When I was younger, I had awful body image issues. I thought I was fat and ugly and unlovable. I was carrying around a lot of hatred for myself and towards the world about not being able to measure up to other people. It made me feel so painfully less than and despised and unworthy. This is super duper common in young people who are socialized as female. I spent a lot of time effort trying desperately to change myself, to make myself better, to try to be good enough, pretty enough, wanted. If only I could fix my flaws, if only I tried harder, if only I bought more skincare products, then I would be pretty, and if I was pretty, then I could be good enough and be happy. I put an awful lot of effort into performing femininity out of a desperate and misguided search for love and acceptance.
If you’ve ever been on the internet, you’ve seen the kind of body positive posts that tell you that you are beautiful, no matter what. They say “No matter what you look like, you are beautiful and therefore deserving of love and respect.” I have a couple of problems with these posts. First, I can’t get past that this first premise feels like a lie. Some human bodies are more aesthetically pleasing to others. For example, humans really like symmetry, for some weird reason, so symmetrical faces are more enjoyable for humans to look at. From the other side of things, depending on your tastes, your values, and your culture, what you consider aesthetically pleasing might be wildly different from someone else. Secondly, the idea that only beautiful people are deserving of love is ridiculous. Our culture values and promotes beautiful people and sees them as inherently better than people who are not beautiful. This is so damaging. If you buy into this, then your “you’re beautiful love yourself” post isn’t helping, because it is still perpetuating the idea that human value is dependent on physical appearance.
My breakthrough did not come from posts that said “everyone is beautiful no matter what!” It also did not come from self acceptance posts that told me it was okay to love my body exactly as it is. If you found your breakthrough towards self love through either of those things, I think that’s great and I’m glad they helped you. My breakthrough came from something a friend of mine posted, and it went like this: The point of a body is not to be beautiful. The point of a body is that it is the thing my consciousness inhabits, which allows me to exist in and experience this world. It allows me to have my brief mortal existence and be a person and have an impact on this world, if in whatever tiny way. For me, overcoming the self loathing caused by not being able to measure up to societal standards came not from recognizing my own beauty, but from changing my values. I no longer value beauty above and beyond all other traits. There are other things I want to cultivate in myself, like kindness and thoughtfulness, that I value more highly and would rather spend my energy on.
I want to be clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking pride in your appearance. If makeup or cute clothes or a high maintenance hairstyle make you happy, then that’s awesome. If you spend hours carefully crafting an aesthetic and that aesthetic brings you great joy, then by all means, carry on. My point is that if you’re not rocking a sweet aesthetic, you are still a person of worth with inherent value who deserves basic human rights and respect.
I am not very pretty. I am also lacking in tact, and have difficulty explaining myself when I am upset, and I can be terribly self focused. I am also exceedingly well organized, deeply empathetic, powerfully driven, and tenacious. It’s almost like I’m a whole person and my physical appearance is only one facet of the complex human being that I am. I don’t have to look pretty. It is not my job. Not being attractive to the people around me does not in any way make me less qualified, less important, less of a human being. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t wear purple lipstick and a corset and feel sexy and have fun. If I am ugly, I am still a person of worth. I don’t have to be afraid of losing my worth just because I’m ugly. I am comfortable the way I am, and I do not have to change my appearance in any way in order to be worthy of love. These things are a relief to me. I find it so freeing to be comfortable with being ugly.