In my last blog, I mentioned how I’m sick of think pieces on women’s bodies and yet another celebration of the fact that a photographer took the plunge and did something radical like photographing an imperfect woman – shock horror (I think the saddest thing about this is it is radical). But I’m afraid, I’m writing another one, though not solely focussed on the corporeal.
Last week one of my excellent AnyBody colleagues recommended this AMAZING piece in Bitch Mag by Lindsay King-Miller. Go on read it, it really is terrific and has such gems as:
“While I’m in favor of encouraging women to feel confident and happy, I worry that today’s body positivity focuses too much on affirming beauty and not enough on deconstructing its necessity.”
“If we insist on the primacy of beauty, doesn’t that give the word “ugly” even more power to cause us harm?”
So, I’ve been thinking about it all, and thinking about the things I do to circumvent my own feelings of inadequacy and also my own shallowness, for when we judge ourselves harshly others inevitably become collateral damage. Not only do we mistrust the kindness of others, but we risk not modifying our expectations from the default ‘perfect’ we expect of ourselves, which is unkind to everyone concerned. And kindness is the thing. A much under-rated thing.
More than anything, at the crux of our humanity should be kindness as our default. But this is not always easy, we are buffeted this way and that in our perceptions of ourselves and others. We are set up in competition with other people all of the time, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so. Neo-liberal capitalism depends upon people competing, at the expense of almost everything else.
Now I’m all for a bit of healthy competition, unless it’s bowling, I loathe bowling with every fibre of my being, partly because I’m really shit at and partly becau… no it’s just because I’m shit at it. Anyway, the commercial agenda of status and setting people up to compete for the feeling of being an acceptable human is far from healthy.
So in an effort to stave off unkindness and unhealthy competition in myself (especially of the ‘is she thinner than me?’ variety) I would play a kind of game. Mostly on rush hour public transport when my misanthropy was at its most acute (and I would feel all pinched and tense for being so curmudgeonly). I’d look at the people around me and I’d see if I could spot their idiosyncrasies, the things that make them unique, that contribute to making them them. Those things in someone we love which are so familiar, the gentle, unself-conscious mannerisms of being. Maybe the way someone sits, reads with their head on one side, inflections in speech, the way they might turn the page of a book or (god forbid crack the spine). As soon as I started looking I couldn’t stop noticing them. There are so many humans in the world that grouping people is often necessary to cope with the sheer concept of 6 BILLION people. But each of us is wonderfully different in some way from everyone else, but also intensely similar.
And so labelling some people beautiful and acceptable along a very narrow parameter and writing off the rest as somehow lacking, is nothing short of cruel, to everyone, even those who make the cut. But also for us to try and adjust ourselves in relation to that parameter as a way to mitigate its effects seems equally terrible. It has a distancing effect. When we are dealing with how people look as a primary form of judgement, we are asking that we step back from everyone including ourselves. You cannot hug a person and look at them at the same time, not judgementally. You cannot have a stimulating engaged conversation with someone who’s appearance you are simultaneously finding inadequate against an arbitrary benchmark. And it is extremely difficult to accomplish things when constantly judging oneself from the outside, it messes with our concentration for we are regulating ourselves, calibrating our physicality with the attentions of others, good or ill. My response on Facebook when my friend posted the afore mentioned article was: ‘I can function and do things regardless of feeling or being perceived as beautiful. Beauty is a largely redundant prerequisite for getting shit done. IN FACT many of us do lots of stuff EVERYDAY whilst being made to feel ugly. IMAGINE IF WE EVEN FELT VAGUELY ADEQUATE??!?!?!?!’ I was feeling riled. And it’s not just about doing, it’s about being. There’s lots said about mental well-being and breathing and holism. Oneness and well-being is about feeling whole, complete and connected, and these things are impossible when we have internalised a mantra of our own chasm-like insufficiency.
I love people for lots of reasons, we all do, superficial physical attraction is one aspect, but an aspect which is intimately connected to all of the others. When there’s chemistry in a sexual or platonic relationship it colours everything, it is holistic. We might consider someone to have a gorgeous voice, or hair, or a presence that lends them an air of approachability or impressive gravitas or they are funny and silly, or they just have something about them. All these things make us human. All the glorious little idiosyncracies and comforting similarities can make living all together wonderful. But we have to look for them. This can be harder than it sounds when we’re seeing more images of bodies than ever before, but we are failing to see people.