Beauty in Diversity
Beauty- what is it, exactly? A subjective opinion? A socially agreed upon ideal? Or simply anything we want it to be? When we think of a beautiful woman, the image we get in our head varies from one person to another. Some see beauty in physical attributes, others in specific qualities they qualify as of the utmost importance to them. In any way, objectively, our vision of what is beautiful is nothing.
Over the past decades, what we consider as the “ideal” woman has evolved countless times. Marilyn Monroe, Kate Moss, Gigi Hadid, Ashley Graham… you name it. From a cinched waist to a curvy figure, we envy what we cannot have, constantly comparing ourselves to others who are “better”. As a woman, the pressure of being perfect in every possible form is something that concerns me very deeply.
And this is the story of how I decided not to care anymore.
As teenagers, we all go through physical changes. Curves appear, so do marks. Our bodies change, and we feel insecure. We compare ourselves, we put each other down, and this turns into a never ending cycle of self-shame and low self-esteem. It seems like this cycle is present in all of us, no matter the image we present on the surface.
At the age of 13, I moved to China. For the next two years, I attended an international school system. The experience I had there left me puzzled, with a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Though I had lived abroad before, this was the first time as a teenager that I lost my point of reference. This was a new country, a new language, a new setting. Coming into this, my self-esteem was low. With an English level lower than others, I was teased for my accent, I was teased for my struggles. Physically, my body had been changing. I was strong. I had muscles and hair. Yet, I had never thought of how I looked and how I presented myself before.
To others, it seemed unthinkable. Already at that time, girls around me had started getting rid of undesirable hair. Smooth legs, designer clothes and the new iPhone seemed to be a teenage girl motto. In my family, the “standard” ideal of beauty was closer to naturalism, a total opposition from the expats in my school who came from well-off families. To them, the concept of wearing no makeup to school was unthinkable, unheard of. I was an outcast, a tomboy, and most importantly, the weird chick who did not know english. With that in mind, we could say beauty is a distorted concept in the mind of a teenager. To me, it’s more of a socially accepted standard. It varies depending on the social status.
The things I heard from some of the boys, between my experience at this school and today are completely different. Some of the things they said scarred me for life. Others simply disgusted me. One comment that struck me the most was not about my appearance, but about how I presented myself. In P.E (Physical Education), we had swimming for a few months. To me, swimming is fundamental. At the time, it was a huge part of my life. Shaving was not my priority, so I had body hair. Like any girl our age who is not pressured into shaving would keep. In my case, it made them uncomfortable. It grossed them out. “Dude, go shave”, they said behind my back (which, thinking back, is so much worse than saying it to my face).
I was humiliated. So I shaved, plucked, trimmed, epilated, and waxed undesirable hair on my body. All-because of comments; all- because of beauty standards in our society. This shows particularly well how much media, our peers,and our families can have an impact on fragile things like self-esteem. While parents will embrace who you are, the discourse of a child verbally harassing another is not unheard of. Children are, after all, the harshest judges, especially with the unfamiliar.
You might ask me, why would I not fight back? Is beauty not in diversity?
To this I would say: when you are insecure, when you feel unloved, you don’t think about the situation rationally. At the time, giving them what they wanted seemed like the best solution for the teasing to stop. For a long time, I have hated the word “beautiful”. Somehow it felt degrading, like I was reduced to this singular and robotic unit that popular girls were put in. It seemed ridiculous, yet unattainable. In a way, society tricked me into believing I needed to be like other girls, like those models in perfume ads. Although I would never get their silky smooth hair, their confidence, or their beauty. All these things seemed linked. The influence of media on our body image was corrupting.
In this experience, I learned that no matter what you do, you will never be the beauty they want. And you should not.
The teasing, the name calling, it did not stop.
In 9th grade, I moved back into the French system. The wounds of the “beauty factor” were still healing. I remember that during the summer, I had stopped wearing bikinis altogether. I was ashamed of my body now. I did not feel beautiful. When I came back from summer break, my body image was low, although I was extremely fit. Being fit, was not the beauty standard. Nonetheless, I continued swimming competitively.
A few months after arriving at school, a group of younger guys decided to pick on me. They did not pick on my size. They did not pick on my body hair. They objectified me, vulgarized me. “You are perfect, your body is flawless. Aside from your face! If your body was headless I would fuck you anytime!” I felt worthless, like a vulgar string puppet. I was a fool to believe them. They were fools altogether.
These moments hurt. They hurt my relationship with myself, with others’ intentions (good or bad), they created my obsession with body perfection, they created my jealousy in other girls’ beauty. Reflecting back on this, I realize what all of this was. As teenagers, we are idiots. Idiots that look at stereotypically degrading porn and think “I want to touch her huge tits and her fat ass” or “I wish I was more like this”. It creates in both sexes a distorted image of beauty and an unhealthy ideal. Catcalls in the street bring it to a whole new level. Being reduced to your appearance rather than a whole. Being seen a piece of meat rather than an individual. Being treated as a potential trophy rather than a beautiful woman who deserves respect.
Over the past few years, the emergence of empowering celebrities, and ad campaigns pushing towards a diversified panel of women helped me understand how little significance beauty has. Beauty is not one thing; it regroups all body types, all complexions, and most importantly, the confidence in what we are. Though today I don’t see myself as beautiful, I believe beauty in diversity is something we need to embrace from the youngest age. Centering our attention on what a person physically represents has been a destructive thought process for far too long. Change is something that many want, but few practice, and truthfully, though I do believe in the ill intentions and lack of education of catcallers and haters, I do not believe that it is their fault to not look past the stereotypical social and moral image of women that we fight to get rid of.