OK, so two things right up front.
1. I lied about posting more regularly. My intentions were good, really, but I’ve been completely engrossed in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R. R. Martin and pretty much all of my free time has been devoted to devouring those books. And to trying to decide whether or not “Caprica,” the spin-off of “Battlestar Galactica,” is worth obsession status or is just OK. But that’s another story.
2. This post has absolutely nothing to do with South Korea or teaching. In fact, it’s kind of a rant.
I was on Facebook for the 80th time today when I got a suggestion to “like” the group “Curvy Girls are Better than Skinny Girls!” The eye rolling began immediately and I should have ignored it but…something possessed me to click the link. I regretted that choice right away.
I despise these types of groups, mostly because this whole “curvy/heavy/fat pride” thing drives me in-frakking-sane. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important to be healthy and be comfortable with your body. It’s that the “in your face” element rings so incredibly false to me.
First of all, I am always suspicious of groups and articles and statuses that cheer on people who are overweight. That’s not to say that all curvy women are overweight, and I do happen to think healthy curves are fantastic. But too often, I think, “curvy” is used as a way for women to falsely reassure themselves that “Oh, no, I’m not fat. It doesn’t matter than I’m 20 pounds overweight. I’m just curvy.”
I read through some of the comments on the different statuses and while there might be a handful of people on there who actually are healthy and confident about how they feel, overall, it seemed like a lot of overzealous false pride to cover up a mountain of insecurities. This group obviously isn’t the only place where this sort of thing goes on. It reminded of an article I read last summer about the hubbub over Glamour magazine’s decision to feature a plus-size model and heavier women in the publication.
They got a lot of positive feedback from women who said they were thrilled to finally see someone who “looked like them” in a mainstream magazine. This immediately set off alarm bells for me.
On the surface, I guess the case could be made that this is a positive thing, promoting a more natural look, instead of an emaciated, airbrushed size zero. That’s not really what concerned me, though.
My first thought upon hearing the positive feedback was, “That’s where your drawing your comfort and inspiration from? That a woman who is the same size as you was featured in a one-off photo spread in Glamour magazine?” There is just so much wrong with that.
If you’re looking to fashion magazines to affirm your self-worth in the first place, you’re already in trouble. And so what if another woman is the same size as you? That doesn’t really mean anything when you get down to it.The fact that you have a similar frame and weight to someone else is completely irrelevant to whether or not you’re happy with your body or are healthy.
I guess it sounds good in the moment, but I’ve tried that little trick and it actually has the complete opposite effect for me. I’ll be feeling insecure, look around until I spot another girl with a similar shape and say, “See? She looks good. That means I do, too. I’m totally fine.” But does that erase those feelings of self-consciousness and shame that I’ve been trying to keep at bay? No, of course not. And later on, I’ll find myself self-attacking for making excuses instead of doing something about my weight. I doubt that I’m the only woman who’s gone through this.
Maybe Glamour was well-intentioned (and let’s be serious, targeting curvier and plus-size women, who generally seem to be left out of the mainstream fashion world’s consciousness, was also probably a smart business ploy), but I think it’s dangerous to draw on that as your source of inspiration when it comes to feeling good about yourself. Great for starting a conversation about body image, maybe, although the real issues at the heart of eating disorders and bad body image would probably be left out anyway.
Another thing that irks me is when people say, “So what if I’m overweight? My man (or whatever guy I’m interested in) should love me anyway. I’m awesome even with the extra pounds.”
And you know what? You probably are awesome, and I’m certainly not saying that every woman should strive for Nicole Scherzinger abs and a Kim Kardashian butt. Not at all. But it’s been my experience, with my own issues and in conversations with many friends, that there is generally a lot of insecurity attached to body image, and the deeper those issues go, the more they are going to come out in other areas of your life as well. Rather than telling yourself you look and feel fine when you’re actually living an unhealthy lifestyle and managing your anxiety rather than addressing it is not exactly a loving thing to do.
So when people say, “He should love me anyway,” I’m inclined to think, “Really? He should? Because you don’t love yourself enough to be honest about your feelings and insecurities, so why should someone else?”
Then there’s the fact that these types of groups seem to pit “curvy girls” against “skinny girls,” thereby villainizing other women for being slimmer, which also smacks of insecurity. I’m always just a little suspicious of those who claim to be soooooooo comfortable with their bodies that they not only have to keep reminding everyone around them of that but also knock others in the process.
Now, I should say here that I’m not just ranting for the sake of it or because I don’t feel empathy for people who love these articles and join these groups. The reason I feel comfortable talking about this is because I’ve experienced all of it. I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t self-conscious about my body or convinced I was overweight. I’ve tried all kinds of diets, gone through hardcore exercising spurts, only to gain the weight back again.
Celebrity magazines used to be like crack cocaine to me and I often tried to give myself false comfort and confidence by claiming to admire healthier, curvier looking women. I actually did think a lot of them looked great. But I remember feeling a little bit of shame and anxiety as well, because deep down, I was lying to myself, saying, “Look, she’s not so in shape so if this celebrity who has nothing to do with my life can look like that, I can be a little pudgier, too,” rather than face the truth about my insecurities.
I told myself all kinds of stories – guys should like me anyway, it doesn’t matter that I’ve gained 10 pounds, who cares if I don’t like to exercise, I’m young and have years and years to start eating healthy…anything to avoid the actual work that comes with dealing with these issues.
About a month ago, however, I made the decision to make real changes and instead of exercising and eating better because I “wanted to look good,” I’ve started learning about nutrition and also journaling and doing self-work to examine my history and relationship with weight and eating issues. It is partly about feeling better about my appearance, but it’s become a lot deeper than that, about having enough self-respect to take care of myself, physically and mentally. This is not to say I’m some shining example, but I do understand and live with the baggage that comes with all of this. Maybe that’s why I feel so annoyed and defensive about these types of articles and groups.
Being overweight or having a negative body image can be emotionally devastating. I can’t speak for other people, but for me, it infected so many areas of my life. It’s painful and can bring on feelings of shame, depression, anger, bitterness – a lot of unpleasant emotions. None of those are easy to face. So yeah, in the short-term, it is easier to say, “Well, who cares. So what if I’m a little bit overweight? I’m great. People should love me anyway. I’m happy with the way I am. I’ll eat however I want. It doesn’t matter. I just don’t like exercising.” And on and on.
But in the end, all the plus-size photo shoots and mythology and Facebook groups in the world don’t actually make a difference. In fact, they’re just more harmful tools that help people avoid really looking at their feelings and being honest and making changes in their lives. If you feel the need to shout your pride about being bigger at anyone who will listen, it’s probably time to start having a serious talk with the voices in your own consciousness.
Real confidence and self-love don’t come from comparing yourself to someone in Glamour or solidarity with others who have similar burdens. It comes after painstaking, time-consuming work and honesty, not simply because you tell yourself you’re lovable and sexy at any size.