Writing by Zadie McCracken // Illustration by Freya Bennett
Recently, I’ve been thinking more about the body: its various complexities, its ebbs and flows, its diversity, how well and how badly we treat it, and how—in every sense—it is us. We are our bodies.
I’m fortunate enough to have never truly felt the immense pressure of beauty standards, or been particularly fussed about how my body looks. This doesn’t mean I don’t have insecurities (hello, hairy upper lip and supposedly thick thighs); it just means that my body has never been a topic of much interest to me. Often, I find I’m too busy using and moving my body to fixate on how it actually looks. Besides, in our era of social media-fueled body positivity and mantras of self-acceptance, archaic, unrealistic body expectations are finally, truly dead. Right?
Our culture’s perceptions of the body are far more complicated, nuanced, and extraordinary than any proponent of body positivity would be willing to admit. For while body standards and unrealistic expectations have been significantly curbed through the tireless work of thousands of incredible individuals and corporations, the inherent value of beauty still exists. Beauty, which most commonly manifests as the general perceptions of someone’s appearance and style, is still perceived as one of the most important concepts in our current culture, especially for women. Being beautiful in appearance or, at the very least, being perceived as beautiful, has become an essential quality. The body positivity movement has not yet managed to dismantle the intrinsic idea that appearance has any true value, but instead merely expanded the definition of ‘beautiful’—which could explain the prevalence of eating disorders among today’s youth, or why my male friends prize their musculature while neglecting their other (wonderful) qualities. Why 89% (statistic of Dove’s body positivity research campaign) of Australian women are willing to cancel plans if they don’t look good enough. Why the body is still such a talked-about subject, why it instils great fear in some, why we check our reflections compulsively, why we all still say that we feel fat, when fat is, in fact, not a feeling.
In the last few decades, incredible achievements have been made to improve and revolutionize the way society views the human body, its appearances, and its complexities. The body positivity movement has helped improve the way we, in privileged Western societies, feel about our bodies. Yet, we are still plagued by the inherent value of beauty. Beauty is power, beauty is ingrained currency, beauty—for some—is everything. By creating a culture that values beauty above almost everything else, we have effectively destroyed our chances at becoming truly content with how we look.
If we (fiercely and brutally) begin to deconstruct the inherent value of beauty—if we stop looking in mirrors, stop seeking reassurance on how we look, stop spending so much money on beauty products and clothes, stop fueling the billion-dollar beauty industry, start saying I don’t care how I look more often—we may have a shot at fostering a culture that takes beauty off its pedestal; that transforms it into something that holds no power over us, causes no pain, but, rather, exists alongside us, as insignificant and lovely as lavender spilled over a garden fence in spring.[share]