Beauty seems to be something we all crave. Females, especially, are told how pretty we are from birth and the importance of our physical attractiveness is instilled within us from a very young age. The health and beauty industry makes vast amounts of money from our insecurities, convincing us that if we try a particular treatment, buy a new dress or attempt the latest fad diet we will look better and therefore feel better.
A psychological concept called ‘The Halo Effect,’ a confirmation bias, explains how we correlate positive attributes with high levels of physical attractiveness and vice versa. On the surface we all know that this view is incorrect; it doesn’t stop us buying into it though. It’s no coincidence then that people cast in advertisement campaigns to sell products are usually ‘conventionally’ beautiful.
I’ve been paying attention to how body positivity is handled in mainstream media and have decided that it really isn’t for me. The obsession we have as a species to use beauty to validate women makes me uncomfortable. Is it because I hate my body and think we should all sink into a tumultuous pit of self loathing? Well, no actually, that would be incorrect.
The main issue I have with how women’s bodies and ideas on beauty are discussed in mainstream narratives can be split in to three distinct sections
1. Skinny vs Fat
When the idea that we should love our bodies gets propelled into the mainstream (think Meghan Trainor and Nicki Minaj for example) it is usually at the detriment of another body type. Both entertainers refer to skinny bitches like its thin people’s fault that Photoshop reigns supreme, that eating disorders are escalating and that our planet is being destroyed.
The phrase ‘real woman’ is used to divide women due to their size. Apparently Marilyn Monroe was a real woman, as is Beyonce solely based on their curvaceousness. I must have missed the memo stating that the size of your body represents how authentic you are. Is there a chart of realness? For every 10 lbs you gain, do you get to the next ‘real’ level? It’s completely dismissive to women who don’t fit the prescribed brief. What about the women who are naturally thin? Are they less of a woman because they fail to possess the attributes deemed fit? If this narrative is anything to go by then the answer is yes which is completely wrong. We’re all real women regardless of the numbers on the scales.
The various memes circulating the internet referring to thin body types as ‘bone’ or ‘twigs’ and glorifying ‘curves’ are also ridiculous. We are not animals and reducing ourselves to pieces of meat just further objectifies women which is counter productive to the cause. On the opposite side is the abuse ‘I’m a celebrity’ Brit and jungle absconder, Gemma Collins received earlier this week. ‘How dare she be on Television and be overweight.’ seemed to be the general consensus, a prime example of how a woman’s worth can be reduced to her size. The idealisation of slenderness is a deep rooted issue that needs readdressing but not by ostracising and insulting our sisters on either ends of the spectrum.
2. Validated by men
Throughout my life I’ve heard the lines ‘men like curves’ to provide support for my particular body type I’m 5’7 with an ample chest and and behind handed to me via the genetics lottery. These sorts of affirmations were always added as a side note, a throwaway comment to make me feel better when I busted out of my clothes but it always stuck with me.
As with ‘All About That Base’ and ‘Anaconda’ the lines that celebrate a particular body shape coincide with the lines about male preference. ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night’ basically states be who you are but also remember boys like you that way. The countless magazine articles on how men prefer women who wear less makeup is another example. These references to the male perspective present a conflicting and equally insulting message. Women are encouraged to feel good because men prefer their shape or naturalness and not solely because of their own self esteem or confidence. Self love and acceptance resides within, giving outside influences a back seat. Referring to how males view women to support a point on body acceptance contradicts the very message they are trying to convey making it fundamentally flawed.
3. Endorsed by capitalism
I’m really sceptical of body positivity movements meant to redefine beauty that are endorsed by organisations that sell you things. The Dove campaign, though positive, still has a main aim of shifting as much soap as possible. At the end of the day, if making their customers feel bad sold more product then that is what they would do. So, it becomes a false sentiment, loaded with saccharine taglines and enthusiastic marketing ploys. Now I’m not saying that a corporate brand cannot have a good ethos but when there’s copious amounts of money involved it all seems a little bit, well, fake.
All these things stem from one place; women’s validation. Why do we have to find beauty everywhere in order to be validated. To me, it seems an all consuming force that infiltrates on many levels . Women come in all colours, shapes and sizes. Beauty and femininity can be separate things. We don’t have to feel beautiful to feel like women.
I would love there to be a time when aesthetics and beauty aren’t the main focus. If we celebrate women for their personalities, their intelligence, their creativity and strength then we are promoting a culture that allows women to be themselves freely, that includes the parts deemed less attractive, inside and out.
It’s up to us to redefine our own ideas of womanhood. Take ourselves as full individuals and see that aesthetics are just one part of what makes us who we are, that it’s ok not to be beautiful. Body positivity can focus on aesthetics to the peril of other areas. If we truly want to be supportive of women’s development we have to embrace not just our bodies but our minds in a way that I believe current mainstream narratives are failing to do.