Sometimes I shave my legs and sometimes I don’t
Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won’t
Depend of how the wind blows I might even paint my toes
It really just depends on whatever feels good in my soul
I’m not the average girl from your video
And I ain’t built like a supermodel
But I learned to love myself unconditionally,
Because I am a queen
I not the average girl from your video
My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes
No matter what I’m wearing I will always be
When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me
Every freckle on my face is where it’s suppose to be
And I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me
My feet, my thighs, my lips, my eyes, I’m loving what I see
Am I less of a lady if I don’t where panty hose
My momma said a lady ain’t what she wears but what she knows . . .
But I’ve drawn the conclusion, it’s all an illusion
Confusion’s the name of the game
A misconception, a vast deception,
Something got to change
Now don’t be offended this is all my opinion
Ain’t nothing that I’m saying law
This is a true confession
Of a life learned lesson
I was sent here to share with y’all
So get in when you fit in
Go on and shine
Clear your mind
Now’s the time
Put your salt on the shelf
Go on and love yourself
‘Cause everything’s gonna be alright
Keep your fancy drink, and your expensive minks
I don’t need that to have a good time
Keep your expensive cars and your caviar
All’s I need is my guitar
Keep your crystal and your pistol
I’d rather have a pretty piece of crystal
Don’t need you silicone, I prefer my own
What god gave me is just fine . . .
A few years ago I dated someone who told me almost constantly how pretty he thought I was.
I don’t think I reacted the way I was supposed to react. Or, more appropriately, the way he thought I would react. At first, I’d just smile and say something to the effect of, “oh, that’s nice of you to say,” or “thanks.” But as time went on, “thanks” turned into “yeah, well . . .” or “oh, OK. What are we having for supper?”
I knew I was supposed to be flattered, but I wasn’t. It made me feel uncomfortable. Eventually, I asked him to tone it down, if not stop entirely. At the time I couldn’t quite articulate, to him or even to myself, what I didn’t like about it. It’s a fairly normal sort of compliment to give a woman you’re dating, and it’s not as if I thought he meant anything bad by it at the time. But I didn’t like it.
Yeah, I know. I’m a riot. Can’t I just take a compliment?
Well . . . yes, and no. The thing about compliments — any compliment — is that they carry unspoken assumptions about what is good or important. No one comes into my house and says, “wow, it looks great in here,” when my bicycle is in pieces on the kitchen floor and I haven’t done the dishes in two weeks. People say my house looks great when I’ve just cleaned it up. The unspoken assumption is that a clean house is a better house.
Now, clean houses often are better houses, as no one wants an ant infestation. But unspoken assumptions aren’t always particularly reasonable or fair, when you unpack them. In the years since I had that conversation with my then-boyfriend, I’ve gotten a better handle on what made me uncomfortable. The way I looked wasn’t what I primarily valued about myself, so I didn’t like the idea that it seemed to be the most important thing about me in his eyes. There was a certain amount of pressure it put on me that stressed me out.
Back in 1969, Carol Hanisch coined the term, “the personal is political,” and when it comes to women’s issues, it’s hard to disagree with that phrase. Things like “equal pay for equal work” and “universal suffrage” are broader political issues, it’s true. There are other things, though, that are more subtle, very personal, and harder to articulate. The personal compliment about a single woman’s appearance, for example, carries a lot of embedded assumptions that affect all women: physical attractiveness is a lot more about socially constructed ideas of beauty than it is about anything innate in a person. When you think about it, it’s a bit of a non-compliment to say, “your appearance adheres to our society’s largely arbitrary ideas of what it means to be considered pretty.” I’ve travelled fairly extensively, and I can tell you that how attractive I am considered varies wildly depending on what country I happen to be in at the time. I haven’t changed — it’s just what people think about me has changed.
If I were part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, at this point I’d say something like, “so we’re all pretty to someone!” I’d rather take it a step further, though, as I’m not trying to sell you anything: whether or not a woman is considered pretty — it shouldn’t actually matter, should it? If physical attractiveness is as arbitrary as all that, we probably shouldn’t place any stock in it; it doesn’t mean much.
Of course, there are things that are less arbitrary than simply “prettiness” — things like health, life expectancy, and wellness are all important. It’s amazing, though, how we use those things to reinforce the same arbitrary standards on people in general, and women in particular. That’s actually what got me thinking about all of this in the first place. I recently read an article about a fitness model who called out a plus-size model by basically saying, “body acceptance is all well and good, but this woman is not healthy.”
The thing is, though, that excepting certain very obvious ailments (e.g., jaundice), you can’t easily tell how healthy a person is based on appearance alone. Blood pressure, vitamin deficiencies, organ health? That’s all on the inside. Telling a woman she’s not healthy simply because she’s not thin is an outright lie, and a damaging one, at that.
And, in the end, these ideas around attractiveness all seem like a massive distraction from what’s actually important. God called us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, build the City of God. God didn’t call us to obsess over our physical appearance — I don’t think that’s what was meant when God made us in God’s own image.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings