I’m all about the Body Positive movement. I love it; I think that women of all shapes and sizes should be able to feel equally beautiful and equally loveable, and I think this movement is particularly useful because I feel that most women of any size don’t feel beautiful or loved a lot of the time.
I’m fat. I’ve spent a lot of time being fat, and it’s safe to say that despite the fact that I am fantastically pretty, and don’t lack for potential suitors, there are times, a lot of times, when I don’t feel great about how I look. You know, the mornings when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see… or the afternoon when your friends want to take your picture and all you can think is, “ugh, no.” These feelings don’t represent reality: women of all sizes are fantastically sexy and wonderful, but they exist. It’s not just me, either… I know women who are bigger than I am, and I know women who are much smaller than I am, and I know women who are athletes, and every single one that I know at all well has expressed at one time or another a lack of confidence in how they look. These feelings are not isolated to fat women, or to women of a certain body type.
So there are these feelings that might not represent reality, but they exist. When they’re expressed, the almost automatic reaction from my peer group is to censor that moment of expression. My peers mean well. They understand that negative thoughts about oneself have power and can actually create more and more and more negative thoughts about oneself. They say things like, “we don’t tolerate negative self-talk,” or “you really shouldn’t talk about yourself that way,” or, ” don’t say things like that.” And I understand… ideally we would all understand just how fantastic we all are. But we are not ideal people and we’re not living in an ideal world… we’re human beings struggling along in the mud just like every other human being.
The point is, these feelings, despite the fact that they don’t represent reality, need an outlet. These feelings, these unrealistic feelings… well, it’s okay to express them. And I can’t speak for all women everywhere, but when I’m told not to say them, I feel on some level as though there’s one more thing that I’ve done wrong.
The thing is, it’s not really women’s fault that they feel like this about their bodies. I mean, yes, we are all at some point responsible for what we feel and how we react, but the fact of the matter is, we all exist within a culture that provides a thin, very white ideal that none of us can achieve. We have it drilled into our heads that being beautiful is how we’re going to attract a male, yes, even in this modern day, and even in this modern day, attracting a male is still the pinnacle of our dreams even from a young age. Even the series “Sex and the City,” recent as that was, took moderately interesting female lead characters and then documented mostly just how they interacted with the men in their lives.
We labor under a thousand daily failures… especially for those of us who are heavy, each bite of food and each moment of sitting down becomes an opportunity for criticism. Even for those who aren’t perpetually trying to watch their weight, there’s the occasional wrinkled blouse, the slightly imperfect makeup, and the hair that just won’t behave. There’s the nose that’s too narrow or too wide or too long, the eyebrows that need to be plucked, the circles under our eyes. It can get to the point where we are critical of even the invisible texture of our skin; because the images of female beauty that we are presented with are airbrushed and smoothed over until the skin appears to have no texture at all. There are times when I’m examining my face in the mirror, and I have to remind myself that nobody will see or care about whatever tiny flaw I’m examining.
So we’re set up with this cultural narrative that says “you must be beautiful,” and also, “you’ll never be beautiful,” all in the same breath, and this conflict isn’t even our fault! I’m the last person to want to set women up to think of themselves as victims, but how could anyone expect women in general to have a positive view of the way that they look under these conditions? Especially considering that women traditionally have little to no value to society outside of how they look, and later in life, how good of a caretaker they are. Feeling positive about our appearances is a daily, hourly effort, and sometimes we are less successful in these efforts. Then we express dissatisfaction with our own ability to make this work, and we receive negative responses. These negative responses to our expressions of feelings of dissatisfaction don’t make the feelings go away… so we just keep having these feelings and then have to decide whether to stop expressing them or to continue and deal with the negative feedback that they engender.
Well, I’m here to say that it’s not your fault if you feel bad about the way you look, and I’m here to say that it’s okay for you to express these things. I feel that way too, and sometimes I need to express it also. It’s not your fault that you feel that way; it’s not a personal failing of yours, but I want you to know that I think you’re pretty great, and tomorrow is probably going to be a better day.