Friday, March 9, 2012

Ugly...I learned it from you...


Today, I came across this article on The Great Fitness Experiment about the uproar surrounding Crystal Renn and her recent weightloss.  For those who don’t know who Crystal Renn is:  Ms. Renn  spent years battling anorexia while working as what is called a straight size model but it was not until after she dealt with her food and body issues, gained herself some curves and began a new career as a plus size model that she became truly famous.  She was applauded for overcoming her eating disorder but also for being an example of how beauty doesn’t have weight restrictions.  Putting on a few pounds did not make her any less beautiful, in fact (as the author in the blog post I linked to above notes) Ms. Renn would be gorgeous at any size.

However, now she has gone and done something that has upset many of her fans.  She has lost weight and is no longer working as a plus size model.  She is facing a backlash not only from everyday fans but also from former employers. Despite her accounts of a healthy lifestyle and diet, she has been accused of crash dieting, starving herself and relapsing back into anorexia.  There are those who have said they feel let down by her weight loss and many feel she shouldn’t have tried to lose the weight at all.

The world response to Crystal Renn’s weight loss has played out publicly across the internet as an amplified version of what goes on inside the minds of nearly every woman in America.  You would have to be living beneath a rock the size of a semi to not be aware that of the fact that we are a nation of women who are dissatisfied with our bodies.  Despite the good intentions of our parents who hopefully did their best to raise us with some sense of self esteem, we still look in the mirror and find that our eyes go directly to our flaws and that voice in our heads starts to catalogue everything we wish we could change.  We compare ourselves to an unattainable physical ideal and find ourselves lacking.  And now, as if it isn’t bad enough that we have to deal with our own inner struggles with body image, we’ve taken that struggle into the public sphere and it has shown itself to be as ugly on the outside as it is inside our own minds. 

We have all seen  pictures of this or that celebrity in a bikini on a beach somewhere with a caption about how they have let themselves go, usually with a primary colored arrow pointing the offending body part; the pot belly, cellulite thighs or jiggly upper arms (message: we hate you for being fat).  We have the People of Wal-Mart videos that have played out across the web displaying image after image of those who not only don’t fit the ideal physically but who also have the bad luck to not fit the middle class ideal of appearance either (message:  we hate you for being fat and we hate you even more for being fat AND poor).  I am sure that nearly every one out there has seen the Marilyn meme with the skinny girl in a bathing suit juxtaposed against the picture of the more curvaceous Marilyn Monroe (message: oh by the way, we hate you for being skinny too)

So now the circle is complete, not only are we hating ourselves for not being able to live up to that impossible standard, we hate everyone else for it too! 

I have struggled with my own issues about my physical self image.  I hit six feet tall somewhere around seventh grade and spent the next ten years feeling like a towering giant in a world of cute and adorable short people.  Until my late 20s my weight averaged somewhere around 140 pounds which, at six feet tall, I felt gave me the appearance of a walking bean pole full of elbows and knees.  I would hide beneath bulky sweaters and layers of flowing skirts so I could give the illusion of having some sort of body mass.  For a brief time during my early 30s I started to feel a bit better about things and lost the heavy sweaters and skirts.  Everyone was incredibly supportive telling me I looked good and wow, why had I kept myself hidden all this time? All of which might seem great except that one day I realized that unless someone was actively telling me I looked great, I still felt pretty lousy about my appearance.   

I’d like to say that at some point I just got angry or fed up or just plain tired of it all, but that wasn’t it.  I confess that I feel a bit of shallow when I admit that it was sometime around 35 that I had the realization that it didn’t matter if I was thin, or tall, or was a red head or a blond, or if anyone told me I was beautiful or ugly, the fact was that whatever I might look like now, soon I’d be on the edge of the ultimate beauty sin.  The sin that no woman can avoid…I’d get old.  In a culture that values youth even more that it values beauty, if I didn’t find some other way to feel good about myself I’d be spending the second half of my life unhappy.  Whatever my motivation though, I finally did take a look inside myself and found things that I valued far more than my physical appearance and clich√© as it may sound, when I began to find things other than my appearance to feel good about, I began to feel better about myself inside and out.

Now, when I look back at pictures of myself from years ago, like the one shown here; yes, that tall, slender and attractive young woman chowing down on pizza in the public square is me about ten years ago (if you are wondering about the head to toe pink I was waiting to march in the annual gay pride parade).  I look at her and I wonder how in the world could I have thought of myself as ugly or unattractive?     When I looked at that body then I didn’t see pretty, I saw knobby knees and fingers that resembled spider legs.  I saw a nose that was too big and ears that stuck out too much.  I saw eyes that weren’t quite green enough and breasts that had never, since the beginning of their existence, been considered perky without the assistance of underwired women’s undergarments.  I saw these things because, like every other woman in America I was raised to see only those things that I saw as my imperfections.

But you see that’s kind of the point of all of this. I don’t think the furor over Crystal Renn’s weight loss is about whether or not we have a ‘realistic’ image of beauty outside of ourselves because whether the models we see in magazines or on the runway are thin, curvaceous, flat chested, well endowed, tall or thin what matters in the end is how we feel about ourselves.    When we see a woman like Ms. Renn who seems completely comfortable with her appearance despite not fitting into the norm who then goes and changes herself, we worry that maybe she wasn’t as happy as we thought and we begin to be afraid that we may never find that place within ourselves.

 Pictures of out of shape movie stars, stick thin beach bunnies, overweight customers in a department store or angry and snarky remarks about a woman who might have just decided that she wanted to get a little more in shape are not going to help us feel better about ourselves. They are nothing more than distractions.  We have to stop buying into whatever the current standard of beauty is because it does change constantly, and perhaps most of all we have to stop berating people for being whatever body shape they have because until we do we will never stop berating ourselves. 

We are not born thinking we are ugly, it is something we learn.  If we are ever going to raise a generation of women who don’t struggle with how they feel about their physical appearance we have to lead by example and learn to value ourselves, and everyone else,  for who we are.  Period.  

2 comments:

  1. you expressed this well. this is a beast that doesnt seem to stay dead. I've seen beautiful people struggle with it . I don't know that I'd have the strength .

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. This is an ongoing issue...I hope one day that we can look back and wonder what the big deal was. I worry though that this is not something that will happen in my lifetime.

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