Although I’d love to say that I stopped hating my body altogether, that is still a daily struggle. Women are constantly told that they should be thinner, younger, prettier, sexier, and dozens of other beauty-related mandates that make us feel wretched about ourselves and convince us to shell out for mascara, diet pills, Botox, and push-up bras. But I stopped dieting. And I stopped constantly, exhaustively hating myself. And I realized that my brain-in-a-jar fantasy would’ve led to a hollow life because my body is strong and capable and as much a part of my unique identity as my intellect. To shun the physical in favor of the intellectual would create the same imbalance as focusing all my energy on my body and none on my mind.
Women are taught that their value is contingent upon their beauty, and that the definition of beauty is narrow and doesn’t include them. And so they become trapped into believing that they are fundamentally flawed, inferior, and unworthy because they fail to conform to a nearly-impossible norm. They hate their bodies, and they don’t know how to stop hating their bodies. And while it could be argued that teaching women to dress to their figures instead of fighting their figures – teaching women to utilize clothing to express their creativity and embrace their natural, god-given loveliness – merely feeds that cycle, I believe that learning to value your exterior can improve your relationship with your interior. That there IS a connection between looking good and feeling good.
Because we are not merely one or the other. We are not brains in jars, and we are not zombified bodies. We are thinking beings with corporeal forms, and if we are to love ourselves holistically and truly, we must learn to value and cherish the physical alongside the intellectual. We must explode the definition of beauty, and include ourselves in it. Beauty is not a waist-to-hip ratio, or an age bracket, or a cup size. Beauty is not a skin color or hair type or height range. And beauty is not the exclusive currency of the patriarchy, the exclusive domain of the heterosexual, or the exclusive territory of the wealthy and powerful. There is no right or wrong way to be beautiful. We are told that beauty is specific, but beauty is diverse. We are told beauty is exclusive, but beauty is inclusive. We are told that in order to be beautiful we must fit certain specifications. But if we can find ways to make ourselves FEEL beautiful, then the rules about LOOKING beautiful become immediately moot.
And since changing our bodies to fit arbitrary standards can be frustrating, harmful, and counterproductive, I suggest changing how we present our bodies instead. Dressing can be a mindless chore, or it can be a daily celebration of all that is wondrous and worthy about our physical forms. Dressing can connect our interior selves to our exterior selves.
I learned to love my body by learning to dress it well, and I encourage all women who struggle with body image to explore style as an alternative to diets and tummy tucks. I’m still smart.