Recently, a friend of mine gave voice on his Facebook page to a frustration common to many of us (male and female)–how pop culture and advertising skew our idea of healthy body image.
He finished his comment with this statement:
“Don’t believe that your natural self is shameful, gross, or inappropriate! No man-made product can improve what God gave you! There is no need to hide behind that stuff. Let’s learn to respect what’s natural.”
As someone interested in both history and the history of fashion, I recognize that every time period has had its ideal female body type. In each of those cultures, women with differing body types have had only a few options: rebel, force their bodies into submission through diet and shape wear, or give up.
The rebels of those time periods often give rise to a new ideal. Consider the strict hourglass look of the 50s and 60s and the rebels who broke through. People like Audrey Hepburn and Twiggy brought hope to the hearts of many a straight-figured girl. Sadly, they also unintentionally created a new ideal. Suddenly, shapeliness became fatness.
Today, we have women rebelling against this new ideal. Their maxim? “Real women have curves!”
As a broad shoulder, thin-hipped girl, I can’t help but take some offense at this statement. I’m disgusted as anyone at the emaciated beauty ideal being pushed on us today. However, despite years of wishing, I’ll never have hourglass proportions. (Incidentally, I’ll never have model proportions either) Does this mean I’m not a real woman?
Yes, real women do have curves, but they also have straight figures. Real women have apple figures, pear figures, rectangle figures, and whatever other fruits and shapes have been used to describe a woman’s body. Real women are just that, women. They come in every shape, size, and weight. Being a women doesn’t come from your subscription to or rejection of any culturally ideal look. It’s defined by a set of chromosomes.
I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t care how you look or that you shouldn’t appreciate beauty. Yes, take care of yourself; look your best; stay healthy. What bothers me isn’t a balanced attention to physical appearance but rather how we women judge our worth by that physical appearance. We live in a culture that makes it hard to do anything else.
Recently, while I was crossing the road in the face of oncoming traffic, a man crossing from the other side commented as he went by, “Don’t worry, you’re too pretty to run over.”
I laughed at the comment and didn’t take it too seriously. I live in an eccentric city with a lot of eccentric men who like to give random compliments. But it did start the train of thought that first inspired this essay. Would my death be any less tragic had that man thought me any less pretty?
How often do we ascribe greater worth to prettier people? We gravitate toward them. We even view them as smarter, more talented. We’re more saddened when they, in our view, waste that intelligence and talent. We view attractive people as better people, better leaders, better politicians, better for the community as a whole.
I firmly believe we were each created by a good God for a purpose. That God doesn’t care whether we match our culture’s current beauty ideal. He looks at the heart.
As real women (and real men), isn’t time we started doing the same?