I had a really hard time titling this post, because it was really inspired by this article, but I feel like there are a lot of related topics that I want to talk about here. I've seen several stories now about photography series chronically different body shapes and women after childbirth, and most of those have focused on us seeing larger bodies or less culturally traditionally beautiful bodies as beautiful, which I think is really important. What sets this series apart for me is the fact that so many different types of bodies are shown--there are big women, thin women, athletic women, women with stretch marks, women with c-section scars, women with loose skin, women with firm skin, women with cellulite and women without, women with tattoos and women without, women of various races, ethnicities, sizes, levels of fitness, and ages.
I realize that our society already puts a premium on thin and/or fit bodies, but I think in some projects there is so much of an emphasis on showing types of bodies that tend to not be shown that women who do fall into more traditional beauty categories are almost shamed, like they can't join the club, and I think that's counterproductive because what we really should be teaching and learning is that bodies of all shapes and sizes are good and healthy and beautiful, and I think these photographs really show that. Alexa Chung spoke really smartly about it when she said:
"I think it’s about time people stopped judging women on their appearance and more on their intellect. Like you can appreciate my style without having to appreciate my weight. It’s not actually mutually inclusive. I just get frustrated because, just because I exist in this shape, doesn’t mean that I’m like advocating it and being like, ‘I look great.’ How do you know I’m not looking in the mirror and going ‘I wish I could gain ten pounds?’ Which is actually quite often the case. But if you say that you sound like you’re bragging that you’re naturally thin, and you’re not allowed to do that because even though it’s not the ideal weight, it kind of is as well. So it’s really fucked up. And how people that are bigger can be on the front covers of magazines being like ‘I’m really happy with my shape.’ But if I was to do that, I’d be completely criticized and ridiculed. But why can’t I be happy with how I look?"I think sometimes thinner women are told that they don't get to complain about wanting to lose weight or being insecure about their bodies because that shames or hurts their bigger friends, or that thinner women or more athletic women shame bigger women just by existing in their shapes, and that's working backwards and empowering fat women and taking away the power from thin women. We don't want to do that, we want to redistribute that power so that all women can feel accepted and beautiful and strong.
As a woman who is overweight but maybe not considered fat by a lot of people, who has many friends who are much heavier and many friends who are much lighter, it can feel difficult to navigate the waters of size identity and who I'm "allowed" to relate to or empathize with. Which of course I recognize is a completely false and shaming dichotomy in and of itself, so I try to dismiss those anxieties when I fall prey to them. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.
The other super relevant issue here is that fact that our bodies change over time, and some of our bodies change more than others. Motherhood is a wonderful example, because the bodies of some of the women in these pictures have changed significantly in the process of changing a life, and some of their bodies are the same, similar, or even stronger than they were before childbirth. For mothers, there is this stigma out there that because some women can quickly lose the weight or get back into shape in X amount of time after childbirth, everyone should be able to, which of course isn't true. All of our bodies are different. They all have different tendencies, different capabilities, different natural shapes, different idiosyncrasies. That is normal. That is life. And so too this idea translates to women who are not mothers. Many women gain weight in their early to mid twenties, because our bodies are still developing and shifting. Some women stay the size they were in high school their whole lives. Some people take longer to lose their baby fat than others. Some bodies require more activity to stay fit or to lose weight than others. Some bodies have difficulty keeping on weight, or gaining weight. These are all valid and real struggles/personalities/identities we and our bodies have, and it's important to recognize that.
Our bodies have so many ways of changing on us--freckles and moles appear and disappear, we gain pounds, we lose pounds, our skin darkens or lightens, wrinkles and unwrinkles, stretches and scars, our nails grow, our hair grows, our teeth yellow and whiten and decay, our bodies are invaded with bacteria and disease, our bodies eradicate bacteria and disease, we retain and shed water, we learn new aches and pains, we grow stronger, we become weaker, our hair changes colors, we age--so it's important to remember that while our bodies can influence who we are, they aren't what we are. We have minds and hearts and souls, too. People just can't see them immediately.
Yours Truly, Jen
P.S. Let's Talk Weight Loss, Let's Talk About Bikini Bodies, Let's Talk Body Image & Self Love,