Five years ago, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder. One of the amazing things that came along with this experience was the oh-so-fun prolonged use of steroids.
Not the kind that makes you muscular and angry (although I was sort of a nutcase when taking them), but the kind that wreaks havoc on your body. Yay!
In this case, it was my weight. I went from 130 pounds to 150 to 160 pounds — pounds I have found VERY hard to drop — as a result. It was like, “This is not your body anymore. Now you have a new body.”
I remember exactly when the self-doubt set in. I remember when I wasn’t a size small but a size large.
I remember discovering stores like Forever 21 and H&M didn’t really carry anything over a size 12 (save for the ugly-ass random size 14).
I remember being very aware of the fact that my friends were these short, skinny girls — and here I was, in a body that didn’t feel like my own.
I still think I’m beautiful, but it’s a struggle — something that I’m sure all women, no matter their shape or size, feel. The problem is that the outside does matter — whether we want it to or not, whether it’s conditioned or natural, and whether we are feminist and body-positive or not.
Skip forward a few years. My friend’s selfies were coming out great. She had such clear skin, bright eyes, a sculpted waist situation.
It was … creepily perfect. She admitted it was Facetune (an app that removes wrinkles and softens your skin to perfection) and I scoffed.
You don’t need that! No one needs that! And then there I was at 2 AM, in bed, downloading the app so I could give myself a nose job.
It was a telling moment. It was a memory I won’t forget. It was me uploading a picture of myself and changing myself.
I turned my ruddy morning skin into dewy, pale flesh. My dark brown eyes were flecked with gold. I lightened the shadows that made me, me.
I hid the fact that my face wasn’t as angular. I made it so that I looked young and sexy again.
Why? Why would I do that to myself? I stopped using FaceTune that week.
The reality is that Photoshop is a problem. I can’t say it’s not. The root is the issue. It’s the mark of a society built on the value of what we look like, rather than who we are, and it’s a pervasive, systemic issue that causes women to feel the exact things I felt.
Instead of being a woman with some nice ass big hips, we’re reduced to the moniker “larger ladies,” as if smaller ladies were the norm. I’m 5’8″, 160 pounds, and I wear a size 10/12.
This is more normal than anything else. So why do I feel like I stand out? It’s a problem.
But at the end of it all, I don’t — and you don’t — know what’s going on behind closed doors. We don’t know if a woman who had three kids just wants to look like she’s been working out more than she has. We don’t know if someone’s acne has gotten out of control. We don’t know.
And while these aren’t valid excuses, what sort of excuse is there that’s as honest as it is valid?
We feel this pressure to be one way and we act on it because we might be alone, or considered not good enough, or simply ridiculed, like celebrities spotted at the beach with a belly or stretch marks.
Who wants to feel dehumanized and devalued? It’s a catch-22.
We’re dehumanized by idealistic demands, so we respond with Photoshop or Facetune, while our obsession with Facetune dehumanizes it further. It’s a vicious cycle.
When we stop policing women’s bodies, we’ll be able to see women blossom.
We’ll see more bodies on the runway. We’ll see more available clothing.
And telling women not to use image-enhancing software is yet another way we join the ranks of finger-pointers, blaming women for what we ourselves have done to them.
You can’t expect someone to feel good after telling them they’re ugly, fat, or weird-looking. What do you expect, especially in a society obsessed with image as narrative? How can we slap the hand of vanity and self-doubt, when we are the hand itself?
I hope that the sickness is cured. Until then, I don’t want to engage in further condemnation.
We need to have compassion, understand women’s oppression, and think before we judge — all that good stuff could actually go a long way.