Dear valued, worthy individuals,
Let’s start with the obvious. I empathize with your struggle; I have more body image issues than literally anyone I know. I am here to tell you you are super. I bet you have killer hobbies like winning ping pong leagues or jamming out on a cello. I bet you’ve taken the leap and dyed your hair fluorescent pink or something spunky like that. I bet you have hundreds of people in your school, work, or following you on Instagram that envy how inspiring, cool, or brilliant you are, and you don’t even realize it.
What I’m not going to do is tell you that you’re beautiful.
I’m not going to tell you your body is perfect as is. I’m not going to say, “There’s someone out there that thinks your body is beautiful and wouldn’t change a thing.”
There are thousands of think pieces out there that bemoan the unattainable standard of beauty. True, it’s unattainable. It skews our social concept of what’s attractive. It messes with our minds. It aggravates our sense of self. People are arguing that models should represent the average woman. That advertisements should be less photoshopped or completely unaltered. All valid. I support those campaigns 100%. But what if I said that’s not the solution?
There are even more think pieces—and now songs (that I hate, but that’s beside the point)—that inspire us to find ourselves beautiful without that willowy model figure or flat waist. That motivate us to love our fuller hips or ample curves. That try to train us to exclaim, “World, this is my muffin top! And I don’t care what you think about it!” Totally fair. Totally legit. But what if I said that’s not the solution?
The fact that we as humans base our worth off our appearance at all is the problem.
What if we spent more time studying biochemistry and becoming chess experts than worrying about a “thigh gap?”
What if we spent more time analyzing gender roles in Shakespeare and learning how to code instead of “celebrating our curves?”
What if we read more? What if we took ballroom dance classes? What if we volunteered at soup kitchens and animal shelters? What if we tutored at elementary schools or libraries after school? What if we joined clubs that cultivated our leadership skills? our charisma? our love of life, learning, and relationships?
Our skills. Our abilities. Our personalities. Our grit. Our ambition. Our compassion.
“If the media is sending girls the message that their value lies in their bodies, this can only leave them feeling disempowered and distract them from making a difference and becoming leaders.” – Jennifer Siebel Newsom
What if people valued us on our ability to teach a student with a learning disability how to do long division without a calculator, rather than the symmetry of our eyes?
What if people valued us on our ability to listen, console, and lift up a friend in need, rather than the width of our hips?
What if people valued us on our ability to smack a softball out of the park with the bases loaded, rather than the size of our chest?
What if people valued us on our ability to host the perfect dinner party, pour mesmerizing latte art, capture incredible candid photos at your cousin’s wedding, or write a killer front-page news story, rather than the length of our legs? The curve of our nose? The color of our eyes? The circumference of our waist? The number on the scale?
Learn to cook. And then cook for others.
Run a 5K (or a 10K, or a marathon).
Find your strength. Harness it. Refine it. Bask in the results. Because you worked really freaking hard to get them.
Support the causes you believe in.
Or do something else. Those are just the things I care about. You may care about something else. So do it. Celebrate your brain, your heart, your personality. Be healthy, but don’t waste your time staring into a mirror.
Accepting your body is a great message. But accepting your body doesn’t mean trying to make it beautiful in the eyes of you or the world.
It means accepting that your body is a body that physically allows you to open the restaurant of your dreams. To save a patient by performing open-heart surgery. To become a world-class athlete. To become a loving and dedicated parent. To be the one to crack the code on how to support patients of mental illnesses.
“I think about my body as a tool to do the stuff I need to do, but not the be all and end all of my existence.” – Lena Dunham
Yes, Express should stop trying to convince us that people have legs that look like this.
Yep, we should celebrate all body types.
But most of all, we should stop wasting our time trying to meet arbitrary beauty standards.
In all honesty, I wear makeup every day. I love fashion. My idea of casual wear is a floral midi skirt with a frilly top. I don’t even own a pair of sweatpants.
Does this make my argument hypocritical? Maybe slightly. The truth is, I struggle just as much as everyone else to accept my own advice. I, too, want to “look good.”
But I would rather my boyfriend compliment my intelligence than my waistline. Or my self-taught coding skills than my long legs. Or something I wrote than the way my hair looks that day.
I’m not saying those compliments don’t feed my ego, but it means more to me to know someone thinks I’m intelligent. I worked for that. I studied. I read. I learned. I analyzed. I became intelligent. My intelligence could impact the world; my body can’t. It’s just there, helping me move from place to place. Helping me walk across the stage to accept my degrees.
So continue being awesome. Pursue your hobbies, interests, and career goals. Try and get accepted into that dream college. Be a leader, or support a leader if that’s more your style. Learn. Read. Surround yourself with people who support your ambition, not obsess over your appearance. Put down US Weekly and read Grist or One Green Planet or The New York Times instead.
I don’t care what you look like. I care about what you’ll contribute to this world. Your “goal weight” will not solve homelessness. Your ideal body shape will not invent the next powerful social media platform. Your cellulite will not prevent you from writing and producing the next summer blockbuster.
So what will your contribution be?
Lauren aka The Oatmeal Artist