There’s a woman I know. You know her. In fact, she might be you. She might be my mom, or my sister, or even me. She’s smart. She’s accomplished. She’s compassionate and loving. She’s changing the world in her own way. And she thinks she’s a failure. Why? Because she’s fat. Or at least she thinks she’s fat. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, because she believes it. She believes that she is fatter than she “should” be. No accomplishment in her life competes with her less-than-ideal body. She will always think of herself as having failed.
Or will she?
Here’s the question I want to ask her… who has the right to tell you you’re not beautiful just the way you are? Who?
Possible answers include:
2. Madison Avenue
4. Simon Cowell
5. the clerk at Macy’s
6. your dad/mom/uncle/grandmother/sister/step-brother
7. your husband/boyfriend/partner
8. your boss/ex-boss/coworker
9. the girls in your sixth grade gym class
10. ______________________ [fill in the blank]
11. No one.
The only correct answer to this question is 11. No one has been given the official seal of the universe to infallibly dispense the label of beauty upon those few who meet some absurd, arbitrary ideal. Your beauty is not up for public approval, national referendum, or The Galaxy’s Next Top Model.
Your beauty is self-apparent to everyone who loves you.
In Brene Brown’s wonderful TED talk about love and connection (watch it here), she says the difference between people who feel a sense of worthiness and belonging and people who don’t is that… they feel a sense of worthiness and belonging. Yes I know, it’s a tautology. You see, the difference isn’t that they come from wealthy families or poor families, or that they had happy childhoods or unhappy ones.
The difference is their belief about themselves.
Brown’s research doesn’t cover this, but I suspect that the difference between people who believe that they are beautiful and people who don’t… is simply a belief in their own beauty. The difference is not between women who are 5’10”, weigh 120 lbs, and look like Kate Moss and women who are 5’5”, weigh 220 lbs, and look like Gertrude Stein. The difference is not that women who obsess about their weight and diet feel beautiful and women who don’t feel ugly. (Interestingly, the opposite may be more true!)
The difference is simple: whether or not you believe you are beautiful.
No one has the right to define beauty in a way that excludes you. Not even you. Beauty is not objective. Even normative ideas of beauty change enormously over history and between cultures.
Why do we allow ourselves to feel terrible about our bodies? Is it true that a woman can solve global poverty, cure cancer, invent cold fusion, plant a tree, or raise a happy child, and still look in the mirror and feel like a failure because her body doesn’t match some idea in her head about what it should look like?
You deserve better. You deserve to feel beautiful whatever your body looks like or feels like.
I think of Karen Carpenter, the singer who haunted my dreams as a child. Her voice was gorgeous and pure, she was an accomplished drummer, and a beautiful woman. Yet she always believed she was fat, and therefore ugly. All of her success musically meant nothing to her if she was fat, and she starved herself to death as a result. You can see clearly how ridiculous Karen Carpenter’s misplaced beliefs were. Can you see that in yourself?
Why is fat the be-all and end-all of beauty? So what if you’re fat, or if you think you’re fat? Let yourself be fat and beautiful. Let yourself be beautiful with these five extra pounds, with these fifty extra pounds, with whatever number of extra pounds you imagine you have. Let them be beautiful too. Screw anyone who doesn’t believe you’re beautiful. They aren’t the boss of your beauty or anyone else’s.
You’re smart. You know better.
Treat yourself better.
P.S. The last Love Your Body workshop of 2011 happens this Sun, Oct 23 in Livermore! Let me know if you want to join us!
Love Your Body Blog Part 66