On Worth, Body-Image, and Beauty

This is an old piece I wrote for a now-defunct blog but it is as true now as it was then and a good reminder to all of us. Our words and actions help shape our realities, so let’s shape them with as much kindness for ourselves and each other as possible.
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A very long time ago I made a decision that I would not indulge in negative body talk out loud with other women. I would not let it be a form of bonding, and I would not bear witness to its use for that purpose by others. A gentle but firm “hey, that’s not a very nice way to talk about your body” or even a “hey, I don’t do negative body talk” is surprisingly effective. And it miraculously cuts a tension in the room you weren’t even aware was there. It’s like all the women collectively breathe out. Whoosh.

And because of that decision I came to realize that I can’t have one standard for myself and my friends and another for celebrities and strangers. I can’t say that I deserve kindness while snarking on some other woman’s body for failing to live up to some impossible, made-up, oppressive standard (even if they are, as celebrities, a hell of a lot closer than I’ll ever get). And so I stopped. I stopped commenting to myself and others that so and so’s nose is weird, or so and so has gained a bunch of weight, or that actress x isn’t even hot so why are people fawning over her?

And the amazing thing is that when I stopped saying it I stopped thinking it. When I put body snarking and shaming off limits verbally it followed naturally that it was off limits internally—for self and for others. And here is where the real magic happened: when I stopped snarking, when I stopped looking for ways to attack other women for the ways I felt I was failing, for the things I was ashamed of, I started seeing how much beauty there is in the world that isn’t captured in mainstream conceptions of it.

I saw beauty in women who look nothing like the women on TV. I saw beauty in women who are curvy, in women who are fat, in women who are thin, I saw beauty in women whose disabilities and/or ethnicities and/or gender-nonconformity challenge the mainstream conception of beauty. And I started to see that beauty existed in women who looked just like me. And in women who looked nothing like me.

And when I noticed those bodies so similar to mine and the grace with which they can move, the beauty they can exhibit, I realized that mine too can do that. That my body, too, can be beautiful.

That doesn’t mean I always see beauty in my body. It doesn’t mean my body is always beautiful. But finding the beauty in my body was not just powerful, it felt intensely political. It felt radical. It felt like another small way in which I can stand up and say “I’m here. You can’t ignore me. I am here and I matter and I demand to be counted.”

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