[Never Say Diet] Living Outside the Beauty Myth

Today in Never Say Diet, I’m talking about the findings in The Allure New American Beauty Survey: When asked about their attractiveness, African-American women were three times as likely as Caucasian women to rate themselves as “hot.”

I don’t think the reason for this — if, indeed, we can prove it’s true beyond the perhaps not quite nationally representative sample of Allure Magazine poll takers — is as simple as the whole bootylicious thing, where women of color get to celebrate their curves in ways that white women don’t. Whether they’re demanding you be fat, thin, or somewhere in between, beauty standards are problematic because they demand that you be something and it’s impossible for everyone to be that one thing, all the time. So Beyoncé only helps us so much.

I think this stat speaks more to what happens when women are forced outside the traditional beauty narrative, which can happen for a million reasons… though race and size are probably the top two. When you live outside the beauty myth, maybe it’s easier to stop judging yourself by the beauty myth. Because it’s not like you have a ton of other options.

So I’m curious to know: Is there any aspect of your appearance that falls outside the Beauty Myth? And if so, have you gotten to a place where you find this at all liberating — because when the rules don’t apply, you get to make up your own?

Obviously, as I shared last week, the part of me that falls outside our culture’s definition of beautiful would be my midsection — and judging from the awesome comments (keep ’em coming!), I’m not alone in this. I wish I could say that I’ve found this failure to make the beauty grade 100% liberating, but alas. Most of the time, I just wish I had a damn waist. It would make more sense with the rest of my body and I’d have a hell of an easier time buying pants.

So this is not to say that I think it’s easy for the black women in the Allure poll — that’s some hard-won body confidence they’ve got. And I am finding it inspiring. Because it suggests that somehow, somewhere along the way, women are starting to broaden our definition of beauty and move away from restrictive standards. Starting with ourselves.

PS. No photo again today because I remain stymied by CaptureMe. Sorry! My little Macbook Air and I have been on a journey of tech support adventures as of late. (One of the joys of self-employment.)

 

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “[Never Say Diet] Living Outside the Beauty Myth

  1. midnightsky

    I grew up to realize that I have really big legs. Not in the “you ate a lot of Twinkies” big, but in the muscled kind of big where I have large thighs, thinner knees, big calves, and average-sized feet, so you get this funny hourglass-shaped leg. Somewhere down the line I realized that no matter how much cardio I ever did, or how many leg lifts, the “problem” wasn’t that my legs were fat — they were just really heavy, and I’d have to flense off the muscle with the fat to get them small.

    I started to love my big legs. They look like I could kick down a door with them. They look atrocious in short skirts, but hey, I don’t even wear short skirts — I wear slacks, jeans, and wide-calf boots that give me heavy footsteps and a vaguely commando kind of look. From what I can tell, the Beauty Myth wants women to have long, skinny, waifish legs that carry them around weightlessly, but nothing short of total starvation or huge amounts of surgery could get me legs like that, and I don’t even know how to walk weightlessly. So I’m going to thump around, getting everyone’s attention and looking like I’m ready to kick some ass in my big black boots. Yep.

  2. QuiteLight

    Living inside the myth is a weird experience too. Tall, white, blonde, grey-green eyes instead of blue, relatively slender growing up… I literally measured myself exactly against the models in magazines, because they were tall like me, coloured like me. I am 5’10”, and it was YEARS before it really sunk in that I Was Not Failing because I was not 110 pounds like the models, or as pretty as them (with full makeup, hair & couture, of course). That weight would not be healthy for me!

    But in real life, the myth does not approve of women as tall as me. Beautiful Women can be tall, but Never As Tall as a Man. In real life, height is considered masculine. Clothes often do not come in my size. Guys complained about my height like I could do something about it! “I’m wearing flats! What is it you think I can do?!”

    In a weird kind of way, even though I wanted to be pretty, it kind of felt like I could be more eccentric that other girls. I was not going to blend in, regardless. I thought I was too tall to be pretty. So, if men’s clothes fit, I could wear them if I wanted to. Or black goth gear. Or pajamas. If I couldn’t be pretty, I might as well be interesting!

    And I gotta tell you, men’s clothes are comfy! They really have the edge on that one.

    Now I blend it all together. I have reclaimed my right to be feminine & tall, wear motorcycle leathers (& big boots!) or pretty skirts. I’m working on wearing heels once in a while too. They inevitably trigger waves of comments (“Weren’t you tall enough?!”), so they still rattle me. But I’ll get there!

    I have a question; is size in general considered masculine by society, since larger people take up more space (a traditionally masculine prerogative)? Or is size more voluptuous & feminine? I’ve been fuller bodied than I am now, but never fat, so I’ve always wondered. Thanks for discussing these issues so openly. I really appreciate it.

    • Hmm, good question… well I can only speak from my experience, as a woman (who, as an adult, has ranged in size from a 6 to a 12) and a writer who spends an inordinate amount of time studying messages about beauty and obsessing over these questions. But in my experience, it seems like yes, size in general (taking up space in the world) is a traditionally masculine thing. Women are supposed to take up as little space as possible. The only parts of a woman that are supposed to be big are boobs and sometimes butts — and that’s only thanks to the combined efforts of J. Lo, Beyonce and Victoria’s Secret.

      In fact, it’s almost as if women have to follow two standards of beauty; as skinny as possible all over when you’re wearing clothes and out and about, and then curvy-in-the-right-places in the bedroom. Which is particularly impossible to pull off.

      I think most women who have ever been bigger will tell you that they spend most of their time getting told that they should be smaller in just about every way. SIGH.

  3. Working and living in an almost entirely black community has done me wonders. It’s a stereotype that has so far been true: men of color do genuinely (or at least more vocally) appreciate the curves I’ve got. Of course, then I get comments like “you’re thick for a white girl,” which makes me wonder why white girls can’t be thick and black girls can’t have flat butts without having their race be doubted (and the answer is: race is a social construct! And so are the bodily attributes supposedly associated with each!)

  4. I’m fat and plus size and sort of torn about that. On one hand, I love the strength and flexibility my larger body has given me — along with the fact that it’s come as a result of participating in a lot of activities that I love and that make me feel good. On the other, it’s true that practically, I still can’t dress myself in a way that’s comfortable, reasonably fashionable (to the extent that wearing scrubs everywhere would likely not work), and affordable. Particularly with the comfort and affordability bits, dressing the body I have and love is decidedly not freeing or affirming.

  5. Anna

    I too have pant-buying issues. But, my issue is king of the opposite of yours. My waist is, and always has been disproportionately tiny compared to the rest of me. I have fairly decent sized hips (according to the all-mighty tape, about 38), large breasts (34 DD), but a 26 waist. This makes pant-buying hell, since I like things that are high-waisted but in order to find things that fit the rest of me properly, they tend to have the ability to be pulled down around my behind without struggle. This is embarrassing, especially when you have a baby cousin who doesn’t get the whole ‘you don’t grab’ thing yet.
    This also makes all dresses I own look like a prisoner’s frock without a belt. Not fun.

  6. As a Mexican American, I can say that in my case its hard to even try to follow beauty standards. At one end I have the more traditional Mexican family who expect me to dress conservatively, and on the other the American peers who exemplify ultra thin modernness. I have found it much easier to set those pressures aside and focus on what I want to look like and embracing my curves.

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  8. I myself am a woman of color and I absolutely love my curves. I come from a family who just really loves to eat. I just have a big boned body structure because of my parents. I am a dancer at Chapman University, so needless to say my curves don’t go over as well on the dancer end, but I still love having some meat on my bones. Being that sickly skinny is just not healthy and it really saddens me that women feel like they have to be a certain body type. I believe every single body shape is beautiful because it is how you were made so embrace it honey! Own what you got and love how you feel.

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  10. I agree that I don’t think it’s because women of color are more confident because they instantly have more curves. I am Asian and I know I have small boobs, but I’m totally okay with that. In fact, I definitely embrace it and make fun of myself often. I like being the way I am even if huge boobs is the typical beauty standard, and it really is liberating once you accept yourself exactly the way you are. Everyone else is worrying about themselves anyway, so stop thinking everyone is judging you.

  11. Thank you SOOOO MUCH for this. It’s the story of my life. I could go on and on for days about people mistaking (out loud) my average framed, apple shaped, size 10 fit and active body for pregnant. But I’ll spare you. People think I’m pregnant all the time and I find it to be horribly embarrassing, but why? I’m glad you posed the question. Why is it worse than having big hips or big feet or a big nose? I DON’T KNOW! I’m gonna have to think a few days on that one.

    Having a round (not huge) but disproportionately large tummy is the final frontier of body acceptance. Everything else seems to have made it through. I’ve never been one of those thin-obsessed body part haters. But judging by all the myriad things I’ve don to try to attain an hourglass figure you’d think otherwise. It’s especially disturbing because I’m a wellness coach and a pro bellydancer!

    So now (just days before reading this) have decided that I’ve done it all and that’s enough. It’s time to do more than accept the rotund belly, but to embrace it. The way Jennifer Lopez does her bootylicious butt. Or the way Michelle Obama flaunts her hips. How come we can’t be bellylicious?

    It’s gonna be hard, after all these years of thinking so negatively of my thick and juicy midsection. But I’m known for making impossible things happen so I’m doing it. There. I just have to figure out how to package my belly in a way that truly appeals to me, makes me feel good, so I can flaunt it with true confidence and not crumble when I get the first hater remark. Because there will always be hater remarks.

    Thank you again for this. You got me thinking now.

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