Our Quiet Revolution

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.

Image source

Originally posted 2009-10-07 06:02:00.

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42 Responses to “Our Quiet Revolution”

  1. Kylie

    Lovely post as usual. I noticed you mentioned The Biggest Loser as a show that promotes the skinny is beauty philosophy. On an episode recently something one of the trainers said has stuck with me. She was arguing with a man that he couldn't possibly be happy at his current weight. He argued that he was, with his family, with his life. She countered with no you aren't. What do you think of this? Obviousy at their weight they are going to have health problems to deal with etc. but to say that it's inpossible to live a happy life that way? Maybe you agree with her. I've been pondering that today.

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this! It was well thought out and well written. It reminds me of a lady I used to work with. She was a very religious person, but never pushed, yelled, or imposed her views on anyone. She was a quiet Christian and evaluated all her deeds and lived her life according to basic tenets of Christianity.

    This is the way we need to be and move towards. We do need to quietly and persistently live and act in a beautiful manner befitting our inner souls! We can change and all can benefit when we change our inner peception of beauty. All are beautiful and all humans are worthy of feeling love and beauty.
    thank you.

  3. Sal

    Kylie: I think that, overall, the impact of "The Biggest Loser" is probably positive. The show provides inspiration for people who may believe that they simply cannot change their bodies no matter what, and probably motivates many to reevaluate their lifestyle choices. Seeing others succeed at weight loss and healthy living is tremendously inspiring.

    I don't watch the show regularly because I can't stand the drama, and can't quite believe that forcing weight loss to happen so rapidly is healthy in the long term.

    As for the trainer's comment? I think that's a really invasive thing to say. Someone who is hundreds of pounds overweight is unhealthy. Someone who is hundreds of pounds overweight may be considerably more content than someone who is slender. How could an outside observer possibly know? No one can judge another's level of happiness, ESPECIALLY based solely on weight.

    It's possible that the trainer meant to imply that allowing oneself to BE happy at a health-threateningly high weight is complacent and unacceptable to him/her as a trainer. But to say it's not possible to be happy at that weight? That strikes me as downright weird.

  4. Rosie Unknown

    Thank you! This is a wonderful post!

    When I someday own my own magazine, I hope you will consider doing some articles!

  5. Kelly

    I love this post, Sal.

    I just got Marie Claire in the mail yesterday and they have a new column called "Big Girl in a Skinny World" written by an aspiring stylist who is 5'2" and 220 pounds (if I remember correctly). Maybe it's just because of all the press Glamour has gotten recently but whatever, as long as the wheels of changing are turning!

    On a semi-related note: I think my mom is beautiful – and she only gets prettier every day (man, I hope I follow in her footsteps there!). But it KILLS me because it's like she doesn't believe it. Some women I work with met her once and they just thought she was gorgeous. They've mentioned that in conversation a couple times, and I always pass the compliment along to my mom. Whenever I hear anyone say something nice about my mom I try to remember to tell her because compliments always feel good. But she gets surprised and almost suspicious, asking "why would they even say that?" – I hate that she can't believe that she's beautiful.

  6. WendyB

    Great post. Because people yelling and saying ridiculous things (like Ellen DeGeneres saying that all size 0s have eating disorders) does absolutely nothing.

    I also dislike people saying a certain size is a "real woman" and anything below that is apparently…imaginary? Not a woman?

    BTW, Ellen shared her bit of stupidity on her show the day before I helped a size 0 try on pieces in the Francis showroom. I don't know anything about the client's eating habits but since she barely cleared 5', a size 0 is what I would expect.

  7. Meli22

    love this! 😀 I agree with everything here, as you would know from preivous topics with similar themes. I think this is the ONLY good way to really make change happen 😉

  8. bekster

    I completely agree with this philosophy. I have been starting to think more and more this way over the past year, even as it applies to other facets of life. Anytime we get in an "us and them" situation (whether it be political, religious, whatever), we only spread hate and cause things to be more polarized. Believe me, the things I believe in I believe very strongly, but I have come to realize that it does no good to get angry at the "other side" or even to separate myself and others into sides. I can only control MYSELF and, to a lesser extent, those within my own social sphere. At some point I had to let go of the mission to change the whole world and just focus on changing myself. I need to be like the Christian that Janissa mentioned and exude a quiet, spiritual beauty that promotes love one encounter at a time. As far as physical beauty goes, I don't need to go yelling that less-than-skinny people can be beautiful too; I can just try myself to be a beautiful less-than-skinny person.

    Great post. 🙂

  9. Deja Pseu

    Fabulous! Or in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

  10. Make Do Style

    I do all of these things – it is so important that we don't criticise or judge and be nice about each other. And love ourselves as we are – it makes life much easier.

    I still think people eat an awful lots of rubbish today but then the rich in the middle ages who had all the food were just as gluttonous, they just ate lots of fine food like swan!

  11. lisa

    I love this post. Usually the people I find most inspirational and beautiful aren't preach-y about their message; they just embody the values they believe in.

  12. La Belette Rouge

    You just don't know how much I needed to read your post today. Please know that your personal activism does make a difference!xoxo

  13. Jenni

    Love it! I used to be a size 00 in high school (high metabolism, which has since slowed down quite a bit, haha), and I got terribly made fun of for being so tiny. Everyone thought I was anorexic, and it really hurt that nobody believed that I wasn’t. Thank you for advocating women of all sizes!

  14. Iris

    This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Aristotle…

    "Any one can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy." (II.1109a27)


    I'm clapping & cheering Sal!
    Thank you so much for this*

  16. Londyn

    Thanks so much for this beautiful post.

    I'm linking it to my site ASAP. Preach on!

  17. Kate Coveny Hood

    As always – you make so many insightful observations. But what really struck me this time is that you are kind of describing good parenting. So the idea is to nurture yourself and others. And an excellent one at that.

  18. Mandy

    "We must train ourselves out of body judgment, and learn to see the beauty in every figure and form. Discourage bodysnarking, tune out body-bashing, and turn that language around whenever you hear it."

    Well said! I think we all need to try to look at beauty as inclusive to all women, and diverse in its definition. And then, most importantly, we need to act on these changes in thought, and actually be kind to our own bodies and our judgments of other womens' bodies. I commend you for using this blog as a medium for those changes.

  19. fashion herald

    Hallelujah! We come in all different shapes and sizes, and nothing is more dull than homogenous beauty – I want diversity in my mags.

  20. Meg

    awesome! could't agree more, except to add – remember our daughters. i for one, did not learn to hate my stumpy body from fashion magazines, i learned because my mother hated hers, and has spent her life dieting – teaching me to do the same.

  21. Francesca

    Bravo, Janissa & Bekster. I love what you both said:

    We do need to quietly and persistently live and act in a beautiful manner befitting our inner souls! We can change and all can benefit when we change our inner peception of beauty.

    [We need to] exude a quiet, spiritual beauty that promotes love one encounter at a time.

    Let's change those attitudes one encounter at a time. A quiet revolution can be just as powerful! Thank you Sal for reminding us of this.

    For our daughter's sake, let's also remind them to base their standards of beauty not on what they see in the media but to appreciate a healthy strong body that allows them to enjoy life to the fullest. We need help our daughters develop emotional resilience based on inner strength, not physical attributes.

  22. Kym

    Great post!

    I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a home where I was taught to be proud of who I am, regardless of my outward appearance. I'm a very short/small person who has always loved who I am and have never felt any different from my tall/big friends. I think that because it's an attitude that I have always projected, it draws the same-minded people into my life.

    Just like baby steps, one person at a time…

  23. Belle de Ville

    Wonderful post. May I also give a shout out to the About Face blog
    which I just discovered. It is devoted to combating negative and distorted images of women in the media.

  24. enc

    I'd like to invite you to come into my class with a megaphone and read this to the members.

    One of my favorite members told me she saw arm Spanx. Arm Spanx.

    Why can't *they* just leave us alone? Why aren't our arms just right as they are?