“I don’t think it’s wrong to take pride in your appearance, but not to the extent that it swallows your whole and completely cancels out all of the other things that make you who you are.”
These words by model and actress Jameela Jamil speak to the weighty issue of women’s self-worth and body image that mostly has been shaped by the pop culture-obsessed mass media. Indeed, over time, media have fed audiences with frames that define beauty in women. Print, television and electronic media are awash with idealised representations of a woman’s beauty. All glorify one common view of beauty – the “thin ideal”.
As a result, the Internet is exploding with weight loss apps and meal plans. A constant exposure to such messages has led to poor body image among many women. This kind of objectification has reduced a woman’s worth to her appearance and sexual appeal. But can a woman’s worth be gauged on a weigh scale? Are her weight and body shape all she is worth?
As a woman who is few months shy of 30 years, I’m profoundly struck by the ever changing and unattainable variations of “beauty” in a woman. As a child, I was comfortable with chubby cheeks swallowing my eyes. I was fine with a layered neck and a full stomach. Today, children as young as five know, thin is beautiful. The plump are ridiculed.
While a teen, I was exposed to literature that idolised the woman with a thin waist, a long neck, long legs, wide eyes, a well-rounded butt, a dimpled face, name it. It was in high school that this impression of beauty became grounded. You see, my principal loathed plumb girls and did not hide it. Too bad for you if you were big sized and came bottom of the class. My mind was fed with the notion that plumb was synonymous with dumb. They were viewed as girls who only fed their stomachs and never their minds. So we hated growing big. We learnt to starve. We learnt to throw away the maize in our githeri portion. We learnt to skip the morning porridge. We learnt to hate ourselves for eating the irresistible loaves of bread on a weekend. Why? We didn’t want to look fat and dumb. We wanted to look slender and sharp! We were obsessed with weight loss.
As a young woman in college, I was constantly aware of my weight. I guarded it. I checked it. I loved a perfect size 8 fit. My body was obedient and I did not have to starve. I was okay that I almost fit the “prescribed” size. I say almost since my body refused to comply with an outrageous beauty standard; a thigh gap! My thighs still met and there was nothing I could do about it.
As a mature woman, I have come to the realisation that my worth cannot be equated to the reading on the weigh scale or body contours. We are worth our progressive careers, our intellect, our mindfulness, our healthy relationships and our kindness. I am not saying that we should not care about our health. My point is that you should not have to conform to a shape and a size that the society construes as beautiful. There is no perfect body for “them” but there is one for you.
Frankly speaking, I notice the growing flap of my arm. Sometimes I notice the tummy peeping. What’s different is that I do not allow anyone to define beautiful for me. I appreciate that our bodies are ever changing as a result of puberty, child birth, aging and other factors beyond our control. We must be comfortable with them at every stage they are.
When the corsets and body wraps can’t shrink your waist enough, be woman enough to look yourself in the mirror and say, “this is my body, and I love it just the way it is.”– Michael Reid