Body positivity is enjoying a moment. Although virtually every decade can boast an ideal body type, the past several years have demonstrated more variation in the type of female body considered the ideal, ranging from rail-thin to voluptuous and curvy. This is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction. What needs to be addressed, though, is the tendency to create an unattainable perfect type, rather than genuinely celebrating diversity in female bodies.
This lack of genuine diversity typically comes in the form of an argument advocating “real women.” Real women have curves. Real women have round bellies and breasts susceptible to the whims of gravity. Real women have cellulite, wobbly bits, and stretch marks. But therein lies the problem: what does it mean, exactly, to be a real woman? Is there a body type that exemplifies womanhood—and what happens if you don’t possess that particular shape?
So what exactly is a real woman? Put simply, there is no such thing. I, myself, have stared down the barrel of the real woman argument, having been told that my small, admittedly pancake-like derriere is undesirable and even laughable. After all, real women have curves, right? As the musical “Hairspray” says, “Who wants a twig when you can climb the whole tree?”
Although these sentiments seem harmless in their humorous approach to discussing women’s bodies, this idea presents a real problem. Women are still not allowed to feel secure and proud of their bodies—there is always some flaw waiting to be identified, or some perceived inadequacy barring women from achieving true womanhood, or true femininity—and these notions of womanhood and femininity change by the day.
A quick glance through a magazine provides some insight into the strange back-and-forth of discussing women’s bodies. One ad might feature a miracle pill designed to help the user lose weight, while another might advertise the necessity of a padded bra designed to add bulk—bulk previously considered undesirable. Still another ad might promote the use of shapewear in order to tame supposedly stubborn areas of the body to conform to hourglass measurements.
As you can imagine, the proliferation of such advertisements and mentalities create eating disorders, body dysmorphia, crash dieting, and unhealthy attitudes toward female bodies. Girls are fretting over their fat prior to even reaching puberty, and there is no shortage of diets and exercise programs to help women attain their perfect weight, as a quick internet search can attest. Despite the notion of perfection, the reality is that a woman’s body comes in countless shapes, sizes, weights, and dimensions, and is wholly unique to your biological constructs and lifestyle.
Pride Versus Putdowns
To be clear, I am not decrying pride for one’s body and shape. Ideally, all women would feel proud of their bodies, regardless of height, shape, or the number plastered on your jeans’ tag. Unfortunately, what often seems to happen is that confidence becomes belittling. Rather than saying, “I love my strong thighs,” one might say, “I like my thick thighs; who wants chicken legs?” Although the difference may seem small, it speaks volumes to the expectations placed upon women—often by other women. Self-confidence does not require a “this or that” attitude. Feeling proud of your heritage, for instance, is not tantamount to feeling disgust for the backgrounds of others. Loving your body is not synonymous to hating the bodies of the women around you. In seeking confidence, look inward—not outward.
Confidence derived from comparison is not confidence at all. You might be “superior” to subject A, but there will undoubtedly be a subject B who will surpass you. Instead, confidence comes from loving and accepting yourself, free from comparison and wishful thinking. Comparison-based confidence can shatter in an instant. Self-based confidence is largely unshakeable.
Pay close attention to speech patterns and the way you regard yourself and others. Are you comparing yourself to the women in your life? Even something as simple as saying, “I like myself, but…” is problematic; you are you, and the women in your life are their own people. You do not need to be anyone other than yourself, and correspondingly, you do not need any body other than the one you have.
Unrealistic body expectations get a lot of attention; magazines, journals, and news outlets discuss the impact Photoshop, alternately doctored images, and even porn culture has on the way women’s bodies are viewed and treated. It is just as harmful, however, to look at the flesh-and-blood women around you and make comparisons. Some women have slender calves, while others have thick, muscular calves. Some women boast a flat tummy within weeks of giving birth, while others find their bellies persistently rounded even years later. But the truth is, it does not matter.
False Notions of Superiority
Although you might think that skinnier (or more muscular) builds are more attractive than your own, or that smaller breasts (or larger) are preferable, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. You have what you have, and aside from a workout regimen or surgery, that isn’t going to change. Although these methods of change should not be demonized, what should be demonized is the ever-increasing idea that a woman should look a certain way, speak a certain way, and behave a certain way. There is more than one way to be a woman, and there is more than one way to have a female body.
Breaking this down further, think about this for a moment: having large breasts, aside from personal preferences, is in no way biologically advantageous. Having smaller glutes is in no way better or worse than having a round, muscular rear. Your own tastes will likely change as you age, as will those of your partners; trying to cram your body into the fleeting ideal is futile, as a new ideal will come along in a matter of months or even weeks. You cannot keep up, and you don’t need to. Your body is not a magazine. It is not an advertisement for a certain product, workout program, or lifestyle. It is not a canister for the hopes and dreams of people around you, and it is not an object to be molded at will by societal expectations.
Your body is yours. Your body is yours to nurture, empower, and fuel, and must be treated as such. Your body is beautiful, regardless of how closely it mimics the bodies of models, celebrities, or otherwise “fit” women. Your body needs your love, your care, and your respect; after all, it is the only one you’ll get.