Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I stopped reading body-positive websites

As someone who loves to sew, I find myself falling into the world of fashion at times. I don't usually read things that are about designers specifically or anything like that, but one non-sewing related area I used to find myself reading was websites about positive self image and loving the body you've got.

Some of these blogs I then started reading more regularly. They were written by intelligent and funny women (always women). Then I realized that they were doing more harm than good, and perpetuating the lies of our culture. These women, clearly all well-intentioned, were accepting the framework society gives them and trying to feel good, and help others feel good, inside of the framework.

As a Catholic and an Aristotelian/Thomist, though, I think this framework is based on a lie.

First, while trying to talk about beauty, they strip the word of all meaning. Beauty is a wonderful thing, and a necessary thing, but it comes in so many more shapes and sizes than what our culture tells us. Body image blogs try to step outside this framework by saying that everyone is beautiful, but that's a mistake too. First of all, saying that everyone is beautiful is like saying that everyone is smart. You water down the original word until it doesn't mean anything any more, so it can be applied to everyone. But those are words that are used to pick out things that are more special than the others. If we all looked like supermodels, we would find another criterion to use to call people beautiful. Being beautiful can, and should, be used to refer to more than just blond-haired blue-eyed bathing beauties, but if we expand it so everything and anything is beautiful, it loses all meaning. Which brings me to my second point.

It doesn't matter if we're beautiful. Our value does not come from our beauty--our beauty comes from our value. Of course, all other things being equal, being more beautiful is better, because it is one step closer to perfection, but there are other, more important ways, to improve yourself. Would you rather spend time with someone who spent their days getting waxed, trimmed, shaven, colored, dyed, and primped, or someone who spent their days reading or helping others? Me too. Of course there's nothing wrong with using some tools to make yourself more beautiful, but moderation is lacking in so much of it these days. I read the comment thread to a blog giveaway where to enter to win a gift card, you had to complete the sentence "I feel most confident when..." Almost all the entrants were woman, and almost all the entries talked about clothes, hair, or shoes. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, people, and I think this overemphasis on beauty is to blame. We need to focus more on inherent human dignity and less on beauty. Because really, some people aren't beautiful. They don't need to hear "Oh, if you buy all this stuff and spend four hours a day, covering up what you really look like, then you will be beautiful." They don't need to hear, "You're beautiful the way you are" because they know that that is based on a redefinition of beautiful and does not mean what it means for other people. What they need to hear is love for them as a person, not for them as a body which could be attractive if it were stuffed full of silicones and painted over with chemicals.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I am convinced that the phrase "love your body" itself is harmful. It encourages a Cartesian mindset where you are not your body, and your body is not you. This is a trap I find myself falling into all the time: My body prevents me from running more than ten miles a week. My body prevents me from eating noodles. My body hates me. And I hate it. But this is all wrong, and this, I am convinced, is why we have such a body image problem. You are your soul AND your body. Your body is a part of you. Life is full of enough necessary divisions and distinctions. Why let society and bad philosophy divide us in two, and turn us against our very selves?

At this point, I am often challenged by someone to give my own fix, then, if I know so much about it. So I will.

Stop worrying about it.

Be healthy, because that is part of basic self-care. I'm not giving you license to eat whatever you want and never exercise. Be sensible and healthy, but just stop worrying about how your body measures up, either to others or to some societal standard. It really doesn't matter, because this is the body you were born in, and this is the only one you get. It can do what it can do, it looks like what it looks like, and that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Stop worrying. There are more important things to worry about.

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