This is the second post in a series about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies. You can read the first article, Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens, here.
Five years ago, in a posh Tokyo neigbourhood filled with restaurants, bars and elegant shops, I finally found a hair salon where I could get an amazing hair cut and colour. Both the stylist and colourist are lovely people who speak English and, over time, we’ve become friends. For many people living outside their home countries, this is like finding the holy grail.
Before I even sit down at the salon, a member of the staff has placed a couple of English language magazines on the counter where I will be sitting. They never forget. They place those magazines out for me because they know I don’t speak or read Japanese and they want to make my experience in their salon as lovely as possible.
I absolutely experience this gesture as love. But the thing is that I never open the magazines.
Vogue. Cosmopolitan. Others magazines from that particular high fashion family. There are no women in these magazines that look even remotely like me because all of the industries involved in making these magazines (fashion, beauty, diet) are based on the assumption that the worst thing a woman could be is fat. These magazines tell us how to dress to look thinner (not fat), how to apply makeup to look thinner (not fat), how to pose for photographs so that we look thinner (not fat).
In my teens and early twenties, I bought and read these magazines but the thing that got to me was the complete and utter absence of roundness. Not only were there no women who looked like me, the “average” sized women I knew were not represented in these magazines either. I watched as many of my friends and colleagues compared themselves unfavourably to the women portrayed in fashion magazines. Even when they received a compliment, some of these women would skip right over the thank you and dive straight into the self-criticism, “But my butt is too big” or “my hair is too curly” as if the whole damned world would shut right down if she were to say, “Thank you. I do look awesome.”
So I stopped buying the magazines. After a while, I stopped reading them in waiting rooms as even the articles were based on the assumption that a woman should do whatever was humanly possible to look beautiful… where beauty was always defined as being thin and taking up less space.
That has not been my experience of beauty.
My little protest of one didn’t have an impact on the beauty industry but I felt a LOT better.
So when the staff at the Tokyo salon place those magazines on the counter in front of me, I experience this gesture as love but I don’t read them.
Last year, during a morning at the salon, another English speaking client mentioned that she’d like a magazine.
“You can have mine,” I said.
“You’re sure you’re done with them?”
“I don’t read them.” And I explained the reasons why.
“You don’t even read them aspirationally?,” she asked.
Nope. Not even aspirationally. Especially not aspirationally.
While I was thinking about this piece, I watched a documentary called The September Issue about the making of the annual September issue of Vogue. The issue documented in the film featured photo shoots in Paris and Rome with sumptuous interiors, lush exteriors and amazing clothing, textures and colour. The photos were stunning.
Perception is a funny thing. Because the only women we see in these kinds of glamour photographs are very thin, we develop an expectation that these are the only women who SHOULD be in these photographs… who are ALLOWED to be in these kinds of photographs. We start to believe that THIS IS JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE.
If you’re a woman in an average sized or larger body and you visit Paris or Rome, you may may find it really difficult to put yourself into a picture that you don’t believe you have a right to be in.
It’s not like anyone will say, “Hey, round girl. Are you crazy? You’re not allowed to have your photo taken draped across that red velvet sofa like that. At your size, it’s indecent. Here, just take a nice Instagram of your cafe au lait beside these pink roses on this lovely marble table top.” Except someone does say that. Many of us have taken all the implicit and explicit messages we’ve ever received about beauty, bodies, power and pleasure and we’ve come to this ridiculous life-limiting conclusion on our own. We’ve built up a wall between ourselves and the fun possibility of being photographed on the velvet sofa.
In another example, I’ve noticed that a lot of my women friends are not in photographs with their kids. They’ll say, “But someone has to take the photo.” Sure. But it doesn’t always have to be you. Your kids are going to want photographs of you together and I promise you that they will not care about whatever you’re currently obsessing about… your tummy or your hairstyle or what you chose to wear on that particular day in September 2017.
In the first two decades of my life, I stopped reading fashion magazines because there was no one in them that looked like me. In this part of my life, I want to put myself back in the picture of my own life and I want to challenge you to do the same.
It doesn’t have to be a glamorous photo. You could start with a photograph with your kid. Give someone in your life an opportunity to love you and care for you by asking them to take that photograph.
It takes courage to be seen, especially if you think society doesn’t want to see your body. What I’m discovering is that everything that’s been learned can be unlearned.
Here’s a new thought: There’s no wrong way to have a body. Try that on. Wriggle around inside that thought. Isn’t it delicious?
I look forward to seeing your photographs.