This is the first post in a series I’ll be writing about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies.
A few days ago I read a Facebook post about an American High School Principal’s comments to an assembly full of Grade 9 and 10 students. She was talking about leggings. Yes, that’s right. Leggings. And it’s not even that leggings were against the school’s dress code (they’re not) but the Principal felt that she needed to educate the girls about who should be wearing them. She said, “I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now. Unless you wear a size 0 or 2 and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat.”
In the comments to this Facebook post, several women spoke out against this educator’s message and the potential negative impact on the students. Someone commented that this would make girls with eating disorders even more self-conscious. Yes, I thought. That’s true. Her words might further harm those with body image issues (which describes many of us) but the real problem with her comments is the assumption that it’s not okay for girls and women to live in a round body. That it’s not okay for them to be fat.
I’m going to repeat this. The problem is the assumption that it’s not okay for girls and women to live in a round body. That it’s not okay for them to be fat.
So I took a deep breath and wrote this: “The most shocking thing about this remark is that it is not new. People have been talking to girls and women like this forever and we are just now starting to notice and to say, “That’s not right’. Also these kinds of remarks are not just harmful for girls with eating disorders but also to actual fat girls. Like me and so many other gorgeous girls and women like me. ”
Now, if you know me, you’ll know that’s not a typical Monna-move. For many years, I’ve flown under the radar with my views on body positivity. While I feel SO strongly about understanding the ways in which society has shaped our views about weight, beauty, gender and power, it felt safer to have those conversations with students or coaching clients individually or in small groups. The work of helping girls and women untangle years of conditioning and limiting beliefs about themselves has been largely an offline and private endeavour. But there was something about one of the commenters that really got to me.
She shared a screenshot of “bad leggings images” from Google, chastised us for bullying the Principal and celebrated this educator for teaching the girls the right way to dress and behave. I could not believe it. A number of people responded to her comments but she was not to be deterred.
I thought about responding. I thought about asking her why she hated fat girls and women so much. Something had rendered this woman incapable of letting girls and women enjoy the body they’re in and dressing to please themselves.
But I didn’t post. Fortunately my better angels arrived just in time (as they so often do) and I chose to click on this woman’s Facebook page to learn more about her. Although I was not entirely surprised to see other conservative views shared on her page, one very relevant fact caught my attention. She had competed in beauty pageants in the early 1960s and had won a state title. While I’m sure that some young women have had positive experiences in these competitions, there’s not much space for body diversity or rounder bodies. Beauty pageant culture places thinness in the Penthouse right next door to godliness. Beauty pageants perpetuate the idea that it’s a girl’s job to be pretty.
It is not the job of girls and women to be pretty. That’s not our job.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so angry at this woman. I saw her as absolutely shaped by her life experience and by the beliefs of the adults around her as she grew up and developed her own worldview. I felt empathy for her and her situation.
Instead of responding to this woman’s Facebook comments I went to my own Facebook page and wrote:
Lovelies, After reading some particularly toxic + fat-shaming comments regarding what young women should (and should not) wear, I remembered these words from poet nayyirah. waheed.
YOU ARE YOUR OWN STANDARD OF BEAUTY.
I’d love for you to share, in the comments below, a photograph of yourself. A photo in which you are your own standard of beauty. I’ll go first. Monna xo
Do you remember the line, “If you build it, he will come” from the movie Field of Dreams? Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, hears these words and builds a baseball field on his corn field. Everyone thinks he is crazy but it turns out that he’s not crazy at all. My version of this was, “If you write it, she will show up.” On Sunday, eleven members of my tribe responded to my post by sharing photographs of themselves and claiming their own beauty.
These photographs said:
*I don’t need to feel totally ready in order to show up for myself (because I’ll never feel totally ready)
*I don’t have to look perfect in order to show up (because, of course, there is no perfect)
*I believe in my own inherent worth and that of my Mom and my kids and my friends (and even the inherent worth of the body shamers because it’s our hope that when they know better, they’ll do better)
*I’m not going to feel ashamed of myself or the way I look no matter what other people say and do
I’m so grateful to these women for helping me turn a really frustrating Facebook encounter into a lovely and affirming experience.
What is one way in which you could CELEBRATE your own unique standard of beauty?