I have two teenage daughters. I try to see the world through their eyes, and it has made me a bit cranky.
I now notice the big photo displays in the windows of fashion and swimwear stores, presenting women who have stick legs and almost concave stomachs. I am hyper-aware of the flood of social media images of thin women wearing G-strings in sexy poses. An image that particularly annoyed me was a photo promoting ethical clothes worn by three extremely thin girls with bare stomachs. Body image pressure is now part of the eco-world. And then there was the photo of Nicole Kidman, accompanied by a caption stating how great her body was at 52. She was in her swimsuit and very thin. While she is beautiful, I felt a twinge of what younger women may feel, I am close to Nicole’s age. Is society telling me if I don’t look like her, then I am not beautiful?
When I fell pregnant with my first child, it was the first time I felt comfortable in my body, no matter what the size, I even wore bikinis for the first time in my life, proud of my huge belly bulging forward. When I hit 40, I put on a couple of kilos and haven’t been able to shake them off. This year, I injured my foot and I can’t even go for walks now and must rest a lot… more kilos creeping on. For the first time, in a long time, that photo of Nicole being presented as beautiful because she was very thin, got under my skin. What is the media expecting of us? And is this how young people feel all the time, constantly presented with underweight bodies as an ‘ideal’ form of beauty? To make things difficult, we have our genes, accidents and injuries, we can’t control our facial features, our body shape and perhaps, even our perception of ourselves. I have a large Roman nose and a strong jaw, muscular legs and thick calves, I’m a born athlete, I will never be petite. I now have greying hair, and a new ‘chin thing’ going on and an ankle injury, adding to my list of things that are taking me further away from Nicole’s photo, things that could make me feel bad about my appearance. Luckily, with age, has also come an acceptance of myself, that was missing in my pre-forty years.
But I worry about young people and the expectations of them, “THIS is beautiful. If you don’t look like THIS model, you are not beautiful”. And then girls try to match those models, and inadvertently, are putting an unspoken pressure on their peers who may not have the same body shape. And something that surprised me, was that quite a few men wanted me to speak about this topic, perhaps they feel an unfair pressure too.
And it’s so easy to put ourselves down. But our self-criticism may be contagious and make other people also feel inadequate. If we criticise our weight, or the size of our nose, then someone else might measure themselves against us and think they deserve to feel bad about themselves too. This is a huge life lesson for me, as I have always been very self-critical, to justify my imperfections with an, “I already know what you’re thinking,” attitude, so I will get in first with an insult about my appearance. This habit is something I am going to change about myself, so others don’t absorb the same compulsion to self-criticise and compare.
But to offer a counterargument, one of my daughters loves make-up, she will buy new sparkly things and practice applying it, just for the pleasure and beauty of it. She should be allowed to enjoy this wonderful part of growing into a young woman, without people like me making her feel guilty for it.
So, is there a middle a ground? Where people can feel free to explore fashion and beauty and bring out the best in themselves, while not putting undue pressure on themselves or others to feel they have to live up to a standard that it is unattainable for much of the time.
My conclusion is that, while we explore the best of ourselves, preening, posing, photographing, posting, maybe we can have another thought process too. “If I only show the best of myself, that may in fact, make other people feel bad about themselves and put an unrealistic expectation on myself.”
My goal is not to guilt anyone, but to put it on the table, that it might be healthy for everyone if we don’t just show our best, but also show our in-between and our worst. Show ourselves without make-up, with messy hair, with those extra kilos, a bit of cellulite, angles that aren’t our most flattering. And maybe spread the message that we are still beautiful, and we still love ourselves.
So, to start, here I am, I am imperfect, and I am beautiful. I would love to see photos being posted of you too, loving yourself for who you are now, and not waiting to attain to some impossible goal the media, our peers and we ourselves, might set up for us.
I am not perfect or beautiful because I am trying to look like someone else. I am perfect and beautiful, simply, for being me. Nicole is beautiful because she is Nicole. I am beautiful because I am Anita. That’s all we need, to be ourselves and love ourselves for who we are. And the more we love ourselves, the more we will be a magnet for love from others.
This is not a call out for reassurance. I don’t want to see positive comments about me, I want to see positive comments about you. Please tell me one or more things you love about yourself.