Every woman has her own perception of beauty. But for many, they have the media's perception of what beauty is or what we're told beauty or perfection is. And it starts at a very young age. One web article that comes to mind, written by Lisa Bloom titled How to Talk to Little Girls, expresses that the media's impression is put upon girls at a young age. Even before the media can REACH them, when adults gush about how beautiful or gorgeous those bows and dresses are on them. One quote from the article: "In my book, , I reveal that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers." That's another post in and of itself.
A dear friend of mine, Chelsea, (who has expressed she does not wish to be anonymous) wrote a very touching, raw and truthful post about her struggles with body image, placed on her by the media. One of many victims to society's portrayal of beauty. I learned a thing or two about body image and about myself after reading her heartfelt words. (And I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry while reading them) She's smart, funny, so fun to be around and doesn't take any bull from anybody. She's an amazing mother, daughter, wife and friend.
I can go on for days on this subject, but her words say it all. Hence, why I have only written 2 paragraphs.
Chelsea, at 18, Senior picture
I am a woman. I am 22 years old. I have unruly, naturally brown hair that is subject to change from blonde to purple depending on my mood. My eyes are blue. My complexion is scarred from acne, and constantly reddened by slight rosacea. I am five-foot even and somewhere around 205 pounds—my scale is not accurate, that seems to be the average. My breasts are not the same as before I had children, and neither are my hips; both have been widened and the skin is not firm. Stretch marks line my hips and stomach, which is strong, but not firm. My thighs rub together when I walk and I am constantly on the hunt for a pair of jeans that won’t wear out there for the next few years. It’s a pipe dream. I have no pinky toenail on either of my feet.
When I was a child, I wasn’t small, except in height. I was bullied by my peers about my weight and acne, among many other factors, to the point that at ten years old, I told my mom I wanted to die. When I was in middle school and high school I struggled with my weight, eating disorders, miracle acne cures and ‘the swimsuit for all body types’. They never seemed to provide one to flatter my body type. I would spend hours in front of my bathroom mirror, praying for the strength to be better, to do better, to eat less and exercise more. I took my pocketknife to my skin. I strived to be perfect, like the models in magazines. Firm stomach, tiny waist, thin arms and thighs. Stop biting your nails. Makeup, makeup, makeup. Cover the imperfections. My entire high school experience was unhappy as I strived for an impossible goal. The worst part was I was too good at acting. Some of my friends noticed the little things. The big things stayed buried so deeply, I didn’t even realize I wanted someone to see them.
I was lucky. I never hurt myself physically so badly that I was hospitalized or anything. However, so many women aren’t lucky. They get in too deep and can’t get themselves out. This past July, Fiona Geraghty hanged herself in her parent’s home because she was bullied by her own classmates about her weight. She was bulimic. Prior to her death, she was sent for therapy. After only four therapeutic sessions, she was released back into the caustic environment that served to push her to suicide. The average length of an inpatient stay is 83 days. Even that, experts say, is often well below how long many girls need to stay, and is often dictated by money. Imagine that? Less than three months to undo months, sometimes years, of damage to self-esteem.
When I researched the information about Fiona, I was led to a website. In this heartbreaking article about this beautiful young girl who died as a direct cause to her feeling like nothing because of her body, I found fourteen links to articles where celebrities’ bodies were the main focus—how sexy and skinny and toned they looked; and I only went down as far as the article itself went—about a third of the way down the page. The links went on for much longer. What does that say about our true feelings on the subject? The truth is, it’s like putting a band-aid on when you’ve cut your finger off.
I have been with my husband for almost five years now. In that time, he has done everything he can to take away the timid, shy, insecure parts of me and teach me how to be strong and confident in not only my body but my actions. Now, I’m not saying that the right man can fix everything—that’s just bullshit, excuse my language. I was just lucky to find someone that could help me be strong enough to face my fears and be better for them. What’s that saying—you can lead the horse to water but you can’t make him drink. My husband convinced me to trade my Vogue and Women’s Health magazines for craft magazines to expand my creativity. He stood behind me in the mirror and showed me how instead of ugly scars that marred my stomach, my stretch marks were symbols of the strength I had inside of me to carry and give birth to our children, and how each one was beautiful. He complimented my strong thighs each time I carried a load of groceries up the 27-step-high staircase to our apartment. He held me close as he whispered how he loved my curves.
About a year after having my first son, I began to fall back into old habits. It lasted three months before I became pregnant again and my husband voiced his concerns about what he thought he may have been seeing. I vowed, never again. I threw myself into research, looking up ‘how to feel good about yourself’ and the like. Everything looked like those hand-outs you get in Health class about body image. Every body is beautiful, every body is unique and no one is better than anyone else for how they look. Once again, I have to call bullshit. Every girl in those classes rolls their eyes and continues to write notes to their friends about how their female P.E. coach looks like David Hasselhoff. I stayed stagnant on how I felt about myself for about a year. I didn’t like how I looked, but what could I do about it? I joined a gym; that lasted about a month before the insecurities of being in exercise gear and being ‘jiggly’ in front of fit, beautiful, tanned women got the better of me and I retreated with my tail between my legs. Then I ran across a book I’d had for ages, but never really opened, called The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. There I found Titian’s Venus with the Organ Player. A beautiful, detailed, romantic painting, featuring a woman who by today’s standards would be considered obese. I knew right then that I would make it my goal to look at myself as Titian looked at the women in his paintings.
From there, I discovered a young woman purely by chance, called Gabi Gregg; a big girl with a big attitude and an even bigger love of fashion. You may recognize her as the ‘fatkini girl’. She’s a size 18 who is proud to show her body and wears what she loves, even if modern-day etiquette claims that she isn’t allowed to. My biggest desire is to have her outlook on how I love my body.
I walked a long, hard road to get to where I am now. Every day I read a post on Facebook about so-and-so going on another diet, or hear my friend’s 12 year old daughter—12 years old!—say she’s fat as she simply grows from a child’s body to a young woman’s body, or see a commercial about how HCG—which is basically glorified anorexia—can get you that dream body. Our culture is so obsessed with how we look, we will give up our health to be what society says we should be. As women, we starve our bodies to look like prepubescent girls. We take in UV rays, we accept cancer into our bodies so that we can be tan. We spend thousands of dollars to let doctors take knives to our bodies to alter them in surgeries that could kill us. We cake makeup on our faces to look the ideal of perfect when in reality, every man I’ve asked hates it when women wear makeup. Can anyone tell what is wrong with this picture?
I ask everyone to please, please, consider what I’m writing here. I’m not saying makeup and hair dye and clothes and nail polish are bad. I myself love to play with funky-colored hair and eye-shadow. I love buying new clothes. But there is a severe difference between doing those things for fun, and doing them to play into the media’s hands. Don’t let yourself believe that your only worth is how you look. Don’t let yourself believe that you aren’t worth what she’s worth because she has ‘better’ breasts or a ‘better’ stomach. Don’t even let yourself think, ‘I wish I had her…’ fill in the blank. Don’t judge your value on society’s perception of beautiful. If you have glasses, so what? If you have crooked teeth and they function just fine, you don’t need braces. If you gain weight, then you gain weight. It’s not the end of the world. Every woman is beautiful exactly how she is. I want you to look up pictures online. Use the terms 'real women' and even 'big women' if you're a big girl. You think long and hard and decide which example you want to be.
Mothers, fathers, please. Teach your daughters that the real worth of a woman is the strength inside her to rise above what anyone says she is incapable of. Her worth is in her capabilities and her love, her compassion. Mothers, if you see a woman on TV, or in the store, or in a magazine don’t ever say ‘I wish I could look like her’. Girls look up to their mothers as the model of perfection inside and out. If you say something negative about your body, your daughter will think that something is wrong with hers. Don’t tell her she’s getting chubby or she needs to cover up a flaw or ‘you’re too big to wear that’. Instead of letting her read fashion magazines and the like, let her explore her individuality by encouraging her to do the things she loves—if she likes horses, get her books about them; if she has an interest in martial arts, let her check out a dojo. Never tell her she doesn’t have the patience or attention to do something she’s interested in. Give your daughter support and love above all else.
Thank you for reading my little rant. This is not everything I have to say on the subject, but all that I could think of in such a short time span. Please take what I have to say to heart. Check out the links. Look up pictures. Find your own role models, based on what they stand for. And above all else, never ever let someone else dictate how you should love yourself.