body flaws

I feel fairly certain that a marketing professional was the first person to refer to socially undesirable physical traits as “flaws.” And I’m totally certain that those “flaws” were on a woman’s body. When the concept of generating previously non-existent insecurities about beauty and bodies first arose in the marketing world, it arose as a means of selling stuff to women. But eventually, the idea of flawed bodies seeped out beyond cosmetics and girdles and hair removal systems and into the world of fashion. Now, every style expert spouts off about “hiding figure flaws” and “downplaying your flaws.” Every fashion mag claims it can reveal the secrets of “flawless skin” and “a flawless figure.” The language of body flaws is ubiquitous and unavoidable.

And it makes me livid. Livid, I tell you! Because the assertion that bodies can even have flaws implies that some bodies are flawless. It creates an imaginary and impossible hierarchy of beauty that women strive to ascend. It makes us all feel inadequate on a fundamental level because flaws are damage, errors, mistakes.

But nothing about your body is a flaw. I don’t care how many scars or warts or zits it’s got. I don’t care how much or little you weigh, how tall or short you are, how much or little hair you’ve got or what color it is. I don’t care how you’re proportioned or where you stash your cellulite or how big your boobs are. And I sure as hell don’t care how old or young you are. Your body is NOT FLAWED. Your body is also not perfect, but guess what? Neither is anyone else’s, and that’s just biology. Anyone who wants to talk to you about how to hide or mask or eliminate your flaws wants to sell you some crap that they’ve invented. And whatever crap they’re selling may slowly, subtly strip away your humanity and uniqueness. Because the Beauty Machine believes that we all want to look like identical airbrushed photos of former humans, and it sells us that desire over and over again.

You get to decide what you love about your body and what you want to show off. You also get to decide what you don’t love about your body and what you don’t want to show off. This is not to say that if you haven’t learned to adore and proudly display your keratosis pilaris that you’re a failure. No, indeed. Bodies are complex and our relationships with our bodies are complex. You as an individual get to make choices about how you dress your body and why, what you downplay and what you highlight.

But I implore you: Consider the implications of referring to your body’s features as “flaws.” Because they’re just not. Not a one of them. Even the ones you hate and wish you could change, and the ones you hate and are actively seeking to change right now.

Your body is not flawed, and the less you tell it that it is flawed, the stronger it’ll become.

Image courtesy handels.

Originally posted 2011-12-06 06:33:20.

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90 Responses to “Flaws”

  1. Cynthia

    Love it, Sal! Wish I had gotten it years ago – but getting it late is better than never, right? Sharing this, for sure.

  2. Christen Thompson

    Wow, that was excellent. I’m 43 & still struggling to accept my body the way it is and I really appreciate the distinction between things I maybe don’t like and don’t want to show off and whether or not they are flaws, things that must be corrected. Thanks for putting it into words so nicely!

  3. Rebecca

    This is just perfect.

    I try to constantly remind my friends that what they think of as “flaws” many think of as beauty. Many men love the “pooch” that I am constantly trying to flatten. The fat under my knee that I have hated since middle school? A very handsome man told me it was the most feminine thing and he loved to touch it. I am not perfectly “at peace” with my body, but I try to remember this. Plus, I also think of the time that Brian Krakow in My So Called Life summed up Shakespeare: “He loves her cause she’s got, like, flaws.”

  4. Jen

    Yes and amen. I am going to save this and hand it to every junior high student who walks into my office doors from now on. Then make them read it on a regular basis. I wish someone had told me this when I was 13 and 14 and 15 and 16….because I spent way too many years hating my beautiful self.

  5. Julia H. @ The Petite Spiel

    Great post! If we think about it, the word “flawed” doesn’t even make sense. It makes it sound as if we were all created on a factory assembly line, and that some of us accidentally were given “flawed” parts. We’re not supposed to look the same in the first place, so flaws can’t even exist!

  6. Serene

    Amen and AMEN!!! So DONE with using clothes as camouflage, to hide those offensive thighs or a pooch in the tummy. Here’s to appreciating ourselves as we are. Our bodies are not FLAWED! ~Serene

  7. Jessica Schiermeister

    I’ve been having some major self-confidence issues lately and have never really felt totally secure in my self. This post comes at a great time and I am so thankful for you and this blog. The other night I made little signs to put on my bathroom mirror which read things like, “You are unique! You are strong! You are loved!” to remind myself every day just how special I am.

    You also help that. Thank you so much.

    • Sal

      Thank you, Jessica – sending lots of hugs your way. And I love your idea of bathroom mirror signs. Keep those up there!

      • Jen

        One of my new favorite affirming lines comes from the movie “The Help”, in which the maid constantly tells an unappreciated child, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Since I saw it, I have made it my daily goal to make all the children in my classroom know, in some small way, that they are kind, smart, and important. Later on, I realized that I need to treat myself the same way. I think we as women get so used to affirming others, that it’s important to remind ourselves how special we are.

  8. Valentina

    Nicely put. I think of this in the context of aging, too. It dawned on me one day, “What else do I own that’s nearly fifty years old that is in pristine condition?” NOTHING! We wouldn’t expect anything that is thirty, forty, fifty, or sixty years old, (you get the idea) to be “like new,” but we’re told all the time that “looking younger” (like new?) is the goal. Don’t get me wrong: my skin is my one vanity, but I’m not trying to look like I’m twenty-one. Flaws, schmaws! We’re all individuals and meant to look like we are.


        Plus, if you’re all full of hate for your very own face (your precious face!) while you’re in your forties, what the heck are you going to do when you hit your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and (I certainly hope) 90s? I certainly want to keep going. Which means I’m going to continue aging. The only way to do it is to treat yourself with love.

        • Jen

          My mama always says, if you don’t have laugh lines, maybe you haven’t been laughing enough. 🙂 Plus, getting older beats the alternative.

  9. Alllison

    I literally wanted to shout “Amen, sister!” while reading this post!! Love, love, love it! Thank you!

  10. Heidi/The Closet Coach

    On behalf of marketing mamas everywhere, let me be the first to say: don’t blame us, it’s the advertisers’ fault! 😉

    Have you read Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” (or better yet, heard it? The audio version is fantastic because it’s read by Fey herself). She has a great take on the various body “flaws” women’s cosmetics and other products are invented to “fix.”

    And here’s another quote on what it takes to have a so-called perfect body which reveals how ridiculous and impossible it actually is: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/372993

  11. Dee

    I wish I had “known” this when I was 13, 14, 15 etc. But I am not sure at those ages I would have been able to Love my body as it was. Just recently I came accross some old photos of myself and my best friend in high school. OMG! We looked great, were so much thinner than we are now and we SO thought we were FAT !! And that was in the 70s, so not much has changed, of course. We really were very much normal weight but for a variety of reasons we didn’t think so. I am sure I am not alone in this discovery!

  12. Anne

    Pitch perfect as usual Sally. I will spread the word. And continue to remind myself as well.

  13. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Amen, sister. It’s amazing how marketing people are *still* creating products for non-existent “problems”. It’s solutions looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. Please don’t make me give up my lipstick, though, I do love it so : >

  14. tiny junco

    It goes even beyond marketing. I have broken blood vessels on my face – they came about because of treatment for severe asthma. It reminds me of being sick, the horrible consequences of the treatment, that the asthma will most likely kill me in the end. Plus, the redness takes over my face sometimes and i get tired of hearing about my ‘rosy cheeks’. I regularly cover them with concealer.

    At age 20 i smacked the steering wheel with my face and opened up my forehead. The plastic surgeon stopped counting at 150 stitches. For a year i had a very noticeable 5 1/2″ long scar on my face and i got a LOT of reaction to it – especially the first couple of months, when it was kinda gory. But i was not at fault in the accident, and behaved well. I didn’t lose control and even helped the gas station attendant who came to my aid with first aid tips. I’ve never covered my scar, and usually wear my hair off my face. I wonder if the broken blood vessels came from high altitude exposure, where i had saved a troop of girls scouts or something, if i might cover them less.

    i have found that it is worthwhile to become comfortable enough with your body to not worry about ‘needing’ to cover anything. People will generally notice you’re hiding something and wonder what it is!!! steph

  15. Trudy Blue

    In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible, an American missionary family moves to a remote village in Africa. At first, the children gawk at the villagers—who are scarred by cuts and fires and have lost eyes and fingers and legs, but then they realize that the villagers are staring back at them and their whole, unblemished bodies. The mother realizes that the villagers regard their bodies as powerful tools to help them make their way in the world, not as precious ornaments to be polished and preserved in some idealized state.
    I like to re-read that section whenever I’m fretting over my—ahem—imperfections.

    • Valentina

      Thanks for sharing that part in Kingsolver’s novel. Yes, we’re meant to be “used up,” as G.B. Shaw said, not “preserved” and “polished.”

      • Jen

        This is totally off subject, but I had a Raggedy Ann doll with a heart dress as a child that I loved and named Valentina. She went everywhere with me. I think it’s awesome that someone actually has that name–I thought I had made it up.

  16. Trudy Blue

    Also, I remember the day when I was about 10 and first saw a magazine ad for some kind of bleaching cream that promised to save an otherwise lovely woman from the embarrassment of freckles. I asked my mother: Are freckles bad? Bless her, she said something like: “Freckles are beautiful. Those people just want you to buy their crap.”
    To this day, I use only the sheerest face powders, so that my freckles will shine through in all their glory…

    • Eleanorjane

      Tearing up – what an awesome Mum! I was also blessed to have an affirming Mum and it did wonders for my self-confidence.

  17. Erica

    Thank you for this post. Even as I learn to accept my body – it is so great to hear from like minded people who remind me of what I sometimes forget. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you so very much for this post!

  18. Alissa

    Awesomely put, as usual! I was just having a conversation about this very topic with my husband over the weekend. Rock on, Sal.

  19. Kelly

    I read somewhere that you should write a letter to your body that is ONLY POSITIVE. Like a Thank You note for each thing it helped you accomplish. “Belly, thank you for holding my two baby girls and for being a soft place that they often want to rest their heads.” “Thank you legs for keeping me going when I want to quit.” When you start writing, it’s amazing all the things you think of to appreciate about yourself and it’s good to have writtenn down so you can look at it later… and maybe add more!

  20. Regina

    Nice! Well said.

    Theres a passage in ‘The Hunger Games’ ( an amazing novel by Suzanne Collins) in which the main character is made flawless after her time in a fight to the death arena. (It is a novel about a dystopian society…..) Once she realizes that all of her scars and “flaws” are gone, she becomes sad because they helped define who she is. (Yes, I’m a nerd)

  21. alice

    I loved this entire post but this sentence jumped out at me because it’s not something you often hear in a post like this: “This is not to say that if you haven’t learned to adore and proudly display your keratosis pilaris that you’re a failure.”

    I think this is great because while I’m happy with my body overall even though it’s not “the ideal”, there are certainly some features I prefer to showcase more than others and it doesn’t mean that I’m self-hating because of it! It’s a complex relationship we have with ourselves and as long as that relationship is a loving one (as you so nicely put it in previous posts), I think it’s ok not to embrace every single aspect equally, you know? I just want to feel good and be happy.

  22. Anne @ The Frump Factor

    We need to be reminded of this SO often. My favorite line in this whole post is: “And whatever crap they’re selling may slowly, subtly strip away your humanity and uniqueness.” Ha! Take that, “Beauty Machine!” (Great phrase, by the way).

  23. Ann V

    In sewing communities, I often hear “figure variations” instead of flaws. Almost everyone who sews makes some sort of fit adjustments to commercial patterns, whether it’s full thighs or flat seat or small bust… They’re just variations!

  24. Marsha Calhoun

    Whew! I’m just hoping that this was as fun to write as it was to read!

  25. WendyB

    “I feel fairly certain that a marketing professional was the first person to refer to socially undesirable physical traits as “flaws.”” — Oh, Sal, not really? Anne Boleyn being called “goggle-eyed” springs to my mind first, but there are an infinite number of other examples of people talking smack about appearances long before advertising as we know it was invented.

    • Sal

      Ahh, point taken! Though I still maintain that ads and marketing rely heavily on the idea of body “flaws” to drive sales, especially for products aimed at women. The tactic may predate the marketing industry, but that industry honed the practice to a fine point. Especially the specific use of “flaws” to create a sense of inadequacy.

      • Jen

        Hmm, never heard that about Anne Boleyn and I consider myself somewhat of an expert/fan. I do know that she supposedly had a sixth finger on one hand that she liked to cover up with long sleeves, which became the fashion. 🙂 Talk about “flaws”.

        • WendyB

          The sixth finger was never mentioned till after her death, which means it was a case of people conferring disturbing physical characteristics on those who fell out of favor. In this particular case, Catholic writers were particular interested in attributing “witch-like” features to a Protestant queen. Also, Henry VIII had a notorious horror of sickness and deformity, which makes it unlikely he would get anywhere near an extra finger. She was called “goggle-eye whore” during her lifetime: http://tinyurl.com/6w8hcne

  26. Ava

    Wow, what a fantastic post. I really love how you talk about fashion and style, but also about ignoring and deconstructing the nasty messages that are often marketed along with fashion and style. So often it seems like things skew heavily to one side or another – going along with the nasty marketing messages and taking fashion with a hefty dose of self-loathing, or taking a stand against the messages AND the interest in fashion and style (baby, bathwater) – and that’s really too bad. I really love the approach you take, not falling into the traps on either side. Love!

  27. Hannah

    This is beautiful.
    I admire the love that it took to write it, and I hope that I can show even a fraction of that love to my own body now and in the future….

  28. Eva France

    O yes! I will never forget the day when, at the age of 32 and traveling for business, I stood at a cosmetics counter in a foreign town and tried to explain to the sales lady what I thought was wrong with me. She smiled at me warmly and said “So what seems to be your problem, you ungrateful person?”

    I’m 51 now and will never forget this encounter. I am truly thankful. She was so right. From that day on I did not accept pejorative categorizations like “dishwater blonde, mousy hair, saddlebags, pouch” anymore. For anyone.

    Thanks for this post.

  29. Sarah

    I’m glad to hear someone else say this. I just had a startling conversation with a friend of mine who’d gotten a large cut on her knee. Now that it’s summer here she was bemoaning the fact that she’d have to wear longer skirts to cover up her cut. Why would you be uncomfortable just because there’s a cut on your knee!

    This is definitely a woman’s thing, we’re ornamental so a cut is bad and lessens your value, like it would a vase. Men are practical so a cut is a battle wound or something to be proud of. It sucks and needs to stop.

  30. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    Heh, on another blogspace, friends were talking about makeup, & someone said they had big pores & can’t find any product to reduce their size, in a complaining way. Another friend piped up & commented that (a) your pores are the size they are & any product that claims to change their size is full of crap & (b) she’s never looked at that friend or any other woman & actually noticed the person’s *pores*. Just a reminder that people look at others as a whole, even if we look at ourselves as a collection of little pieces, often little imperfect pieces.

    And a reminder that products trying to “fix” you are BS 😉

  31. StephC

    I’m new to the site (within a week or so) and still getting an “ear” for your perspective. So, with that as my stated safety blanket, let me bravely stick my hand up ask you what miles and miles of incompetent, bulging blue-green leg veins would be called, if not “flaws”?
    Sure, they’re a genetic “gift” from my dad, and they’re my childbearing “stripes” and all, but I will run, not walk, back under the knife(once menopause hits & childbearing years are over) and yank those suckers out!

    • Sal

      Welcome, StephC!

      Again, you get to decide what you love about your body and what you want to show off. You also get to decide what you don’t love about your body and what you don’t want to show off. I’m not saying you have to adore those leg veins, or even leave them as-is if you want them changed. But calling anything on your body – even something that you really dislike – a “flaw” can drag with it the whole defeatist perfection mentality and the baggage of body comparison. Just something to consider when you pick your words.

  32. K

    Hi Sal,

    What a perfectly timed post (in my world). I recently broke both of the bones in my lower leg and I had to have surgery to repair the breaks. The surgery left 4 raised scars on my leg. I have referred to these scars as new flaws that I have to deal with, when instead I should be praising the fact that the muscle under that skin with the oh-so-horrible “flaws” is helping me walk again. Anyway, your post put things into a better perspective for me, and although I might have days where I relapse and become too hard on myself for trivial things I’m happy to have a post like this to refer back to. Keep up the inspiring writing Sal! 🙂

    • Daisy

      Two years ago, I broke my ankle and both leg bones. I have two (fading) scars where two plates and 17 screws went in. The ankle still swells occasionally, though my foot did return to normal so I can wear my shoes again! At first, I tried to conceal it, but honestly it just got to be too much trouble and I was not about to let it get in the way of wearing what I want and doing what I want. And no one ever seems to notice or care! Friends will occasionally ask how the ankle is, but they then say it looks fine. I have learned that no one is really examining us for flaws as closely as we are! Plus, it is a cool story. How boring if we never did anything that gave us scars. (I was also gently called to task for complaining during my ten weeks on a walker by a friend with cerebral palsy. I am running again, while she will never do so. Ah, perspective.)

      • tiny junco

        “Plus, it is a cool story. How boring if we never did anything that gave us scars. ” Right on Daisy! love it, steph

    • pope suburban

      I always think scars like that make people more visually interesting. Although I’d not ask about them, since people may not want to talk about it/may be tired of talking about it (Just because I’m interested doesn’t mean I get to ask for story time about someone else’s body), big scars like that are a testament to survival. There is someone who had a big challenge, and they overcame it, and that’s good. Scars can be a testament to strength. That’s always the first thing I think of– it’s never “Ew, that’s so unsightly!” I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but that’s my perspective and other people may be thinking the same things.

  33. Jen

    I love this and I really needed it today. . . it’s been a really hard day, body and soul wise. I think I’m going to print it out and tape it to my mirror for when I moan about my zits or chin hair or double chin. Because I get to decide how I think about my body, and right now, I’m thinking it’s been through a hell of a lot and come through intact. And beautiful. 🙂

  34. Carol N.

    Thank you for this post, Sal. I have large scars from having achilles tendon surgery on both legs. Plus scars from several knee operations. The scars do not bother me and I regularly wear shorter skirts and dresses where they show. I’ve had women (never men) ask me if I haven’t tried something to ‘hide’ the scars but to me they are just a part of who I am. I replied that I had thought of getting a tatoo of a zipper on the back of my leg where the scar is and that shut the woman up quickly.

  35. Anuja

    Fantastically put. As it happens, I’m really happy with my figure. All of it. Sure, I’d like to get a little more toned but all in all, I’m super grateful for the body I have.

    Then, a few weeks ago, I was out shopping with a friend when out of nowhere, she said to me “You know, no offense, but you don’t have a flawless figure. I mean, you’re not FLAWED. But it’s not like you’re a supermodel. You can’t wear anything in the world and pull it off.”

    And I was, well, offended. Because yeah, I know, fashion mags are always telling me to be a rail thin 6′ tall girl, so I don’t need my friends holding me to that standard too. Besides, I really, really REALLY like the figure have. So I decided to A) Ignore her and B) find some new friends.

    Done and done. 🙂

    • Sal

      Anuja, wow, it must’ve been so hard to listen to that speech from your friend without … I don’t know, running away or punching her lights out or something. You had every right to be offended, in my opinion, and leaving that friend behind will probably be for the best. Gotta wonder what made her feel like she should and could say such a thing to you.

      • Anuja

        Why, thank you Sal! I’m thinking she’s insecure about herself – and insecurity LOVES company, you know. She makes these comments about my intellect sometimes too – no regrets about leaving her behind.

  36. Lesley Reid Cross

    This is an interesting and wonderful point of view. I have been depersonalizing my own opinion of my body by calling things I don’t like “flaws”- it’s like when one talks about a sensitive issue and uses the collective you instead of simply saying “I, me, this is what I do, this is how I react” and owning it. And if I own that I don’t like part of my body, in a neutral way, a way that isn’t self abuse- (ie. I don’t like that my belly sticks out over my jeans vs. what kind of a fat, lazy slob am I to have a belly that sticks out over my jeans?) …THAT is the start of acceptance. The kind of acceptance that can allow change. If I choose it.

  37. Kimberly

    This was a great post! I agree, your body does not contain flaws.

    All those things we see or are told are “imperfections” are what makes us beautiful! I just wish everyone saw that! We are all unique, beautiful and wonderful. We should be celebrating that!

    Each wrinkle, line, s caror what many would call a “flaw” represents a part of our life. For example, the “wrinkles” on your forehead represent your “fully expressed self.” The “crow’s feet” around your eyes provide you proof that you are living a life full of laughter and joy. What could be more beautiful and amazing than that?

    Sending love to you for letting women have a safe place to feel safe and love themselves just as they are.


  38. Caitlin

    I love this post. I’m a strong believer in the idea that perfection is a meaningless concept that serves no practical purpose. All it does is breed dissatisfaction, because we will never, ever achieve that ideal, no matter how hard we work. But when we look at our bodies as collections of flaws to be disguised, we are buying into the idea that perfection is a state we can actually achieve.

  39. Ktrain

    Nothing makes me feel more authentic then walking down the street, post sprints, drenched in sweat, in a fitted tank top and short running shorts.

    On my upper arms i have a skin condition typical in people of mixed decent. My cheeks are the brightest red possible as my Roscea reacts to both sunlight and exercise. My shoulders and back are practically popping out of tank but i earned them doing cleans, pushes and pull ups.

    My calves are bigger than some women’s thighs, dotted with freckles from being outside so much, exposing my Irish side. My knees are speckled with hot pink scars, from turf burns and errant cleats. My quads, because i never call them thighs, are huge, sending my large frame hurtling down streets. And on the back of equally large hamstring there is a long thin scar from a game played a long time, a great game and sometimes i just run my hand across it and remember.

    I feel sorry for people who feel that these things are flaws. When I meet women who would tear me down over these things, I can only imagine what looking in the mirror must feel like for them…

  40. Christine

    Thank you for writing such a brilliant little article. I got a little weepy reading it. Such an awesome message, really very inspiring! <3

  41. divadellecurve

    nothing more in tune with my own philosophy. I grew up thinking there was always something to ‘fix’ in me and that geve me so much insecurety. Insecurity is the best and first way to manipulate minds and not bodies, this is actually what they want, our monds, not pur bodies!! And I am sure the beauty business as it is intended (because there was a time when I’m sure it was more intended to manipulate a man’s mind hahah) was conceived by men’s brains, as they know too well how emotional manipulation affects a woman.

  42. Fritzy dean

    Sally, I am a 77 year old great grandmother who has struggled with my body image and with our culture’s narrow definition of what is acceptable for most of those years. I am so encouraged when I read this kind of essay and see young women embracing their unique beauty. I hope this means that the generations coming along can experience self love , instead of self loathing. You are performing a great service with this kind of writing. I applaud you.

  43. Jess C

    Thank you for this! I’m going to bookmark and re-read it every time I get down on myself. Awesome job!

  44. Fritz

    This entry is particularly joyous–I’m new to your blog after ignoring the fashion world for so long. I’m an alternative-sized lady and frankly, it’s very easy to just order all of my clothing online from boring manufacturers who cut pants wider. Between your blog and several other alt-sized bloggers, though, I’ve dusted off several designer dresses and donned some scarves and funky necklaces. I think this message of “You are NOT flawed” is one that allows me to think of myself as MORE than just a big woman–I’m fun, I’ve got curves, I have a sense of humor, and above all, I shouldn’t hide just because I’m wide. So, thank you. I am so glad I found your blog!

  45. Sara

    I almost cried after reading this. Might sound strange but I have always disliked my hands. I feel that they are too small. I mean, they aren’t deformed or anything, they’re just on the smaller side, even for my height (below 5’4), and I don’t have those long, slender fingers. I’ve had comments about their smallness, though not often, but occasionally. It makes me incredibly self-conscious and depressed, I’ve sometimes felt that it must mean I am a freak.

    I don’t know if/when I’ll ever learn to love them and accept them and not let people’s comments bother me, but articles and attitudes like this give me hope. So thank you.