Real Beauty

This week, I’ve felt bad. I’ve felt gross for eating a little or too much, I’ve been stressed out with school, and I’ve felt too tired and weak to work out. Tonight, I sit all bundled up in my sweatpants and snuggie browsing the Internet and eating Chinese take-out. I’ve got a massive food baby, to which I write off as being a result of the snow (it’s cold, I deserve to eat all the chocolate I want!).

Last week, I also felt bad. I only ate when I was extremely hungry, I worked out almost every night, and I thought I looked smokin’. While I enjoyed my thin physique, I hated the fact that I was punishing myself. (“Can’t I have just one itty bitty piece of chocolate? No—I can’t lose weight with that attitude!”) I hated going to bed hungry for the small pleasure of thinking it would make me skinnier.

This inner struggle has messed with my mind for far too long. I can’t afford to watch my weight change dramatically and try to feel good for the wrong reasons. I share my problems with you, dear readers, because they are relevant to everything that keeps popping up in my life and in my daily conversations.

First, Dove has come out with a new viral beauty campaign. The ad, like their others, points out how women are faced with unrealistic expectations of beauty and exaggerated self-policing:

While I understand what Dove is trying to say, there are several flaws in their approach. First, beauty is attributed to be one of the most important qualities a woman has (or should have). Shouldn’t they say “Don’t hate yourself so much, there is so much more to life than this constricted definition of beauty!”? Second, this beauty is whitewashed. Why must beauty always be about whiteness? At the top of my head, the only famous model I know who has embraced her non-whiteness is Grace Jones. Third, Dove is owned by the same company (Unilever) as Axe, which we all know produces the most feminist ads out there.

Another recent run-in I’ve had with the concept of beauty comes with the documentary  Killing Us Softly 4. Jean Kilbourne’s film (and three preceding films from earlier decades, which I unfortunately have not had the time to watch yet) shows the commodification, sexualization, and objectification of women by the media. It’s disturbing to see how one’s body has become a tool for profit while simultaneously manipulating the minds of children into having distorted perceptions of the body. Whereas someone should strive to be healthy, people believe that they should just have a flat tummy at whatever cost.

When I look down at my belly, I see something completely different than my heavier friends. I am one of the many women who have grown up into thinking their bodies weren’t good enough. Up until high school, people would tell me I was too skinny or they wanted my figure. I wasn’t anorexic, yet I felt guilty for being so thin. When I got hips, I immediately thought I was fat. Despite the fact that I was perfectly healthy and I was simply becoming a woman, I was ashamed at my pear body shape. College certainly didn’t help this perception: I gained a few pounds from dorm food and stress, causing me to feel even more ashamed of myself.

It wasn’t until today when I saw something different. Last week when I worked out, I slowly increased the weight I was lifting. While I haven’t exercised in a few days, this morning I wanted to see how strong I had become. Before my shower, I looked in the mirror and flexed—my bicep felt so big!—and then looked at my entire body. Whatever I had gained back within the past couple days hung off my skin, and yet I was still strong. I felt like I was a little heavier, yet that weight had some muscle to it. Within those few seconds of observation, I actually felt empowered. My beauty isn’t reflective of how much I weigh or how much I hate myself through under- or overeating. If I’m healthy and feel healthy, nothing else really matters.

Being beautiful isn’t about how thin you are or how easily your blemishes can be photoshopped. It’s the culture we fail to associate with the women who take pride in themselves and know how to be healthy. Whether it’s eating mostly fruits and vegetables and being thin or lifting heavy weights and being bulky and muscular, beauty is too confined to an unachievable ideal. We must educate people about the standards the media thrusts upon us. I’m lucky to be so exposed to resources that prove the diversity of women’s bodies. We are asymmetrical, disproportional, colorful, and wonderful all at the same time. Who are we to be defined by an industry that doesn’t even know us?

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