[TRIGGER WARNING: eating disorders and vaginal cosmetic surgery]
I’ve been working out a lot lately and I’m proud of it. Unfortunately I still have a belly with which I have a strained hate-love relationship. Sometimes I love it because it’s kind of curvy and nice and makes me look real. Other times I really hate it and wish it would go away so that I can look like Britney Spears. I am not overweight (and there is nothing wrong with being overweight as long as you are healthy about it!) but somehow I am still subject of fat shaming. Some people often point out my belly (how is that even allowed?) and make me feel insecure about it.
Which leads me to ask – does any woman have privilege when it comes to their bodies?
When women have muffin tops they are told they are fat. When men have a little belly they are given a pass – women cannot have any fat on their bellies! Ever! They have to be flat and perfect. (Although someone pointed out to me that – at least in Rio de Janeiro – if you are a gay man beauty standards dictate flat bellies too).
Another problem is when women get told off for being too thin. Some people’s dispositions are like that and as long as there is no eating disorder involved it’s completely fine.
So, no, women don’t get a break either way.
So I want to claim my muffin top and love it (and if you’re a thin, healthy woman, claim your flat belly and love it!). I run, walk and do yoga so I am healthy and in no way sedentary. But the belly is still there and it irritates me at times but maybe it shouldn’t. I can’t be perfect and if I am honest with myself I don’t want to be.
Beyoncé’s video Pretty Hurts says it all (though some might argue that Bey is beautiful but let’s be real, she probably waxes her legs, works out like crazy, and I don’t know what else – and that’s painful) and when explaining the video she revealed that she herself is obsessed with having a flat stomach. And this is Beyoncé, someone who is in tip top shape right after having a kid. I especially like the line “Shine a light on whatever is worse” – which I think is something mostly done by women. Fat shaming is mostly done by women, women make each other feel bad. And it has to stop.
What other myths that are photoshopped into women’s bodies in magazine covers can we renounce and reclaim with our imperfections?
1. Crazy, impossible shiny straight hair
My hair is super curly, rebellious and frizzy. It took me so long to love it though. I even tried to straighten it permanently with hair relaxers. Sometimes I straighten it but just to mix it up. Also if you look at any advert for hair products you will see incredibly shiny hair, it’s so shiny I wonder how hair product companies are even allowed to use that much photoshop to publicize their products.
Me? I’m just whining though. I can only speak for myself here but I have noticed that black women also suffer because of this ridiculous beauty standard because their natural hair is considered unruly. Just last year a 12 year old black girl was almost expelled from her school for daring to own up to her gorgeous African American hair (Oh, also the school claimed this wasn’t racism so um, okay). Not cool. In the book Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie (BUY IT NOW / SPOILER ALERT), the main character, Ifemelu, is terrified of going to a job interview without relaxing her hair for fear of seeming unprofessional. She then straightens it but later owns up to it, freeing herself.
Once I was asked, after hopelessly trying to get rid of frizz, why people even cared about frizz. That’s a good point. Stop caring! Claim it. (if you have straight hair own it too though!)
Emma Thompson went on the Golden Globes stage barefoot, holding a Martini and her high Louboutins in her hand. She said: “This red? It’s my blood”. When receiving the envelope so she could read the winner she just threw her shoes behind her – and I cheered.
Emma, it is all of our bloods.
Those looked painful. I have tiny feet so high heels are an impossibility for me. I usually stick to kitten heels or plain flats. I’m owning up to my height, I don’t care if I am made fun of. When women do manage to wear high heels I am pretty impressed. Hey, it’s a feat!
Impressive, but doesn’t work for me personally. So I’m not going to sacrifice a night of good dancing trying.
3. Breasts and genitals
You GUYS! Come on. In 2013 there was a sharp rise in women seeking to make their hoo-has look like the ones they see in porn through cosmetic surgery. This is why girls need a talking to about sex and they need it desperately more than boys do: vaginas are not supposed to be the same. Different looking labias are fine! And so are big nipples, small, nipples, big boobs, small boobs, different sized boobs (everyone has them. My left is smaller than my right.)
Can I just say how painful I imagine vaginal cosmetic surgery is? It’s one of the most sensitive bits of the body.
If you are insecure about your vagina you should check out Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina project. McCartney took five years to make 400 molds of vaginas from all over the world and put them together to form a nine-meter long wall. If your reaction to this is “ew!” SHAME ON YOU.
The great thing about it is the diversity of vaginas. None of them are the same and there is no such thing as a perfect vagina.
McCartney said, about the project: “I realized that many women also suffer anxiety about their genitals and I was in a unique position to do something about that… If this sculpture helps just one woman decide not to proceed with unnecessary plastic surgery on their genitals then it will have succeeded.”
4. Thin upper arms
I’ve noticed my upper arms have become so thick. How does fat even go that way? How am I supposed to lose fat that’s on my arms? I don’t want to have toned, body builder arms! So how else?
5. Thigh gap
Get up from where you’re sitting right now and put your feet right next to each other. They have to touch. Are your thighs touching as well? Yes? Good.
If you are unfamiliar with thigh gap it basically means that you have to be thin enough so that your thighs don’t touch. This is dangerous because, like upper arms, thighs are so hard to keep thin. Thigh gaps have been famous for their appearances in #thinspo hashtags (short for thin inspiration) – the hashtag inspires and motivates people to lose weight and more often than not the people who use it bond over throwing up and starving themselves.
I think not having a thigh gap is pretty beautiful. I embraced my chubby thighs a long time ago. (But if you DO have a natural thigh gap and aren’t starving yourself to get one, yay! good for you :D)
6. Beauty standards = perfection myth
Actually, I don’t need to pick and choose what I will adhere to. It would be awesome if these standards didn’t exist, period.
“You will never get a man if you don’t lose weight/wear makeup/dress up/have a porn vagina” – this is complete bull crap. I know many, many women, on Twitter and real life, who haven’t lost weight, wore makeup, dressed up or changed their vaginas and they have meaningful relationships with men.
So maybe, to some people, beauty standards aren’t important. If only that was the majority of people.
The problem also stems from a necessity of perfection. If you’re not perfect you’re not good enough. But what if you’re happy with a body that doesn’t fit the standard? What if you own up to frizzy hair and say you’re proud?
@NicoleFroio Honestly, I want the term “beauty standards” to stop existing. Beauty is subjective and as such, shouldn’t be a standard.
— Paula (@paulannys) January 13, 2014
Edit: edited to add that thin women also get criticised when they are too thin as that also seems to imply an unhealthy lifestyle.