With this project, I’m entering a very messy area in which everyone struggles; some of my favourite feminist outlets still can’t write articles about being fat or big without slamming someone thin. That’s not how it works. If someone discriminates against an actress for being ‘curvy’ or ‘plus size’, you can and should oppose this and say that a person’s weight has nothing to do with their ability or talent, because it doesn’t! But you cannot and should not oppose this by praising her for not being thin or for being different to all those other skinny models on the scene.
Although it encompasses it, body positivity does not just mean fat positivity. It means body positivity... for all bodies. Don’t judge or discriminate based on someone’s weight or skin colour or height or hair colour or cup size, and above all, do not pit women against each other. If you do, and you claim that you are body positive, then I feel I should let you know that actually, you are not. (Did I mention this was a messy area? I mean I’m barely scratching the surface, gang).
Let’s get into it. Personally, people I know have called me slim, and I probably am. I have also been called curvy, but I’m probably not. I’m not exactly big or small, and although I would like to be smaller in my waist and arms and thighs (look at those ideals go!), my weight is not really my biggest problem. My lovely friends would likely question why I am writing about bodies when I’m totally fine, but believe it or not, that’s also not how this works.
Most of the world is insecure in their looks, and you don’t have to be a genius at this point to know how much the media and advertising and outdated gendered (masculine and feminine) ideals have impacted that. So pretty much everyone I’ve ever met hates something about themselves and as terrible as that is, the one thing most likely to change that is the very knowledge that everyone is insecure and feels bad about their looks in one way or another. If we’re all in the same boat, there’s better odds at compassion and changing attitudes.
Me personally, I hate a lot of things about myself. In the first draft of this article, I listed out everything I hated and upon reading it back, I felt the most ungrateful I’ve ever felt and deleted it. It’s so hard to talk about because you’re often seen as just phishing for compliments or complaining and it’s practically common knowledge at this point that comparison is the devil.
It is near impossible to condemn a beauty ideal when people exist who present that beauty ideal and look the way you ‘should’. It’s a double edged competition between women (and truthfully, the rest of the world) to look better and to look worse; ‘She’s got better eyebrows so I need to improve mine’, opposed by ‘I look like shit’ and ‘No, I look worse, look at my eye bags’. It goes on, and it all sucks.
It’s no secret that low self confidence is key to the beauty industry; if we feel good about ourselves, we’re not going to buy things to ‘fix’ ourselves. What would they sell to me if I felt happy with the way I looked? So how do you feel better about yourself when magazines and an entire retail trade industry is willing you to think otherwise? Honestly, I don’t know. If I added up all the time I spent looking at my face in the mirror and closely examining my pores and spots and freckles in my lifetime, it would probably be enough time to have mastered a new skill or language. Just think, I’d be able to say more than ‘Hello, I have bread’ in German. Amazing.
I don’t think there is a secret. I don’t think it’s helpful to tell people that it’s a state of mind. When 1/4 of people in the UK suffer from poor mental health which is frequently linked to body dysmorphia and appetite problems and a general self loathing, how is it at all useful to tell people that happiness and self confidence is a state of mind? I like to think that I’m pretty blasé about my weight and appearance but of course I care, and now that I’m experiencing problems with my skin (shout-out to my stress eczema pals!), I really really care.
I saw a photo of myself the other day that I absolutely hated. I zoomed in on my face – naturally – and looked at my eyes and mouth and just zoomed back out and resolved not to look at the picture again because I hated it so much. ‘Is that really what I look like?’ I thought. I immediately thought about taking up exercise again to get rid of what is realistically a pretty small amount of fat. I considered never wearing that outfit ever again. It’s a natural photo where everyone looks genuinely happy but I absolutely hate it and I shouldn’t.
Earlier this year I started to suffer from very dry skin which turned into me trying every moisturiser and steroid cream and wash and soap you can feasibly buy. It started in March when it was freezing but I seem to have maintained it through my thoroughly poor handle on day to day stress. In April I stopped wearing makeup because washing my face hurt too much. I haven’t worn makeup in over 4 months and I sit at my desk rubbing a weird white cream into my hands every time I wash my hands and I have red marks on my hands that have only managed to make me cry in the work loos once – so take that, eczema! I’m getting patch tested in November and have yet another new product and new prescription to try in the meantime.
It’s all shit and there’s no other way of talking about it. It sucks. Let me tell you, getting stressed about a stress created illness not going away and then making it worse because you’re stressed… it ain’t fun. So I’m not one of the wonderful humans who actually feel wonderful in who they are look-wise. I wish I was and maybe I will be many years down the line, but for now I’m trying to navigate my body and make it work for me.
What can we do to make us appreciate how excellent it is to even have a body, despite anything we might consider to be ‘wrong with it’? Because comparison isn’t a consideration here. Really, it isn’t. None of this ‘I should be grateful I have legs that work and both my arms’ or some shit, because of course you should be but number one – people who don’t have those things are still valid and might even be more confident in their own body than you are(!) and number two – you need to be more than just grateful that you have a body that’s doing it’s best to look after you.
I know I can’t tell you all to just start forgetting everything you’ve ever been told by everyone because you’ll want to hit me. We do, however, need to start paying more attention to ourselves. It’s not selfish, it’s vital. Pay attention to who you are, and dress accordingly. This doesn’t mean don’t wear v-necks if you’re flat chested or crop tops if you’re bigger than a certain size, it means wear bright colours if you’re a bold and bright person, wear trousers if you hate skirts, cut your hair off if you hate it. All that ‘your body is a canvas’ may seem like rubbish but there’s truth to it. If you want to feel at home in your body, then turn your body into that home.
The key to it all is how you feel about it. If something makes you feel good and you like how you look then keep going. If you feel uncomfortable and you feel like you’re not representing yourself then try something else. I’m immensely open to people choosing things for me, because they have a less biased view of me. Some of my favourite items of clothing were gifts I had no part in choosing. Equally, talking to people really helps. 9/10 times I’ve told someone ‘my skin is really bad’ or ‘I look really tired’ or whatever stupid thing it is, they’ve said that they didn’t notice. They never notice. They aren’t trying to look for the bad in you.
Another thing you can do is to curate your social feeds. If you are following people promoting diet culture or who offer false confidence then maybe consider replacing them with more friends, body positive creators or a miniature dachshund account. That last one always works wonders for me. Your social media absolutely should not make you feel bad. You are in control of it and can make it feel like a safe and welcoming space for you when you need it.
For now that’s all I have for you. This is such a difficult topic to tip toe around because the way we’ve been socialised to see the world means we think things we don’t always realise are exclusionary or rude. Everyone matters and everyone’s body is just fine as it is. So stop thinking about everyone else for a minute, and look out for yourself. I’ll see you all back here for another Body Diaries entry in a month or so, but for now please enjoy the rest of September Sex Education Week and take care.
Words: Briony Brake
Images: Briony Brake
Written for September Sex Education Week 2018 on Anthem Online