as pretty does, my dad used to say. He also used to say we were more than pretty. So what message did he send? We were pretty where it mattered. Pretty because of our contributions to the world and our treatment of others.
I’ve spent my morning following bunny trails of videos and articles about women’s bodies. The last was an Ellen excerpt with Australian “plus” size model Robyn Lawley. She is lovely and luscious (sorry-it’s on my ick list too, along with “panties”-but there’s not a better word for it!) in a way that catwalk skeletons can’t understand. In a way that makes me shake my head in wonder at the sheer absurdity at the idea that beauty is fat free. Especially female beauty. Just compare these, side by side, and tell me which women are more attractive as women, not as clothes hangers or concentration camp survivors.
And it struck a chord for me, after my daughter spent a few minutes leafing through a photo book and focusing on a photo of two of the most beautiful people I know. One of my cousins (who are, incidentally, both scientifically beautiful) and my sister. And I am reminded again how lucky we were to be raised in a family culture that promoted authentic concepts of beauty.
My morning’s bunny trail took me through a Huff Post video about two model scouts and their process for finding potential money makers. One clip shows them approaching a mother in a mall to admire her daughter, and propose that she may want to model. Before they could even finish, mom was blowing them off like the plague. No no no, not interested. Wise mother. My sister used to get offers like this, with her 13 year old basketball player 5′ 9″ body and blond cornflower beauty. But my mom, with perhaps less bluster, would turn them down. Because she knew that a girl’s body is not a woman’s body or a billboard, and the adoration and obsessions about size 2 waists and thigh gap are a cancer that will rob any young woman of her sense of value as she grows into her adult self.
We have puppy syndrome as a culture. We want the cute and malleable ball of new, but are bored by the dog. I live in a city where this is demonstrated with cruel regularity, as grown dogs are regularly abandoned on the streets. Puppies you can jam in a purse and carry around to be admired. Dogs have bigger needs and are not so cute. They are not convenient, not like a puppy. Big surprise-because they’re NOT puppies. Just like adult women are not 13 year old girls. One comment that was made on the video with the model scouts was that the 14 and 15 year old models that are usually featured on catwalks will DO anything you ask them too. Puppy syndrome? Grown women have (or should have) expectations and boundaries. That’s what makes us adults. Apparently, that’s also what makes adult women so unattractive to an industry trying to exploit and sell female bodies. Hips, thighs and self respect. The thing they work so hard to make us loathe.
What defies logic is that so often, these self same women (i.e. adults) buy into the lie with the same naivety as an 8 year old child wanting to buy a toy because a commercial told them to. Why do we insist on making every grown ass woman feel like a failure because she’s not built like a child? So you have a booty and hips, and weight settles around your waist. Instead of recognizing that this is the biological destiny of being female when we are no longer in the taffy pull stage of adolescence, women have been convinced that if they just ate enough celery and did enough crunches, they could be the way they should. Hipless, thighless, “muffin-top” less, but of course, not breastless. Imagine a world where we demanded as much body diversity as we demand ethnic diversity.
Pretty is as pretty does. And I know some awfully gorgeous woman, who happen to gorgeous on the inside too. And that’s nice to say and nice to think and true. But my real sense of outrage is that we live in a looking glass world where we have convinced actually beautiful women that they aren’t “good enough.” And I want to be purely superficial for a day, and say with some reverse sizism, (sorry skinny ladies), that women who look like women are comforting, alluring and mysterious, and far more attractive than women who look like coat hangers or teenage boys. I personally got the build of those boys-no hips at all-which means if I collect anything around the middle, it shows. I am one of those skinny fat people that can hide under clothes (you know what I mean, if you are one-lots of lumps and bumps, but skinny arms and legs sticking out), so I’m not pretending I know how it feels to live in our backwards world looking very different from the purported ideal. I don’t even particularly hate my little donut, but some hips would sure be nice for dispersing it more pleasingly. Anytime I try and carry anything-kids included-for a distance, they slip right off. Hips are what make women women-so are bellies and thighs; so all the representations of women minus these parts should aggravate ALL of us. And we should reject them as easily as the idea that we should grow beards. We should find them as horrifying as foot binding and genital mutilation. Why don’t we?
My husband never NEVER passes on cake or a candy bar because it might “stick.” As a rule, I refuse to pass on these things either. If I did, I would resent him for having his cake, eating it, and still having a rocking body too. Which he earns through lots of exercise and by being a dude. He likes to ride bikes, good for him. He was born a dude, good for me;) But he never ever feels guilty about his body, or worries how he’ll look in his swim shorts. There is a strange paradox in our times of Cosmo and Sex in the City, where women feel entitled to careers and respect, but abuse their bodies for love. If we expect equal respect for our personhood in a job or community or home, why do women as a gender feel so much guilt for the very bodies that define us as women?
In the last 5 years, I’ve gained some weight, with little change in diet or exercise. If anything, I eat less. I have some hormonal problems and sleep problems, both of which contribute. But guess what? I’ve got bigger boobs, and that’s fine with me! Because here’s a math equation our culture at large manipulates with silicone and surgery; bigger girls have bigger boobs. It pisses me off when women cheat the system, throwing off the benefits for all the real girls in the world. Men should have to choose-tiny waists & tiny boobs, or bigger girls & bigger boobs. If everyone agreed to stop screwing with the system, we’d all have something to offer, and feel much better about ourselves. Instead of feeling like we all had to fit into the same chocolate mold, we’d just each be a handmade truffle. Something unique and delicious and unpredictable, wrapped up to be unwrapped by one person, one day. I fact, my husband’s godmother used to tell him that men who like sweets make better husbands. I think there’s an analogy here.
When we buy into female guilt for just looking however we do, we are part of the machine that has turned female bodies into mass manufactured products for mass consumption, which is how our culture treats women’s bodies. We need to reclaim ourselves as something handmade and unique. Part of that equation is treating yourself like something valuable, for one person’s pleasure and appreciation, not the whole world’s. The whole world won’t appreciate you. It doesn’t need to. But don’t let everyone take a bite out of you proving the point. In our current cultural climate, we can’t much control the fact that lots of men have been convinced we should all have the dimensions of a Hershey’s bar, but we can learn to think of ourselves as truffles. There are some rules to this.
We have to STOP looking at glamour magazine at all. Do you hear me? We have to practice what lovely Ms. Lawley does, and tell ourselves that we are great the way we are. (You are! Believe me-you’re a truffle:) I am not trying to say that it’s good practice to, as my dad likes to joke, lay around eating bon-bons and reading True Detective all day. But be as close to 100 cocoa as you can-find your set point, and embrace it. Some girls are tall, some girls are small, some are curvy, some can’t keep the baby on their hip-but we’re all truffles. Just don’t forget about the filling! Because pretty is as pretty does:) And pretty doesn’t give a shit what Anna Wintour has to say.