The messages are loud and painful and hard to ignore: Flat stomach required. Hair that resides anywhere other than atop your head is utterly repellent. Makeup is a must. Cellulite is Satan. The short and round and stocky are innately inferior to tall and angular and lithe.
We hear it from the diet ads, from “America’s Next Top Model” and “The Biggest Loser,” from catalogs and magazines full of cookie-cutter bodies, from the endless stream of movies featuring Barbie-esque heroines. Sometimes we hear it from our parents and friends and coworkers.
And after we’ve processed those loud, painful, hard-to-ignore messages, we tend to get angry. Because it’s bullshit and it’s unfair and it’s HURTING us, damn it. We don’t want to hurt, and we feel justifiedly outraged. There are elements of conspiracy, and that simultaneously scares and galvanizes us. So we work ourselves up into a fine froth, and prepare for battle.
But if you want my opinion, being angry won’t help.
Yelling at people that all bodies are beautiful won’t help. Demanding that skinny models be completely supplanted by curvy models won’t help. Making fat women or tall women or thin women or big-breasted women the enemy won’t help. Writing angry letters to magazines, spouting angry rhetoric on the internet, projecting angry energy at anyone who appears to be supporting the current beauty construct seriously, SERIOUSLY will not help a single goddamned thing.
The world can be harsh and blunt, and it’s easy to believe that we must be harsh and blunt to be heard. But so much in life is subtle. Concepts of beauty are decidedly subtle, and they shift slowly. If we want change in those paradigms, we cannot demand change. We have to BE change.
First and foremost, we must love ourselves. Self-love and self-care are our greatest weapons in the quiet revolution to reclaim diverse beauty.
We must also constantly and earnestly praise each other. Remind the women you encounter that YOUR definition of beauty is wide and broad and inclusive.
We must train ourselves out of body judgment, and learn to see the beauty in every figure and form. Discourage body-snarking, tune out body-bashing, and turn that language around whenever you hear it.
And when we’re ready to reach outside our immediate circles, we must demand a MIX of images from the media – a diverse array of body types, skin colors, age ranges – instead of demanding an overnight swap of thin models for larger women. We must respond to positive moves by the media with praise, instead of merely lambasting movie houses and magazine editors for their missteps. Positive reinforcement works, and we must be patient with change that is already in process.
Now, before you accuse me of being impotent, repressed, and cowardly, let me clarify: I get angry. I don’t enjoy anger, but I feel it vigorously and regularly. And I know full well that anger allows us to process our outrage and dismay, fuels vital action and confrontation. Without it, we may become limp and slow and useless. My philosophy of activism is localized and highly personal, but I recognize the value of anger as a catalyst.
And yet I think it will prove ineffective in any effort to expand the societal definition of beauty. I think it will prove counterproductive in the struggle to teach women the art of self-adoration. I think it will prove polarizing among body types and philosophical groups, dividing us by height and weight when we should all be on the same team. I think getting angry and talking angry and acting angry about these decidedly infuriating matters will lead to spinning wheels and reddened faces. And more anger.
So let’s try this instead: Don’t force it, live it. Preach it. Encourage it in yourself and others. Praise it when you see it, support it when you encounter it. We don’t need to shout. We can make change happen in a positive, lasting, loving way. We can love ourselves, support our fellow women, curb body-snarking, and praise positive media moves. We can start with ourselves, and work with our communities, and let the ripples travel outward in ever-expanding circles. We can chose praise and positivity as our weapons, and build a world where women love themselves effortlessly and naturally and eternally. And if we build it slowly, that’s OK. It’ll last longer if we take our time and build mindfully, tenderly, organically.
This is our quiet revolution.
This is our better way.
So let’s rock it.
Originally posted 2009-10-07 06:02:00.