by Ruby Martin
I’ve hit that pit again. It comes every couple of weeks.
“Why aren’t you hot yet?” teenage me screams awkwardly as I desperately try to ignore my reflection. I am, I insist as I try to admire myself in the mirror. However it is hard to shut her up.
If only you were a little thinner.
And you were a little less spotty.
And your teeth a little straighter.
Me aged 15 before I discovered grilled cheese sandwiches
Once, when I went to the orthodontist a couple of months after getting my braces off to tell him I was worried about my teeth moving back. He told me, in an attempt of reassurance, I “looked normal now.”
Is there a harsher insult you can bestow on a teenage girl?
Firstly, he did not say I looked nice but “normal”. Normal, firstly, suggests adequate but not overwhelming or amazing. What everyone wants to feel like, I’m sure.
Secondly the presence of the word “now” suggests that I did not look normal before. I was a weird looking freak before, perhaps. Part of me, regardless of how much I learn or improve will always want straight teeth, for fear that I will slowly revert to my old ways like a yokel toothed Cinderella. I will no longer be “normal”.
14 year old me knew what was up
One boyfriend tells me I’m not conventionally attractive, but I am attractive in an “unconventional way.” Whilst I get this is meant to be a compliment, just for once it would be nice to be conventional. To not have to work twice as hard to be considered loveable or in some cases, even worth your decency. For you fancying someone to be considered a compliment rather than a hilarious joke.
This stuff always comes back in my self-loathing periods. I find myself looking longingly at friends, strangers, women on the tube, constantly comparing myself and let me tell you guys, it’s exhausting. I can’t keep going like this. I’m 23 and according to bullshit surveys, I peaked five years ago. I even found a grey hair.
Despite this, the fact is my body is probably in the best shape it will be (without excessive effort) and it’s high time I enjoy it before one of my joints inevitably go out on me.
Something has to change.
A couple of years ago, an ex and I were wandering around a renaissance gallery. “You have a body just like hers.” he says, pointing to the reclining woman (nude, of course). Whilst it was initially difficult to take this as a compliment as many of this “women” were young men who posed for the artist and the artists essentially stuck boobs on, it stuck with me.
Taking my nude doppelganger as inspiration, I have formulated a five-pronged plan on how to love myself more.
For this plan to work, we need two approaches, the first being The Body.
- Boners come and go, but self-love is forever
Gazing up at the soft form in the painting above me and also in countless paintings, it is easy to see that all these women are objects of desire. Whilst you would have difficulty finding these sorts of bodies in magazines or adverts nowadays sold as “sexy”, these gals were pretty hot shit back in the day. Their forms were seen as luxurious, a decadence to be enjoyed by the viewer.
She is what the youth would describe as “thicc”
Cultural tastes on what is attractive and fashionable has been wildly varied over the centuries (just think of the boyish figures of the 20s vs the 50s hourglass silhouette) and going by history it is reasonable to deduce that someone at some point has, and will, fancy someone that looks like you.
“But Ruby, your self-worth shouldn’t be based on someone wanting to shag you!” I hear you cry, and I absolutely agree.
The point I am also trying to make is that what is sold and therefore perceived as attractive and unattractive is decided by a small group of people, based on a number of varying factors (but particularly on what will make you spend more money with each year) and will change no doubt again when there is a new taste.
It would be like basing your self-worth on someone wanting raspberry ice cream one day and chocolate the next. It just doesn’t work. You may as well try and be happy in the way you are, and find someone who likes your flavour.
2. You are a sculpture, bitch
Now, this is a personal thing I find, but photos of me are normally strong triggers of the self-hating spiral as it can shatter the image you have in your head and replace it with a distortion of you at your worse angles in bad lighting.
This is not to say all photos are bad but the thing to remember about good photos is that it is a precise formula of composition and lighting that makes it work, and you?
You are a sculpture.
Cheesy as it may be to say, the sculpture of David by Michelangelo is not the same in person as it is in photos. The stature, the texture, the majesty, it just can’t quite convey the same experience.
Photos can’t capture truly the side eye he is giving
Next time you look in the mirror, look at yourself at different angles and try to appreciate yourself in a way an artist looks at an object. Not only is it good to remind yourself after a particularly bad photo what you actually look like (I find the “photo me” changes how I imagine myself in my head and not in a good way) but seeing your features in a more objective way can be a nice way to appreciate what you have. Maybe it’s the square of your jaw, the curve of your hair, the bow of your lips.
A good way of thinking about this, if that is difficult, is think of someone you loved as a child and what you loved about them. For me, I remember distinctly loving my mum and a mole she had on her chin. I thought my mum was beautiful even though she didn’t look like anyone I saw on TV. I think we should try and extoll that love and kindness we had as children towards these people onto ourselves.
After all, it’s only by removing cultural and societal standards and looking objectively that we can appreciate ourselves for what we are.
Which leads me to my second approach: The Mind.
3. Positivity vs neutrality vs #iweigh – why not all?
The thing is, this advice will not work for everyone. Everyone’s bodies are wildly different and interesting, and it is inevitable that body positivity wouldn’t work for everyone.
The body positivity movement and “loving yourself” has been critiqued for many reasons.
Firstly, a criticism of body positivity is that perhaps we shouldn’t be focusing on how we look at all but instead what we do. This was one of the main points of Jameela Jamil’s recent #Iweigh campaign, which started following a social media post from the Kardashian’s declaring what they weigh, social media advertising of dietary products and her own personal experiences with an eating disorder. The idea was that people would post achievements in lieu of a number, as women in particular continue to be objectified in conjunction with brands who simultaneously push this stuff whilst embracing faux-empowerment for capitalist purposes.
Celebrate who you are as a person. Big or small, whether you achieve amazing things or are just a kind and loving person, that is arguably way more important than what you look like.
However, living and breathing in our bodies in the society we do means it can be difficult to ignore perceptions of our body entirely. A second major critique of body positivity is that has been co-opted by lighter-skinned slimmer feminists (which I have to admit I physically fall into that bracket) despite being originated by black women. This has lead to a rise in what is called the body neutrality movement, which aims for body and fat acceptance and is about what your body can do for you.
There are often arguments on the internet which is best, which is often good in pointing out flaws and help improve these movements as a whole. However, it is also polarising in the way internet debates often are and by picking one doesn’t mean you solve everything (one of the complaints over the body neutrality movement is that it can not be inclusive of those with disabilities, especially if their body limits them doing something.) The online debate makes you feel you have to choose sides and accept and defend it,even if you don’t agree with all of it.
This is not the case.
You have to find what works for you, and there is nothing wrong in personal tailoring different philosophies and ideologies to work for you, your mind and your body. Honestly, there is no quick fix. We can only hope that as a populus, we learn to employ a multi-faceted approach to how we deal with the issues of bodies and be able to include all walks of life.
But in the meantime, enjoy everything that makes you, you.
- Above all, be an ally
There was an exercise I used to do to stop myself judging strangers – after all, mean comments are always more about you than them – by finding something I liked. The idea was, by finding the positive in them, maybe I could find the positive in myself too. After a while, it manages to balance itself out so I longer judged people, and particularly women in a negative light. We need to consider where these small passing negative thoughts we have about others come from – we had to learn this attitudes from somewhere after all – and whether or not they can be challenged. For example, you may think fat people are unhealthy and therefore it is bad to “promote obesity” yet if you like or endorse the idea of a skinny women eating her body weight in junk food, you are not about “promoting health” either.
Something we have to remember is that just because you may sit in a more “acceptable category” of appearance does not mean you shouldn’t be advocating for your fellow larger, BME and disabled people. The more variety we accept, the more we can all accept ourselves and the ways our bodies can change and work. We live in polarising times where there is a continual pressure to get us to conform, even at the cost of young lives (eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder), and we can no longer afford the luxury of complacency.
I look into the mirror and I pause. It’s time to climb out of the pit. After all, I have shit to do.
Yes, I may not be thin, but I have great boobs and an even better butt.
Yes, I may have wonky teeth but I have a nice smile.
Yes, I have spotty skin, but I’m a good friend and a hard-working, nice and intelligent person.
In other words, I’m pretty hot shit and you know what?
So are you.
Listen to the episode of Made of Human with Desiree Burch, not only is she brilliant as always, but an illuminating perspective of what it means to be fat and black.