I don’t want to be beautiful.
Much like Elyse, I’m sick of being bombarded by social media posts and graphics telling me I’m beautiful and should love myself. Most of the people posting these things have never met me, so I could be butt-ugly for all they know. But even if I were, say, Liv Tyler, it wouldn’t matter because I don’t WANT to be beautiful. I’m okay with it, and I wish my culture could come to terms with it.
I get that the point of all those images and posts is to tell women that they have value even if they don’t match society’s narrowly-constructed paradigm of attractiveness. I get that poor body image, eating disorders, and self-hate are serious and widespread problems among women.* But we’re doing a disservice to ourselves and other women by saying, “You’re beautiful just the way you are!” and leaving it at that. It just affirms that appearance is the most important thing, that women are only valuable as objects to be gazed upon.
I’ll acknowledge my privilege here: I fit into mainstream standards of attractiveness. Most of the time I don’t hide it anymore, but it’s not what I want people to notice most about me. I’m smart, quick, and witty. I’m funny, with a flair for sarcasm, satire, and wordplay. I’m passionate about many issues and love to debate, and I get involved with issues that matter to me. I’m creative, a skilled writer, a talented knitter. I’m good with kids and animals. I care about people, and I’m fiercely loyal to the ones I love. These are all aspects of myself that I value much more than my looks. They’re the kinds of things I look for in other people, and I hope they’re the things other people see in me.
It’s not that I hate my body. I did, for a long time. I was taught as a kid that my needs were unacceptable, that they were too much, that I didn’t deserve to have them or meet them. I hated my body for needing food, sleep, warmth, love. I punished it with self-harm and eating disorders. Even when I stopped harming my body, I still resented it for making me weak and needy.
But now I’m at peace with my body. I don’t hate it for existing, and I don’t see my self as separate from it anymore. I don’t love my body. Realistically, I probably never will; there’s been too many feelings of betrayal and too much self-abuse. But I’m okay with my body. That’s enough for me.
Ironically, it was getting seriously, chronically ill that let me be okay with my body. At first I was angry–my body had betrayed me again! I couldn’t control what my body was doing, I was in unbelievable pain, and I was stuck with a lifelong illness. I went from doing kung fu three times a week and walking almost everywhere I went to having to quit kung fu and needing a nap after a 30-minute walk. The fatigue was so bad I could barely function.
Acceptance snuck up on me. I found myself feeling grateful when I could still feel my muscles stretch as I moved, when my legs could still hold me up. Some days I’m even grateful I’ve been able to keep my colon so far! I still have my angry, resentful days (mostly during flares!), but overall I’m much more accepting of my body, ulcers and limitations and all.
*I know these things are also an issue for men, genderqueer, and non-binary folks, but I won’t presume to speak to their experience. I’m writing from my experience as a cis-woman, and that seems to be the group to which most of these messages are directed.