cultural “ideals” will always be plastered on billboards. That’s not going to change. Even in a non-Photoshopped world, we’re never going to look like supermodels. They’re, you know, super. The perfect storm of genetics and training and nutrition and lighting and makeup and spray tanning and 8 weeks of broccoli goes into one Armani ad.

It’s not about the ad.

This battlefront is waged within each and every one of us, individually. At the end of the day, at the end of the commercial, at the end of the magazine, nobody can make us feel inferior about our body without our permission. The best way to change the ecosystem is to change our own psychology. We have the fundamental, inalienable right to look at a Photoshopped god-like body and appreciate it while simultaneously cherishing our own body.

This perspective isn’t nearly as popular or widely discussed as the need for change in the system.

Now I understand that retouched photos create impossible beauty standards and believe that magazines and ad agencies should back WAY off it. I also understand that being able to look at a Photoshopped image and say, “She looks great. And damn, so do I!” is a worthy goal, but an incredibly difficult one for many of us. Myself included. But it’s the germ of the idea that I’m clinging to: That pushing for change within the advertising and fashion industries is important but slow, and that a quicker route to empowerment is to accept all bodies as good, to discard the figure-shape hierarchy, to explode the definition of beauty and include ourselves in it.

We live in an oppositional world where we’re trained to want – even demand – black or white, yes or no, this or that. There’s not enough “and” in our lives right now. When we look at photos of supposedly “perfect” women’s bodies and faces, many of us – again, myself included – often feel shameful, deflated, filled with failure. Because our brains are saying, “Since I can’t be that, I’ll never be beautiful.” What if we could look at photos of supposedly “perfect” women’s bodies and faces, acknowledge their loveliness, and NOT feel that rush of self-focused negativity? What if we could just note their appearances neutrally, realize they have nothing to do with us or our beauty or our worth, and move on? Easier said than done, not an excuse for rampant re-touching, but definitely worth pondering, I think.

How we feel about our bodies is linked to how we feel about other people’s bodies. But we might be able to weaken that link a bit if we remind ourselves that there’s no one right way to have a beautiful body, and that there’s beauty enough for all of us to go around.

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The Mirror

mirrors self image body image

I have a rather unhealthy relationship with mirrors. OK, having written that I now wonder if anyone goes around bragging about her super healthy, totally functional, fuzzy-wuzzy relationship with reflective surfaces. Doesn’t seem terribly likely. Nevertheless, I’ve realized that I can gauge how I’m feeling about my body through frequency of mirror use. And I’m wondering if my habits will sound familiar to any of you.

When I’m feeling deeply upset about or disappointed in my body, I avoid mirrors altogether. The negativity whirrs softly in the background of my daily activities, and confronting my own reflection just confirms my belief that my physical self is in desperate need of improvement. Unless I absolutely have to use a mirror – for a task like applying makeup or making sure my outfit proportions are acceptable – I just don’t look. The mirror becomes my bitter enemy.

When I’m feeling confident and fantastic about my body, I don’t completely shun mirrors but I also don’t spend ages studying myself in them. I don’t need to make sure I look a certain way or confirm my beauty, and even when I’m feeling my absolute best I can’t say I do loads of preening. I don’t actively look away from mirrors during these times, but I don’t actively seek them either.

When I’m feeling unsure about my body, now that’s when I use mirrors the most. My weight, hair, and skin fluctuate regularly, and when they’re in some sort of transition, I feel compelled to check on them regularly out of curiosity. And sometimes dismay. I want the mirror to show me these strange, appearance-altering shifts, and I want to meticulously track their progress.

Articulating these patterns makes me realize that the mirror doesn’t just reflect back an image of my physical self, it gives me a snapshot of my emotional state. I cannot remember a single time when I was dwelling in the depths of the body blues and a glimpse in the mirror made me feel better. Nor can I recall a time when I was riding high on my own power and joy and then brought low by my own reflection. The mirror shows me exactly what I want and expect to see, be it bad, good, or neutral. It’s revealing very little that I don’t already know.

Other things mirrors fail to show? How other people see me. Whenever people tell me I look like X celebrity or point out a person on the street that could be my twin, I’m always thunderstruck. When I ask my husband to describe me, he focuses on features and proportions I’ve never noticed. When I look in the mirror, I see only one person’s idea of how I look: My own. And I’m just the tiniest bit biased.

Mirrors also fail to show my accomplishments, how much I’m loved, my capacity for kindness, my intelligence. Mirrors will never reflect back my goals, my strengths, my talents, or my passions. Mirrors can never capture the depth and breadth of my relationships, my untapped potential, or the vast and precious reservoir of my memories. I may look in a mirror to see myself, but how much of myself is truly shown? How much can a mirror reveal, how much does it merely reflect, and how much does it miss entirely?

Mirrors are tools and most of us must use them daily. But they should never be relied upon to measure beauty, power, or worth.

Image courtesy Rian Lemmer

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