A number of years ago I was standing in a pub with a friend, having a girly chat and a laugh, when I felt someone tap me on my shoulder. I turned ‘round to be greeted by an extremely drunk lad, whom I would estimate was in his late teens to early twenties. He slurred, “You do have rather a large bottom don’t you?”, although a lot less coherently and certainly using cruder terminology. Not wishing to appear fazed, I coolly replied, “And you do have rather a small mind don’t you? But at least I can lose weight.” There are, of course, many snappy comebacks to impertinent comments and questions such as this, but that was the first one that I thought of at the time.
However, I was proud of my curves and had no desire to lose weight, in the same way that I have no wish to lose weight now. You don’t have to be a certain size, nor do you need to conform to a particular image to be a valid member of society. You don’t have to be a size 2 in order to have a wonderful personality, to be talented, productive, successful, to have a great sense of humour, to love, to be compassionate, affectionate and understanding, or to have any other quality that makes a person truly beautiful. Just as importantly, health experts agree that you can be healthy at any size and that it is fitness and not fatness that counts. Society insidiously sets the definition of beauty and the framework for acceptability, which seems to be a limited area of specific features, characteristics and proportions. This framework changes from year to year, from decade to decade and from century to century. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Rubenesque women were regarded as beautiful, in the 1920’s boyish figures were in vogue and in the 1950’s more curvy women, like Marilyn Monroe, were popular. In the 1960’s, top models Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton (“The Shrimp”) re-introduced the 1920’s super waif image to a more extreme level, an image that has been perpetuated on the catwalks ever since. It is also an image that has helped to breed insecurity and self-abuse by portraying the false but powerful message of, “if you want to be successful, you have to look undernourished.”
The comforting factor is that very few women actually look like the models spread across the glossies, because even the models themselves don’t really look like that. They have just spent hours in the makeup department having several layers of cement applied and the photographic results are enhanced and fine-tuned, with any imperfections dexterously airbrushed out before publication.
Many years ago, I remember watching a disturbing episode of the Twilight Zone entitled “The Eye Of The Beholder”, where a beautiful girl (at least what we would perceive to be beautiful) lived a world inhabited by people with pig-like faces. They were regarded as normal, whereas she was branded as “ugly” and a “freak”, which caused her to embark on a series of surgical operations to change her face so she would fit into their society. When the operations failed, she was banished to an outcast village to live with others of her kind.
The above story may seem extreme and yet many thousands of women and men go under the plastic surgeon’s knife each year in a quest to enhance their appearance in some way, by having pieces sliced out, stuffed in, sucked out, pumped up, pinned back and so forth. Many of them do this, I presume, to feel more valued by modern-day humanity and to seek approval from others. If any of these cosmetic surgery victims were the only surviving person on a desert island, would they still obsess over the way they looked?
The most wonderful aspect of the human race is that we come in all shapes, sizes and colours and we should therefore celebrate our individuality by making the most of the traits with which we were born. When someone attempts to redefine their image by resorting to drastic measures to emulate a celebrity, for example, they obviously have a problem that goes so much deeper than having a poor body image. Nobody can be Jennifer Lopez except Jennifer Lopez and nobody can be you except you. Be proud of the fact that you are unique and that there is nobody on earth quite like you.
Appearance is superficial. It is simply packaging that conceals the true you. As with gifts, people come in fancy wrapping that camouflages a dull interior, or plain wrapping that disguises a vibrant and exciting core. It is up to you to discard the packaging and reveal your true self to the world.
Self-acceptance can be difficult, but by accepting yourself you are more likely to be accepted by other people. If other people object to the way you look, then that is their problem, not yours and it all it demonstrates is how shallow they are. Besides, you know that you can change the way you look more quickly than they can change their narrow-minded attitude…
Written by Sonia Evans