My mind, my thoughts, my words

Why do we torture ourselves?

Women are notoriously more critical about their appearance. We are objectified in the media, try to live up to unachievable beauty ideals, and all this results in is dissatisfaction. But being unhappy with the way you look is just, well, stupid. 
(Men, you’re more welcome to read this too, might give you a good insight into the world of female problems to understand them better and maybe give you an idea how you could perhaps help in some ways)

It doesn’t make any sense.
Every person is different. Some have short legs, some have long ones, some have a tendency to put on weight, others have no curves. The definition of beauty has changed dramatically over the years and is still changing and probably always will. And while it has an evolutionary reason for us to judge people’s attractiveness (we find symmetry and other aspects that hint towards health or ‘good genes’ and increase offspring fitness attractive (e.g. Scheib, Gangstead, & Thornhill, 1999)), we are all the same, we are all humans that have the right to be respected, to be loved, and to grow, and our appearance should not hinder us from enjoying life. You look the way you look, that’s nature, you can’t change your genetics. And unless you want to spend lots of money on plastic surgery (would you seriously consider botox-flat skin and ball-round boobs pretty?) you will have to learn to accept your body, every day, with every change it goes through. I know, simply put but often not that easy in reality…

It drives you crazy.
You don’t have a flat stomach. You don’t have super long legs. Your boobs are a bit saggy in your opinion. Your butt is not perfectly round. You have cellulite… Whatever it is, for some reason you think it’s wrong. Maybe it bothers you because you want to attract a mate and you want to be more attractive than potential ‘rivals’, or you just want to be attractive to your partner, or you don’t have an explanation for the way you feel about yourself. You probably know it’s silly. You know that’s the way it is, it’s nature, you can’t do much about it. Yet, it keeps occupying you.  There are days when you feel fine, and then there are days when you’d like to smash every single mirror you come across and you’re jealous of every single pretty woman you see. And you know that’s ridiculous, childish, and unreasonable. Especially because…

It affects you negatively.
Women are unhappy with their legs, noses, butts, arms, tummies… the list goes on. Why? Some appearances signal aging (e.g. flabby arms occur more frequently in older women), and obviously society’s norms of what is currently considered beautiful. Constantly feeling like you’re not beautiful because you don’t look like the photoshopped girl on a magazine is very unhealthy. I’m speaking from own experience! I don’t really care how others see me (well maybe occasionally my boyfriend when I don’t feel great about myself), but I care how I see myself. Often I’m fine and accepting and feel okay about the way I look. Sometimes though I compare myself to myself in the past which is silly because obviously we constantly change. You can’t mourn your baby skin, your spaghetti-legs when you were in primary school, your ability to eat anything when you were a kid, etc. You grow up! This can present a big problem for adolescent girls. If they’re mostly surrounded (internet, magazines, movies…) by women who look more like children than women and who convey the impression that this is what they desire and what is desirable, ‘putting on weight’ as nature intended can be scary! No wonder that so many young girls develop eating disorders (note that not all eating disorders are down to society, there are various other things (particularly problems in the family) that can give rise to eating problems).
The point here is that unhappiness with the way you look does not do you any good. It can make you feel self-conscious and inadequate, it can make you develop eating disorders, etc. All that despite the fact that…

Beauty standards are unrealistic and meaningless
I would say that 99% of the images that are thrown at us are photoshopped (Boggie showing the process in videosvideo showing real life and photoshopped images). No one is (visually) perfect, not even those who get surgical makeovers – because there remains subjectivity to the perception of beauty and ‘ideals’ change. This makes perfection time-dependent, observer-dependent, unreal, and not achievable. Plus, we know that judging someone on their appearance is superficial! It is actually incredible how a person that you initially find unattractive can become attractive to you once you know them better. Even if attractiveness plays a role at first in that it can make you more likely to approach someone, in the end you don’t love someone for their smooth skin, big lips, or figure. We know from our own experiences appearance is not timeless and that we want to be loved for our inner beauty. If you love someone, you are attracted to them no matter what imperfections they have – and you’re likely to even love those. If you question your own attractiveness, however, you may also question whether someone could love you ‘like that’ (and therefore make a particular effort to appeal to them). But even if you do accept that someone loves all of you, it may still be a challenge for you to do so, too. Either way, having someone love you with all your ‘faults’ can help you gain confidence. And many agree that a person is sexiest when they are confident and feel good in their skin.

It’s a complete waste of time.
Thinking about appearance, doing research about beauty ideals like ‘what are saddlebags?’ (you may have noticed that a great number of women have more fatty tissue accumulating on their ‘outer’ thighs – it is mostly genetic and completely normal and nothing to waste your time on by researching it like me!), writing about it, thinking about it more, starring in the mirror for ages trying to figure out all the things that are wrong with you and how you could somehow hide them… I wonder how many things you could get done in the time that you uselessly spend stressing about our your looks. At least I’m saving some by hardly ever putting on make-up.

So how can you stop punishing yourself?
Instead of feeling bad about your body and wasting your time by absorbing all the negativity surrounding the female body, you should focus on what you like about yourself! And everything that you don’t necessarily like makes you unique. If we all had similarly perfect bodies, how uninteresting would it be to look at other people – and yourself!? Every body part makes you who you are and characterises you – that’s another reason I’m strongly against plastic surgery, make-up, etc. Your life shapes you and your body tells the story of your life, you shouldn’t hide it or put a mask on.
You should be reading articles on diversity, on things that are great about women (and their bodies), about the fact that men love you no matter what shape you come in! Tastes vary, just like you’re not gonna find every man attractive, not every man is going to find you attractive but that doesn’t mean that you’re not attractive! In the end, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even if we agree on certain things to some degree (I know what I’m talking about, a great part of my dissertation was on attractiveness). Once/whenever you are able to accept your faults, you will feel and be more confident. And confidence may actually be a big factor in attractiveness: We often hear that confidence is the sexiest characteristic in a person.

I would also encourage you to help other women feel better, too! May their be a stranger, a friend, or your girlfriend: Compliment them, tell them how they are beautiful. Often when I see a woman whom I like something about, I just tell her. Compliments from strangers are the best. And you know that you just boosted someone’s self-confidence, and helping others makes at least me feel great. This is why I’m writing this. Not just to lighten my own mood and increase my body-satisfaction by reinforcing a positive attitude, but also by having you read this which will hopefully make you feel better about your body.
CHALLENGE: I dare you to compliment a stranger today, or if you want every day this week/month/year…

Appeal to the media:
You could make women’s (and also men’s) lives a lot easier by not just showing women of one body type (small, slim, tiny) (or muscly men) in your fashion adverts, magazines, etc. We see various movements going in the right direction which is great (e.g. The Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty, or Debenhams’ catalog featuring everyday women ). It would be so healthy for all of us if we weren’t made believe that only a certain type of body is desirable, and to see variety portrayed as beautiful. We shouldn’t say ‘thin is in’, nor should we shift to something else like ‘curvaceous is in’, instead we should aim for ‘everything is in’.

Further reading

  • Summary of research findings on body image
  • Killing us Softly. This is a great video in which Jean Kilbourne talks about a lot of what I wrote in this post. How images are photoshopped, women are objectified, high expectations are not achievable, and how the obsession with thinness is a health problem.
  • Kate Winslet is just great. She stands for her body, she won’t let Hollywood dictate her weight, and encourages females to love their shapes not just for themselves, Look at this post summarising some of her quotes, they will definitely make you feel better.
  • Finally I would like to mention Lorde, who at a very young age (17), battling with beauty ideals probably more than others her age because of her fame, speaks truthfully about her self-consciousness and how she tries to fight society’s ideals.

beautiful diversity



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