When I was in high school, I came to the conclusion that I was beautiful. In my head, I vainly described myself as resembling autumn, with my hair of red and my eyes of green, my skin as white and cold as the oncoming winter. I don’t think I was ever condescending or cruel about my beauty, but I was most certainly aware of it.
Truly, from the time I was in high school, I only attributed myself as having one real physical flaw: my stomach wasn’t flat.
I wasn’t fat by any definition of the word (curvy, maybe), but even still, my belly was naturally rounded, protruding just a bit at all times. It was simply how I was built.
And for a long time, I hated it: that one physical flaw to mar what was otherwise perfection.
So, about a year ago, I came to the conclusion that I would fix it. I would lose weight – whatever amount of weight it took to get rid of it. And doing so was surprisingly easy. I came to enjoy it, really. Exercise came to be a great de-stressor for me, and eating healthy was just another way to be creative, considering I was constantly striving to create delicious recipes that would shrink my stomach at the same time.
Overall, I lost about fifty-five pounds, and at my smallest, I was about six pounds underweight. And my stomach still protruded nonetheless.
It wasn’t fair, I thought. After all, all that I wanted was what came naturally to so many other girls. I didn’t necessarily want to be Jennifer Lopez or anything – I just wanted there to be a single flat, simple plain stretching between my ribs and my thighs, like every other girl had. Why was I different? Why couldn’t I look like that?
It took me a while to accept that that was just the way my body was. Naturally, I was built to have a stomach that protruded a bit. There’s no real reason why, it just is. And I could say that it was God’s cruel joke, that when he was constructing me he had physical perfection in mind but decided to throw in one small defect like a hero’s fatal flaw in a tragedy, but I don’t want to say that. Because, really, when you think about it, why is it a flaw? Why do I think that every other girl has a perfectly flat stomach? Where are these opinions coming from?
I think the answer is pretty obvious: from the media.
It didn’t occur to me that it might not even be possible for me to achieve a flat stomach simply because, all my life, I was surrounded by images of women with flat stomachs. It seemed to be the default – the easily attainable for all girls of a certain size. All I had to do was achieve that size and I would get it. Nobody told me the complexities of the human form, the fact that some people could achieve that and some can’t, until the former message was already so engrained in my mind that no amount of logic could chase it out.
Now, I’m not the sort of person to demonize the media. Generally speaking, I don’t think the media is the cause of everything that’s wrong in society. I’m much more inclined to believe that the media is merely a reflection of all the ugly values society holds. The media only ever portrays women with flat stomachs as beautiful because, en masse, we as a society have come to accept that that is the only way for a stomach to be beautiful. But why? And who says so? Why can’t my protruding belly be just as sexy as another girl’s well-earned abs? As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain that there are people out there who think just that. So why should I put myself down for something I can’t really help anyway? Why torment myself, why force myself down to an unhealthy weight, all in the pursuit of someone else’s definition of beauty.
And although I used my stomach as an example here, that is only one way in which the mainstream media has completely sidelined or ignored one form of beauty for another.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll never see a desirable woman in a movie with as much body hair as I naturally have.
Women over the age 0f, say, fifty are too rarely represented as beautiful, to the point that we just accept that good looks have an age limit. “Beauty fades” we all so poetically point out on our Facebook pages, without ever asking ourself why we think that way.
And what about women with muscles? Women who worked hard to achieve a goal they had in mind, women who structured their every day around gaining strength? Shouldn’t their beauty be publicly celebrated?
If I went over every type of beautiful woman, I’d be here all day, but I think you get my point: there is more than one way to be pretty. There are countless, infinite ways, endless combinations of features that we don’t even think about on a day-to-day basis because the media never tells us to think about them. They’re too busy showing us a single image. And so, today, here I am, demanding them to show us more, because we deserve more. We deserve to recognize the beauty in what others tell us are flaws.