These days there is a big debate online around Australian model Genevieve Barker’s body: some people are attacking her saying that she is an anorexic, some others stand on her side by defending her natural, healthy leanness.
This (non isolated) episode gives me the chance to talk about beauty standards.
As you most likely know, beauty standards have changed throughout history and these changes have been all but subtle: just think of Botticelli’s Venus and then think of the very skinny woman in the 20s, the voluptuous woman in the 50s, and move on until today’s beauty standard which seems to be “skinny, but with generous breasts and butt”.
In every historical moment, beauty standards have brought a general sense of inadequacy because very few people have met or meet the standards required by that particular time. This also happens because there are lots of ways of being skinny, lots of ways of being curvy, lots of ways of being athletic. And society doesn’t appreciate them all indiscriminately.
This sense of inadequacy can evolve into the need of changing oneself in order to be ‘perfect’, it can lead to a state where one feels inferior, where s/he lacks self-esteem and where s/he always looks for external approval and validation, in an exhausting research.
A person who doesn’t feel at ease with her/himself (and who will never feel at ease if s/he keeps on reaching that perfection – that is impossible on this Earth) is someone who buys, the perfect (here it is, perfection!) puppet in this consumer society.
But I don’t want to talk about politics or economics, not here, not now.
What I want you to know and understand is this: every body is beautiful, no beauty standard is good.
Think about it for a moment: if we didn’t spend our time and energy to reach ‘perfection’ and compare ourselves to others all the time, couldn’t we use that time and energy to find ways to go back to us, to be closer to and to listen to ourselves, so that we could then understand what we really need? By doing that we would feel better mentally and in the end physically, because we wouldn’t eat out of desire or to alleviate our emotions, nor we would starve our bodies.
Yes, obesity, anorexia and other eating disorders are a reality, they are a modern plague, the ultimate expression of that sense of inadequacy I was talking of before, and they need to be faced. Yet, even if the body managed to go back to a healthy state, after a period of sufferings, that wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem without a necessary and much needed change in mentality. It would be so easy to go back to the starting point.
Plus, those who don’t suffer from an eating disorder are affected by beauty standards as well, even more than we realise. Every person who has not (yet) make peace with her/himself and her/his body, every person who has not (yet) been able to appreciate her/his qualities and to love her/himself is fighting an inner battle we aren’t usually aware of, from the outside.
This brings me back to the opening discussion about Barker’s body: why and how can one feel entitled to attack someone for her body, to judge and insult her (with naughty words) and to think that all this is not wrong?
Body shaming is inexcusable.
For a long time I felt inadequate, not at ease with myself, I hated my body, I hated myself because I wasn’t pretty/self-confident as ‘the others’ were. For a long time I didn’t realise that ‘the others’ too, at least most of them, even those who seemed to be the most self-confident, were living an inner battle, their own battle of course, but similar to the one I was experiencing. I didn’t realise that more than my envy they needed some more affection, some more love, as I did.
One day I said: “Enough”. And since that day I have been on a transformation path, which has not been linear, it has been more like a high-hurdles-in-a-maze-built-on-a-hill kind of path, and I am still walking on it. This path has led me to know myself better, it has led me where I am today. A place where it doesn’t hurt that much anymore when I am told that I am too skinny, because I am stronger and more self-confident. A place where I have learnt to love myself.
Willpower has played an important role in this whole affair, but the right people and the right advice at the right moment have been fundamental as well. And yoga. Yes, because yoga has changed my life on many many levels.
It is all about finding the right path and the right tools for each one of us and, believe me, it is possible. Not easy, but possible.
Every body is beautiful (and what is inside even more), no beauty standard is good.
Eleonora, your #earthandsoulwanderer