Stop homing in on flaws and start focusing on the bigger picture
I’ve been reading a lot of interesting things on social media about the pervasive culture of self-loathing, largely among women. There was an excellent video from a former body builder you can listen to here; her overall message was that we need to be less critical and more loving towards ourselves.
A few years ago, I did a review of a fantastic book called Grow Your Own Gorgeousness by Bethan Christopher (review is here. You can now buy it from Amazon here) which works with the same idea of learning to love our bodies, with all their imperfections, and to see that those imperfections are perhaps not imperfections after all but simply our own unique being and body.
If you were to ask almost any woman if she is happy with her looks, the chances are she’d say no. The majority of us want to be slimmer, taller, with bigger/smaller boobs, longer legs (fill in the blanks) but ultimately, we want to fulfil some strange idea we have in our heads of what will make us beautiful. This odd undefined template is something that is going to break not only us as individuals but us as a society. We are passing our loathing of ourselves onto our children and grandchildren and it’s getting into the very bones of even our science. Fat has become a hot topic, and we all believe that to be fat reduces our probable life expectancy. If you start looking past the first layer of scientific research that is available on the internet, you will discover that it’s a far more complex issue than X amount over the correct BMI means Y numbers of years off your life. In fact, the latest issue of New Scientist has a graph where it’s clear that only the extreme ends of BMI (from underweight to severely obese) have any direct evidence for shorter lives. The graph suggests strongly that to be somewhat overweight per se has a beneficial effect on life expectancy.
Fat has become an issue that is nothing to do with health but about a weird kind of belief that thin=beautiful=good, and so those carrying extra weight tend to get the whole package of denigration of fat=ugly=bad. If you find you can’t easily find nice clothes in your size, the result is that you feel worthless and ugly (sometimes) and also weak and pathetic.
I cannot stress enough how mad this is, and yet I do it to myself all the time. I have put on weight due to illness and I feel like Godzilla, lumbering around being huge and clumsy and an object for derision. I saw my physiotherapist last week and she was so good; I was told to stop beating myself up over not bouncing back immediately from my illness and my surgery and that losing weight wasn’t my primary concern at all. Regaining health and fitness is my goal.
When it comes down to it I am more than my appearance. I have a lot of excellent features but why is it that I only ever seem to focus on the ones that seem to be to be ‘bad’? I believe it’s a malaise that has crept into the overall consciousness. I’m going to use an example from a very different area to try and illustrate my point. On Facebook and Twitter I see daily memes about errors: typos, misspellings, grammar faux pas and so on. The usual approach is ridicule and sometimes worse, caustic and bitter recriminations heaped upon the luckless soul who confused their with they’re or similar grammar atrocity. Woe betide an author whose book has a few typos in or whose choice of British English over US English has infuriated readers. I’ve known people who consider that a single typo in a book renders the entire book worthless and the author ought to be beaten with sticks and never allowed to write another word (I’m not exaggerating here). I had a review of The Bet pour scorn on the book (and me) because of a few typos (and who then himself made a rather obvious and cringeworthy typo in said review. I love karma.). It’s as if not being perfect is a reason for burning the entire book and blacklisting the author. I’ve seen typos in some big name authors’ books published by the major publishing houses.
Those who focus so much on a few tiny flaws in a work seem to take delight in feeling superior. To be able to read and write, to have had a decent education that means you have the capacity to evaluate and spot mistakes is not that big a deal these days. Worldwide, it may be rarer to have had those privileges but in the rich west it’s uncommon to have been denied those opportunities. I don’t believe that it gives anyone a moral superiority over another person who has never grasped that “could have” is what they ought to be writing instead of “could of”. There isn’t a one among us who doesn’t make mistakes, believe me.
It’s the same for our physical forms. Not one of us is perfect. We all have parts of us that are defective, worn out, ageing, broken, scarred, too this or too that, to meet the criteria for perfect beauty the media and the fashion and beauty industry dictates. Do you know why it dictates these things? To make you buy stuff. Simple as that: to make you feel you must rectify the flaws lest you be cast out into the howling darkness.
So a suggestion for dealing with others (because how we treat others becomes a reflection of how we treat ourselves). Start by looking for the good that is in others that is not based on fashion influences, whether that’s observing how someone has kind eyes or that they have a smile that lights up a room. See things a bit differently; see that lines are from a lifetime of expressing feelings, and they’re not blemishes at all. Cut people some slack about the things they get wrong; remember that everyone makes mistakes and a typo or two in a novel is not an excuse to despise the author.
Look for the good. It won’t stop you seeing the not-good, but it will stop it being so important that it gives an excuse to exclude another person. Look at the bigger picture: a woman might be beautifully dressed, coiffed and made-up but have a corrosive bitter soul that emerges every time they speak. A man might be dressed in a thousand dollar suit but be morally bankrupt. Look deeper. That person has had an interesting life and has given more to the world than you’d ever guess from looking at them. One book might have sold a million glossy copies but has made no difference to a single person who read it beyond a few hours of entertainment; another book with a less perfect cover might have brought comfort and hope to a few thousand readers who re-read it every year.
Cut the world some slack and yourself with it. Give yourself permission to be less than picture-perfect. Maybe the two are so deeply connected we’ll never know till we all wake up to how connected we all are.