Now What? : Beyond Bucking the Beauty System

I have not written a post in a while because I was busy having summer fun. However, on another hand, I was also struggling to come up with more of the same rhetoric I have been preaching. Let’ be real: things are getting scary in this country and it is hard to write about rejecting calorie counting, although I still believe the social and political implications of diet culture and impossible beauty standards are immense.

I thought about writing more about how women suppress their natural selves. I thought about conversing more about how diet culture is simply another form of female oppression.  And, I pondered if I could discuss how some body confidence websites actually still promote diet culture.

But, I have a strange feeling that I am getting repetitive and there is only so much one can say about rejecting beauty and thin ideals.

The truth is I am at a point where I find myself wondering “Now what?” What comes after rejection of beauty standards and impossible body ideals? What comes after understanding women need not be submissive? What is the next step in understanding the importance of gender equality?

I will continue to share the message about the dangers of weight loss and the “female should’s” culture. After all, I speak about it because of the political, societal, and personal ramifications of accepting unrelenting beauty standards. However, in this post, I want to discuss how we all have parts of our story we wish we could rid ourselves of or change.

I feel it crucial to capitalize on personal experience to understand that one, we all have parts of our history we are not proud of; and two, we need to take what we know about our struggles with ourselves to have compassion for and bring awareness to true suffering in the world.

We all have stuff in our history we are not proud of and yes, this includes body and appearance struggles.  

We all have a past. We all have our unique personal history comprised of our best and worst moments. We all have those parts of our story that we would rather not share with anyone, except for those closest to us. We all are human and have a darker side of our nature.

It seems that there has been a widening trend on the internet, on social media in particular, in which people share the most vulnerable, intimate, and personal details to their human story. And, I am all for that. I think it can be especially helpful for women who are trying to break free from a limiting social view of what they should be.

More women are sharing stories about the dark side of weight loss, behaviors they regret, mistakes they have made, etc. In other words, there have been a handful of women taking to the internet saying, “fuck it, I am human.”

This is just what comes with modern day technological privileges. We all can showcase our soft spots, our flaws, our fears, and our moments of desperation. Alternately, we can display our triumphs, our determinations, our goals, and our wants.

A lot of these stories about failure and on the other hand, triumph revolve around changing how we look. This is not surprising, considering the heavy and lingering hand of oppressive beauty standards.

And, while I believe women who wish to wash these beauty ideals off their back should counter them all they can, I also strongly believe that what we really need to say is that we have bigger fish to fry!

Yet, there is still an undertone of equating beauty and an ideal body with morality.

Our culture gets caught up in pettiness. That is exactly how it goes in a culture so focused on aesthetics. This is learned behavior and we cannot place blame in one direction.

In the tornado of aesthetic beauty and diet culture, people become distracted. People start looking at the parts of themselves that they view as wrong; as morally corrupt. And, the problem is that their perception is skewed.

Our perception of moral corruptness and failure is skewed because we look through the lens of limiting personal standards. This is harmful because it distracts from attention to true suffering and the moral outliers that threaten lives.

And, while I do believe that diet culture and plastic beauty ideals can threaten people’s well-being, there are other immediate dangers that are lost in translation when focused so intensely on bodily and aesthetic perfection. This is the true problem with diet and female beauty culture.

Thus, I continue to discuss the dangers of female beauty standards, with the understanding that there is a “now what?” on the other side of it.

Humble thyself?

It is humbling to talk about struggles with appearance. It is humbling because on one hand, we realize how petty and futile the heart of the struggle is. However, on the other hand, there is still immense pressure to protect and cater to female beauty and diet culture and to speak out against it, is to put us in a dissenting category that is often quickly dismissed.

So, while women who reject modern beauty ideals might understand there is bigger fish to fry in the realm of equality and human rights, they must also break through the stronghold of these very ideals to even be heard.

What can we do when we need to break through our own personal battles with limiting standards of acceptable appearance, yet we also understand that they are petty by nature? The only answer is to say, “yes, I was distracted by beauty and thin standards and now I know there are more grand scale battles to be won.”

I had to and as humbling and petty as I sometimes feel talking about it, it is the first step in the empowerment process.

By nature, we do not like to appear weak.

People do not want to have their moral fallings, their less-than-ideal behavior, held up in the light. I think that in general, human beings want to be on an even moral compass as their fellows.

We don’t want to face our darker natures because they are the extreme opposite to how we best fit into the world around us. They are the parts of us that pit us against everyone else. They are what makes us face the instincts and thought patterns that threaten our symbiotic relationship with our inner natures and other people. In other words, they are what make humans complex and real.

Sure, we all want to be acceptable human beings: shining brightly in our high moralistic castle, brimming with confidence in our personal values. Yet, we all fall below the standard.

It seems that there are two sides of the pendulum: one is we hide the most human and animalistic sides of us and only showcase the doll-ness of our being; two is we show every nitty-gritties of human frivolity, selfishness, vanity, etc.

There are many women I know that fear this part of themselves. They fear showcasing their humanness.

Stigmatization happens when we look to a behavioral or characteristic pattern in a person and make it a negative trait; one that seems to disrupt the harmonization between the shoulds and compliance to them.

The problem is that by the nature of our self-deprecating, we worry more about personal stigmatization than how stigmatization threatens a collective whole of disenfranchised and marginalized groups.

Pettiness makes the news.

We can’t seem to go a day without hearing about the latest celebrity scandal; without hearing about how so and so failed in a certain part of their life, usually something that has nothing to do with what actually threatens human rights and well-being.

At the same time as we hear the latest celebrity news or read the latest confessional article, we have non-stop reports about the Trump campaign exhibiting possible collusion with the Russians during the 2016 election. At the same time, we hear about how our earth is disintegrating day by day because of global warming. At the same time, we hear about how billions of people live below the poverty line, how women are stoned to death in some countries for adultery, millions of children have no access to education, girls as young as five years old are forced into the sex trade, terrorism strikes again in Syria. We hear about how millions of Americans might lose access to affordable healthcare. We hear about the testing of nuclear missiles and a mass incarceration problem.

And, at the same time, we hear more about how this celebrity left their partner or this one drank too much at a party and got a DUI. Or, we read tabloids about how so and so is at it again with the weight gain or how so and so was caught stressed out with a crazed look in their eye and someone took an unflattering picture of them.

It seems to me that the problem is not the moral failing of individuals, but that our priorities are skewed about which values matter. We all have a dark side, we all have a past, and no, we do not need to turn it into The Great Repenting or the top story of the week.

Given the true stress in the world and the suffering in it, why do people worry about the less than attractive side of their human nature? Why is it still somewhat risqué and taboo to share the shadier parts of our past? We all want to fit in perfect harmony and be accepted with what is around us. Yet, we cannot ignore that we have human instincts and reactions that might lead us to a bad decision on occasion, including going down the rabbit hole of diet culture.

The dark parts of us stretch the limits of humanity. Yet, so wonderfully, they also show us how easily we can walk in another person’s shoes; a person we would rather not be because their story is more painful than our human ego can bare.

Our humanness sheds light on the importance of compassion…if we choose to see it this way. And, it is in this way that we can best put into perspective the not-so-perfect tales in our life story.

This is the “now what?”


One thought on “Now What? : Beyond Bucking the Beauty System”

  1. Sarah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. “What we focus on expands” – what if, rather than decry what we don’t like (nonsense about a woman’s appearance being her primary value) we instead focused on our own and other women’s strengths. I love the programs “Girls who Code” and “Girls on the Run” and the website A Mighty Girl as the intent is to give girls other ways of seeing themselves as valuable. Women need to do that too!

    When I was young, during the Vietnam War, many of us had a poster that said “what if they gave a war and no one came?”. What if women took all of the time they now spend on ‘beauty’ and attractiveness (well, not all – we do want to pay SOME attention to how we look) – but all of the time obsessing/reading/shopping etc etc – and instead worked on inner beauty or better yet, on changing the world? What then?

    Thanks as always for your cogent thoughts. And I’d love to hear from you on women’s strengths and how focusing on what really matters (truly, it’s not your blipping nail polish) could change the world.

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