Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You're So Vain

I've been living with a lot of songs running through my mind lately. Today, I can't help but hum the Beatles hit, All You Need Is Love. A few lines keep coming to me: "There's nothing you can sing that can't be sung" and "Nothing you can know that isn't known." Similarly, what I am about to say in this blog is nothing earth shattering or revelatory. You are probably smart enough to have already "sung" it or "known" it for yourself. Regardless, John and Paul give me courage to share despite the potential for redundancy-- because for me, somehow it clicked this time around and I thought I'd share the love.
* * *

I think it is a little taboo to admit publicly that you feel some sort of dissatisfaction with your appearance. We are all supposed to be confident and happy, above those sort of petty things. Who wants to be vain and admit they spend time worrying about how they look when there are more important issues in the world, like caring for children, improving relationships, and solving world hunger?

Do we really measure our successes by pounds? Men don't tend to do this...why do we?

 That's why I think I feel such guilt over my own pre-occupation with beauty. I beat myself up for feeling bad that I have any slight imperfection. I tend to think, "If only I were prettier or thinner. Blonder. Taller. Tanner." And yet paradoxically, I feel quite happy with who I am and this body I have been blessed with. It can do amazing things regardless of a few blemishes. And in fact, it looks pretty good doing it (most of the time)!

Will it really be life changing? Forget about friendship, childbirth, meeting a goal, helping a stranger...you found the right eyeliner!

So why the mixed bag of feelings? I think it has to do with a fierce war on women. A war whose enemies know that if they can cause dissatisfaction and unattainable goals that they will always have customers. It is a rare and admirably strong woman (or girl!) who can avoid (at least occasionally) feeling down on herself when she is constantly being bombarded with messages telling her that her appearance is the most important obsession (as evidenced by the two pictures above). And an obsession with impossible standards.

I used to look at the beauty industry as a kind benefactor, a nameless ally giving me tools to help escape potential self loathing and nitpicking by offering solutions and resources to finally be able to "love the skin [I'm] in." I know I'm not the only one being tricked by this tactic as evidenced by 2 minutes on Pinterest.

Ironic, coming from a photoshopped image!
I think we like to think we are above these kind of influences. I know I do. Who wants to admit that the cheesy jingle sucked us into buying those cookies at the store or the glittery ad in the magazine played into our shampoo choice?

Instead, we like to fool ourselves into thinking that meeting these beauty "ideals" are lofty goals. We make excuses that our weight and body shape is about "health."

Yup, really healthy thinking!

We wouldn't want to admit that we are superficial or vain or subject to mass marketing schemes. We tell ourselves it is inherently good to be "healthy." Or that it is important to want to improve ourselves. It is about discipline or self mastery.

Depends on your goal weight. And your genetics, too, maybe.
And it is.

It does if you have unrealistic expectations

Unless our goals are unrealistic. Then it becomes less about self mastery and more about self defeat.


I think we all know that photoshop is real and used extensively. But I was pretty unaware just HOW much. I don't see a big problem with removing a few blemishes, evening out skin tones, smoothing out lines.

This is still significant photoshopping
But I didn't realize that it is pretty standard to remove chunks of flesh or body parts like ribs or hips, or to even add back in to bulk-up those otherwise too-skinny models. Even the often idolized Victoria Secret models evidently don't make the cut (then again, in their pictures they do, in a big way, on the editing room floor!).

I guess she is skinny enough to have hip bones and ribs showing, and the real chest to match (small)! (Photoshopped on the right)
Still looks great but... (photoshop on the right)
And my favorite, she has a belly pooch like me!
And finally, in case you think I am crazy, want to attribute it to hard work outs and good self control, and still don't see the wonders of photoshop...

Recognize this man? I think it is Hugh Laurie from House, MD
...even our most fit role models get the treatment.

What happened to Kelly's abs?

If it is really about health, why aren't we trying to look like the Serena on the left?

When I started writing this post, I was unsure if I should share it. I realized it may lend itself to misunderstanding: that I may seem judgmental; like I am encouraging women to embrace unhealthy ideals such as obesity or personal stagnation in the order of "loving ourselves;" or like I lack in self confidence. That I am a whiner, complainer, or a fisher of compliments. So I left it sitting...
And then at church I was asked to read a quotation and the last line hit me:
"Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!"
--Neil A. Maxwell
This ad seems ridiculous. But many of the images we compare ourselves to are just as preposterous.
I decided that that was the motivation for this post. Are our untrained, mislead desires making us the enemies of ourselves? Is our quest for unattainable physical perfection causing self hatred, feelings of failure or dissatisfaction? Do we discount our good qualities and the successes that truly matter for trivial matters like thigh gaps and overcoming hunger pains in attempt to look like the unreal images we see everyday?

I hope my small self-revelations may be helpful to others, even if some may find me vain or pre-occupied with trivial matters, lacking in confidence, or just plain silly. That may be right.
That's why I am still "in training" to see the inherent beauty all around and in all of us. And I am trying my hardest to remember that in myself. So I decided, I look great! I would still like to lose a few pounds, get in better shape, eat healthier. But in the meantime, I want to enjoy this beautiful, womanly body I have been given for what it is--something beautiful and to be celebrated.

And so I end with another line from a song:

"At the end of the day," I want to be remembered for the kind of person I was, not for how I looked.



1 comment:

Suz said...

I would find it hard to believe that anyone hasn't had a thought or two about what they deem un-perfect about themselves, at least if they've ever watched TV, a movie or seen a billboard.