We all have a body. And everybody’s body is different. This is a BRILLIANT thing. A truly wonderful thing. We are all different, which means we cannot be compared to each other. We are incomparable! Woohoooooo!
And yet…and yet! Somehow, we feel as though we should conform, as though we should fit in. Be a bit more this or that. Have a bit more hair or a bit less hair, be a bit darker or be a bit paler, smell a bit better, have more muscle or have less fat, be a bit taller, have longer eyelashes, fewer freckles…the list is endless.
Where does this desire to conform come from?
Why can’t we celebrate the brilliance of being different?
There are loads of sources of our bodily discontent, but here are two big factors that play off each other to devastating effect. They are that
- There’s massive commercial profit to be made from our insecurities.
Every culture regards some physical characteristics to be more beautiful than others. However, our capitalist culture has chipped away at the idea of beauty until only a narrow spectrum of acceptable characteristics remain. Essentially, we have to look young and slim, and have shiny/smooth teeth, hair, nails, and skin. And where we don’t meet these impossible criteria, there is a product and/or a service we can buy to help us become beautiful. Therefore, by narrowing the goalposts, our culture increases our insecurities and then sells us the solution. Very clever.
- We want to look and feel attractive.
It’s a natural desire which, I guess, is linked in some kind of biological/evolutionary instinct to find a mate and reproduce, and keep the human race afloat. But, in our consumerist culture, where we’re told that products, procedures and narrow beauty ideals will make us attractive, we forget that we have wit, charm, intelligence, and a whole raft of other greatness within ourselves … and that these are the qualities that make us attractive to others.
So how can we overcome this toxic combination of insecurity and consumerism.
Here are some hints and tips I find useful…
I am not my body. What?! That’s right. I am not my body. I am a human being with ideas, talents, interests and, I must say, a brilliant sense of humour. My body helps me interact with the world around me, but my body is not me. My body is shorter than average, but this doesn’t mean I have to have less fun, be less engaged, less confident or have less of an impact on the world. The size and shape of my body has no relation to what I can offer the world, because I am not my body. I am so much more.
My body is functional, not ornamental. My body is the interface between my self and the world. My arms help me carry and cuddle my children. My fingers help me play the flute. My legs and feet walk me everywhere. It makes no difference what size or shape they are. My body is not an ornament to be polished, decorated or upgraded. It is a functional tool which allows me to participate in the world.
I picture myself as an old lady looking back on myself and realising that whatever my current worry is, it just doesn’t matter in the broader scheme of things. It’s not going to be a concern of mine, when I’m 40, whether my legs were tanned enough to wear a bikini on the beach. Who actually cares? When I pit my body anxieties against the big picture I realise that none of them actually matter, so then I’m free to let them go and live my life uninhibited. I imagine that I’ll feel great sadness if I let my worries about how I look stop me from fully enjoying my life.
There is immense power in being unashamed. Being unashamed gives me power over bullies who want me to shrink away, power over judgemental people who expect me to change to please them, and power over the massive corporations that want me to spend my money in pursuit of looking and feeling better.
If you're interested in these ideas, here are some links to explore:
Marianne Williamson’s well-known passage is relevant time and time again:
The Illusionists: a film about the globalisation of beauty ideals:
Celeste Barber: an Austrailian comedian who hilariously mocks our understanding of beauty:
Body Positivity on Instagram:
Some wisdom from Pinterest: