When I was 12 years old, me and my brother were playing in the park one day. I was on the swing and my brother was in the sandbox building castles with two other adorable eight-year- old kids. I kept swinging higher and higher. I felt free. Happy. Alive. I jumped of the swing, rolled over the grass and kept laughing the entire time. If an adult would behave like that, we would assume he were high on LSD. But when you’re just a kid, being wild and free is allowed, or better even, encouraged.
And then one of the eight-year-old boys shouted at my brother: “God, you’re sister looks like a whale!”
Looking back on that moment now, ten years later, I think it is safe to say that that particular moment and that particular insult changed me. I was on the brink of puberty and before that awful day in the park I was a carefree young spirit, not giving one shit about what people thought about me. The fact that people thought about me and my body didn’t even cross my mind. But that day in the park-which in my head still marks the end of my childhood and the beginning of puberty- changed all of that. From then on, I was insecure. I felt ashamed. Lost. Ugly.
Although the whale-comment came from a young kid- and, one could argue, should not be taken seriously- you simply cannot deny that the issue of beauty is hard-wired in our Western society. It forms our background, it molds our conversations and it shapes our self-images. Beauty is society’s ultimate bitch: brutally honest, disrespectful of imperfections, disregarding of differentiation and when you least expect it, it can slap you in the face with a perfectly manicured hand.
Beauty makes the world go round. Is that a sad thing? Absolutely yes. Can it be changed? Unfortunately not. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all judge people on the basis of their looks. It’s the first thing we notice when we meet someone. The colour of the eyes, the shape of the nose, the waistline, the cup size. We all like to say we prioritize personality over beauty – it is a myth used to soothe our conscience- but in reality it’s just a given fact that no one would ever turn around in the street to take a second look at someone because he or she looked intelligent, but because he or she had a beautiful face and/or nice butt. In a perfect world, inner beauty would triumph over outer appearance. In a perfect world, I would also live in a mansion next to a lake filled with white mocha latte and drive around in a pink mini cooper with wings, but we all know that’s not going to happen. We are biologically programmed to be attracted to beauty. We have eyes. It’s natural. We are drawn to symmetry and the hourglass shape. We all have had crushes on beautiful people we have never even talked to. When I heard Charlie Hunnam was being replaced by Jamie Dornan to play Christian Grey, I was over the moon with delight. Was that delight based on the fact that Jamie has better acting skills? Phah! Of course not! It was purely based on my attraction to Jamie’s gorgeous eyes and amazingly toned abs. Yours truly often serenades the beauty of many different actors on this particular blog. Does that make me shallow? Maybe. Does that make me human? Definitely.
I therefore believe we simply cannot blame “the media” for all of this. Yes, they use Photoshop. Yes, they portray super thin models. But the ladymags’ overuse of super thin models and Photoshop frankly says more about all our ridiculously high beauty standards than about the ethics those magazines apply. They create images of “perfect women” because we, the public, want to see them.
The real issue here is that our high beauty standards combined with the omnipresent image of beauty provided by advertisements and magazines, creates a “culture of appearances”. This culture is based on competition and leads to exclusion; leaving people insecure and vulnerable. Little eight-year-old boys and girls are taught that outer appearance are not just part of life, but that outer appearance is life. Looks mean everything and hence, we have developed a collective insecurity about it. We try to cheat ourselves into thinking that those men and women staring at you from large billboards beside the road don’t really exist, but the problem is that they do. I’ve met people like that –and yeah- it sucks to realize you’re not one of them, but demonizing the commercial industry won’t help you escape them.
The only thing we can try to do is find confidence in a pool of insecurities. We have to pledge, not just to ourselves but to the future generation of beauty-obsessed men and women, that beauty will no longer be a confined box where only the lucky few fit into, but a limitless concept where all kinds of unique beauty can roam free, without any doubts or insecurities.
Ever since the whale-comment I have struggled with this notion of beauty and my perceived lack thereof. If there is one word that could totally capture the spirit of the past ten years, it has got to be insecurity. Insecurity led me to believe I wasn’t good enough to go talk to that boy. Insecurity led me to believe that acne was far worse than world hunger or terrorist attacks. Insecurity led me to develop eating disorders.
I used to look in the mirror and all I could see were flaws. Until one day I got tired of worrying about what other people thought of me and my body. I got tired of hating myself. I didn’t want to be invisible anymore. I wanted to shine…
I am sure that, how personal and intimate my confessions may seem, this story is first and foremost a universal one. That is why it needs to be told. So that all the other boys and girls, men and women, who suffer from insecurities know that they are not alone. If even I eventually managed to accept my “imperfections”, real or perceived, so can you. Body and beauty acceptance starts with accepting that you might be fatter than others. Or thinner than others. Taller or smaller than others. That your nose might be bigger and your eyes might be more crooked than others. That your boobs might be smaller and your butt might be bigger than others. But that all of that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be proud of our body. If beauty is indeed the ultimate bitch, than diversity is the ultimate BFF: defending us through thick and thin (pun fully intended), supporting us in times of sorrow and pulling at that bitch’s hair when required.