Shoot, I said it. Anyone who knows me well has heard me rant (likely on multiple occasions) about frustrations with societal beauty standards and the modern, largely Western, insistence that one’s attractiveness or even worth increase the lower the numbers on the scale go.
In some respects, things have been improving lately thanks to increasing numbers of people speaking out regarding body positivity and size inclusivity. For a lot of folks, curves are cool again.* But there’s still fine print there. Curves might be in, but only around a woman’s chest and butt, and waists should be artificially tiny. Stretch marks should be seen nowhere, and acne must never be allowed. Hair has to be glossy and voluminous, with copious time devoted to the “no makeup” makeup look, and effortless-looking but pricey attire.
And that simply doesn’t reflect the wide spectrum of normal, beautiful bodies.
I’ve been so impressed by how many of my friends have made it a point to push back against all these supposed standards and set a wonderful example of shining exactly as they are.
But… the holidays are approaching.
We’re still a full week out from Thanksgiving, and I have already heard far too many conversations about holiday diets (either prior to, planned for after, or both). And I’m already tired of it.
Admittedly, I have a low tolerance for that type of talk. I don’t diet. It’s a personal decision because of certain health predispositions in my family history, and an awareness that if I did, I would be likely to unhealthily fixate on wherever I placed the “goal.” I step on a scale maybe once every few months, and I’d prefer to do so less. While wedding planning, I kept a slightly closer eye on my weight with the sole purpose of staying around where I was and not letting stress do too much of a number on my body. If I overeat at one meal, I might have more conservative portions at the next. I stop eating when I’m full, and eat when I’m hungry. I don’t eat as many vegetables as I’d like to, and should exercise more, but I make sure to listen when my body is telling me that it needs more of those things.
This isn’t to say I’ve mastered body positivity or that I always like the way my clothes fit. Far from it. But I’m working on it, and hope that together, more of us can.
Let’s be clear: I’m not trying to say that all dieting by anyone ever is bad. It’s important to take care of your body, and a holistic diet — with adequate portions, a variety of nutrients, combined with exercise — can be an excellent way to improve one’s health, quality of life, and even lifespan. But when diets become all about the number on the scale, or certain measurements, or what other people think of you, or plain and simple control, that’s no longer promoting your health.
One of the most important, under-discussed aspects of adulting is identifying the messages we were told growing up, how they impacted us, and whether our reactions to them have benefited us or harmed us.
I’ve been on my no-diet soapbox since elementary school because I was taught that health was about way more than a number and people are beautiful no matter what they look like. But over the years, I also internalized a lot of negative messages about how I ought to look and they’ve taken a toll on my self-confidence. And that’s for someone who by and large fits a lot of those “standards.” Folks with especially small or large frames, who have disabilities, whose hair has a mind of its own, or who are considered too short or too whatever, get handed even more negative messages about the way they ought to look. And after a while, the boundary starts to blur between taking care of one’s body out of self-love and restricting ourselves because of others’ opinions.
If you are from or currently in an environment where people tend to place a high priority on needing to look a certain way, check in and see how you might have internalized unhealthy messages. If necessary, make adjustments to take care of yourself better. That can mean a more balanced meal and some exercise, or having a treat for dinner and giving yourself distance from people who aren’t building you up. And please, please don’t be afraid to talk to loved ones or a doctor if weight or food are interfering with your quality of life.
If most of the compliments you give people are focused on their appearance — especially things like “you look great!” to mean “you’ve lost weight” — it might be time to re-examine what sorts of messages you’re sending to other people. Appearance-based compliments aren’t bad, but they should be balanced by compliments about who a person is, or how happy they seem that day, and other positive elements that don’t reinforce false, constricting standards of what a person should look like.
And for goodness’ sake, it’s the holidays. Eat as much dessert as you want to.
Got something to add? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!
* It is necessary to note here that people of color, especially Black women, have been at the forefront of this movement and that the dominant culture has historically profited by widely popularizing and capitalizing upon trends, traditions, and innovations within marginalized communities. We should be learning from other communities, not stealing from them.