A Few Things I'm Ready to Retire
Oh, internet, I am just so endlessly tired of it, tired of these stories and articles and interviews that focus on the bodies of female celebrities as if their weight or their shape or how much or little skin they showed last week is in any way news. Tired of the words we use to describe these bodies we were given, tired of the way we comment on other women's bodies, tired of the way we focus on how these bodies look and not what they can do and how they feel to us, living inside them.
I'm tired of women hunching over because they are ashamed of having large chests. I'm tired of tall women believing they shouldn't wear heels or larger women believing they can't wear white, or patterns, or belts, or whatever it is this week. I'm tired of the conversations that go on in women's restrooms as women stand in front of mirrors casting judgement upon their reflections, making small talk of their perceived inadequacies. I am tired of hearing women make that quiet tsk sound with their tongues when their hair is not obeying or their mascara has run or their reflection in any number of other ways does not match their expectation.
I am so unbelievably tired of this narrow view of beauty that is necessarily exclusionary to large chunks of the population based on whatever trends are in vogue at the moment.
And no, I don't think the answer is to tell the models and actresses to go have a cheeseburger. I don't think we will fix the problem by swinging the current standard of beauty away from very thin women and towards rounder, thicker women. I think the answer is to stop believing there is any one way we are supposed to look. I think the answer is for us all to decide that how we look is already beautiful, for us to learn to recognize the highly individual and masterfully crafted details of each human body, for the pursuit of beauty to be a movement, a challenge to find beauty in all of the countless ways it is expressed.
I think part of the answer is not just to tolerate bodies of different sizes, of different proportions and colors, but to rejoice in them. And I think part of the answer is to start appreciating the way beauty changes over the natural course of a lifetime, the way it is dewy and stretched smooth in youth, yes, but also the way it is textured and marked by experience with age. I think we should celebrate the lines on our faces, thanking God for the full lives that have earned those etched souvenirs of our blessed existence. I will never forget my grandmother telling a story in which someone told her that she should have stayed out of the sun because all that exposure had aged her and she replied, "I would never trade those hours in the sun, all those years of playing and swimming. I would never trade smooth skin for all those moments."
Ah, that I should live with the same gusto instead of spending my life, as I spent much of my youth, fixating on how I looked at every social event, at every party and trip to the pool and stroll through the grocery store. That I should embrace the wonder and adventure in my life, that I should throw myself into doing things instead of becoming paralyzed by how terrible I'm afraid I might look doing them.
And while we are on the subject, I'm ready to retire this whole "us vs. them" way of seeing the world. Besides being the root behind this obsession with looking a certain way (because we perceive that looking the part will get us the role, that being attractive will save us from rejection), the us vs. them mentality is built into our psyches in what I increasingly believe is a fundamentally destructive way. We make a (usually) lighthearted spectacle of this with our allegiance to sports teams, but the desire to align ourselves with one group and against another is pervasive throughout the human experience, in many cases showing up in much less benign ways than some raa-raa-sis-boom-bah pom pom waving.
Although I believe the drive to be connected with people, the identification with the group, is more powerful than the desire for "our" team to annihilate "your" team, the competition, when it branches beyond the sports arena, can be and is often deadly. Especially when "our" team is our country or our religious group.
Somewhere along the line, we have adopted a framework that relies on the friction against the "other" team to build the camaraderie of "our" team. We have made a way of life out of vilifying anyone perceived as our opponents, and while in many cases this can be harmless, it does create a current of uneasiness that I believe affects us all. I see us becoming polarized, becoming militant about whether we eat paleo or vegan or just strict organic, see us acting like victims of the obesity wars vs. the beautiful people, see us calling our states by their colors and believing that the very foundations of our government are bound to crumble if the wrong person is elected. We hole up in our comfortable circles and spend our days lambasting anyone just outside the lines we have drawn for ourselves.
I can't help but wonder what would happen in the world if we spent half as much time thinking about how we are alike as we spend thinking how we are different. If we put all of that effort now reserved for attaching ourselves to the latest trend or most sought after social group into finding the common bonds we share with all of the people around us, would that free us from the feeling that we need to be or act or look different to be accepted? Would we all feel more accepted as our mutual humanity was affirmed? Would we stop attacking and fearing people in the opposite religious group or political party? Would we stop driving ourselves into debt to live in the right neighborhoods and have the right labels on our shirts? Would we stop going to doctors with pictures of other people's noses as if we were simply shopping for a face? Would we suddenly find enough food for the hungry and enough medicine for the sick, no matter who they are or where the live?
Would war end?
I don't know, but I would love to find out.
Image Credit, used under Creative Commons License