Body Positivity— or Not
Recently France just passed stating the models must have doctor’s notes attesting to a healthy weight before they can be employed. Something like 1 in 5 french girls have or will struggle with an eating disorder because fashion is king in France, so they set the standard for body image. The new legislation is supposed to be live as of April 2016. You can read more about it here, here, and here.
Other countries have started cracking down on excessive thinness in models- the UK, Italy, and Denmark have or are considering enacting legislation to prevent underweight models from working.
Fashion has such an impact on social psyche. Body shaming has become a much discussed issue in recent years, with people calling for ending photoshop as well as “skinny” and “fat” shaming.
I’ve never been skinny shamed obviously— and honestly I never thought much about it. I feel slightly less concerned by someone saying “real women have curves” and alienating thin women than I feel about women being told they are “disgusting” because of their weight. That being said I’ve recently changed my tune a bit after hearing stories about women who are told they aren’t attractive because they don’t have large breasts (I’ll give you some of mine) or hips. Let’s just say this: there is no winning. I give up.
Even with the new “strong is the new skinny” movement, women just can’t catch a break. Take, for example, my case of what I like to call “T-Rex arms”. This is not to suggest that my arms are disproportionally short, but, rather, they are disproportionally weak (which, by the way, is not true of real T-Rex arms). I don’t have the strong arms that are so popular these days, I have fluffy arms. Ehh.
But body positivity isn’t about changing what is fashionable to make ourselves feel better. It is about feeling better about bodies because these bodies are good ones. In light of this notion I have two stories:
Before my husband and I were married, back in the early days of dating— complete with awkwardness and the tendency towards over sensitivity— I happened to be completing a project that required a lot of traveling. I was sitting on a park bench, waiting for an office to open after lunch, when an older (and by this I mean approximately 90 years old) man came up to me and asked to sit down. He sat quietly for a moment and then said “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you are a very attractive girl”. I replied “Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment.” He smiled, I supposed encouraged to talk more and continued “I’ll bet the lads are beating down your door.” I laughed “Not so much.” “Well,” he seemed a little irritated by this, “they don’t know a good thing when they see it. In my day you would have had to beat them back. I guess we like women that looked like women in those days”. We talked a little while longer, but I can’t remember what about. What stuck with me is the difference in what was considered “beautiful”. A lot had changed in the at least 50 or so years since this mans hey day. Beauty is really about momentary fashion for most people. I prefer to build my life around classic things— as Coco Chanel said “Fashion Changes, Style Endures.” For me, style is making due with what you have, and being healthy as you can be, not wishing you had something else.
The second story is about ablism. When talking about bodies we tend to talk about how a body looks. We don’t talk about what a body does. One thing I like about the new French legislation is that the doctor’s note must state that the model weight is sufficient to do her job. It doesn’t have anything to do with how she looks— it’s about ability to perform in the way the job requires. I never thought thought about ability until I didn’t have it— that is, finding out at the age of 22 I was irreversibly deaf. You will never think about how capable your body is until it isn’t capable anymore. Your body is more than it’s looks— it works hard for you. After all, you are not merely your body— you are a composite of a soul, a mind, and a cage. You either have a beautiful prison or a humble hut of a gaol. I think of the meager trappings of bodies as easier to bypass if we aren’t too attached to to our prisons. We can focus more on developing the other aspects of ourselves. Back when I couldn’t hear— because now I have Cochlear Implants— I wrote and read and concentrated on those parts of myself that still worked. I have tried to stay in that mindset even now that I can hear. The thing about having an invisible disability is that you still feel betrayed by your body in a similar way that someone with a visible disability does— except no one else knows about it. On the one hand, it means that you avoid most of the stares and whispers (or at least you don’t hear the whispers). On the other hand, it doesn’t make it much better, because people still treat you as if you are defective. So you turn inward, and the only way that you can cope with this betrayal of self is to focus on those elements of self that haven’t betrayed you. It’s scant comfort, but character is better than beauty anyways.