Yesterday, I invited people to share stories about what they love about themselves. This took place in my local high street – the event organised by the wonderful people at Southend Feminist Group (a particular shout out to Hayley and Fiona, and all the other group members involved. Me, I was just along for the ride.) The group had prepared hearts for people to write on; expressing what they valued about their body. The idea was to promote positive body images. The pictures scattered amongst my words show how passers-by participated.
And the words are my ponderings about the whole body image thing.
Folks love a gossip mag. They must do, because the things litter the shelves of your friendly neighbourhood newsagent like so much gaudy bunting. But the images of ‘beauty’ portrayed within the glitzy pages are troublesome. In part because of the obvious…
Girls! Arms ought to be thin enough to slip through a toilet roll tube and, with the legs, think ‘flamingo’ – knobbly kneed and devoid of obvious muscle = elegant. (Although, ideally, the colour of leg that’s desired is more ‘burnt umber’ than ‘shocking pink’). However, although one should be thin enough that the skeleton is visible, it’s vital to also sport melon-like breasts. It’s advisable to start your ‘surgery fund’ young – you’ll need plenty as you age!
Boys! Aim for 0% body fat. You don’t need to worry about periods stopping as the girls do, and if other organs stop functioning properly – well you won’t notice for several years, and in that time you’ll get to do plenty of posing. Muscles need to be fully defined, with veins about ready to explode. This look is best achieved by severe dehydration or, if you’re a natural wimp/too lazy for exercise; steroids.
And so forth.
And there’s also this; we are more than the skin we’re in. ‘Beauty is only skin deep’ has become an ignorable cliché. And I find sentiments like ‘she’s beautiful on the inside!’ trite. It’s insincere. Rather like how ‘he has a nice personality’ has become code for ‘he’s pig ugly, but I’m far too nice to say so.’
We need to value ourselves, and each other, for more than what we look like.
I like to look at other social animals and compare how they behave against how humans behave. Take dogs. Bob (not his real name) the bull terrier has constant skin problems. His fur falls out and he’s covered in sores and scabs. Bob certainly suffers discomfort, but remains as jolly as ever when frolicking with his mates in the park. There’s no discernible sign that the other dogs worry that Bob ‘looks a bit different’, nor do the other dogs appear to feel sorry for him, or talk to one another about ‘how brave‘ Bob is – being all happy and appearing in public despite looking the way he does. You get the idea. Even an apparently sympathetic response to someone whose appearance is striking – ooh she’s got that terrible wine stain birthmark thing, but she doesn’t let it stop her! She’s so brave…’ – still indicates that the value judgement centres around how the person looks.
Of course appearance matters – it helps us to recognise one another for one thing – it’s just that there’s so much more to us than appearance.
In my short time on this planet, I would like to be happy. I would like to have fun. I would like to explore wondrous places. I would like to write more, photograph more and have lots of intelligent conversations about fascinating stuff. I would like to make others smile and feel good about themselves. I would like to be of value to the world in which I live, and to the denizens that inhabit it. What I look like isn’t essential to achieving any of these aspirations. The things I need are determination, inspiration, compassion, certain skills and knowledge – that sort of thing. It would be hard to find the time to do all the things that make life great if I felt the need to fuss over my hair, nails and the size of my waist.
Good mental and physical wellbeing also helps one to have a fulfilling life. if I am to enjoy all the things I love, for as long as possible, then I need to look after myself. Keeping fit and healthy is a useful thing to do. But, I don’t exercise or eat healthy grub because I want to look a certain way, I do it because I want my body to last longer. My body is the vehicle that carries ‘me’ around (as to what ‘me’ is – that’s a whole nother philosophical conversation) and me is lots of things.
The me that I see in the mirror is changing as I age. It happens. The me that’s more than my reflection is also changing – she’s (hopefully) becoming a tad more worldly-wise and she’s also (hopefully) getting better at stuff like using a camera. Hopefully, she’s also growing in her belief that, although getting scrubbed up for a ‘do’ will always be jolly good fun, looking fabulous should be only that – a fun thing to do.
By all means keep wearing the lacey knickers that make you feel sexy and feminine (you too, fellas). Keep visiting the nail bar and your favourite hairdresser. Keep wearing whatever you love to wear – whether or not it’s in fashion. Do exercise that you genuinely enjoy, and sneak in some healthy food in between the cakes. But always remember; you are so much more than the skin you are in. And so is everyone else.