On Beauty Ideals

A few weeks ago I found this incredible video about the female body being degraded through advertising, and of course, because of how awesome E and I are we spent the next forty minutes walking around the park and watching this video and the next few hours discussing the implications of advertising and the image of the “perfect body”:

P’s Response:

The first time I remember wondering whether I was fat was in the seventh grade. I came home from basketball practice and I was looking in the mirror. I pulled up my shirt and proceeded to puff my stomach out and then suck it in. After 15 minutes of introspective deliberation I decided I wasn’t fat. At this point in my life I was running over 50 suicides a day for basketball practice and I played outside with my brothers on a daily basis. There was practically no fat on my body.

But as high school approached, puberty hit me hard, fast food became easily accessible, and soft drinks and unhealthy foods were no longer off limits. I packed the pounds onto my 5′ 11″ frame and it began to show. Even though I play volleyball and lead an extremely active life, the weight has slowly snuck onto my body. My sophomore year I became truly uncomfortable with my body. E and I have completely different body types, she is naturally thin and straight, and I am curvy and more on the heavier side. No one would ever call me fat, but I am continually called curvy and my weight is justified because I am “so tall.” There are many things I am uncomfortable with about my body: I have fat in places I wish I didn’t, I have big thighs, and I’m extremely tall, which means I can never wear heels unless I want to be a monster. In addition, I am Bengali, and although I am sort of racially ambiguous, I have a darker skin tone than most. All of these things together create the picture of something undesirable or completely different from the “ideal body type” and for a long time this has bothered and plagued me. I absolutely love all things fashion and I subscribe to like 10 fashion magazines (on top of Time and and Scientific American the Economist and National Geographic…yes we get like 15 magazines a month), but this had led to me subconsciously wishing for a better body or a lighter skin tone or different facial features.

But over the past four years I have come to realize a lot more about myself. It’s not like I had some crazy revelation because I had a near death experience or I had a moment of clarity where ludicrous music played in my head, it’s just something that has happened over time. I’ve realized that I’m worth a lot more than just what I look like. Women are beautiful, strong, accomplished, passionate, and extraordinary beings. We should not be degraded by magazines, advertisement, or even men. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting all dolled up, but not because I want to look like Miranda Kerr or Angelina Jolie, because I want to look like the best and most confident version of myself. And yes, I do want to lose weight, but only because I want to be healthy and strong. I want to be fit enough to run a marathon, I want to be able to hit a volleyball so hard I could give someone a bloody nose and I want to be able to keep up with my friends when I’m playing cops and robbers. And I would never try to lose weight in an unhealthy way. Losing weight is a slow and tedious process, one filled with many twists and turns. I am now trying to just eat a lot healthier and work out whenever I’m feeling it, and it definitely feels really great. I still have days when I hate how I look, but I guess that’s just part of the process, and I know I’m not alone.

Here’s the thing: the ads are crazy. They make us insecure and set up these standards that NO one can reach, not even the models and actresses themselves. We have to remember that we are human, and allow for the mistakes and faults we will make along our journey as well as the imperfections that constitute ourselves. Women’s bodies are not just things, nor should they be treated as such. Our bodies are so capable! With them we can dance and climb mountains and give birth and swim in the ocean and make love and give embraces and create warmth and intimacy. We have a voice and we have the power to change the world! I don’t want my daughters or cousins or sisters or friends growing up thinking they are just things, and worrying about their weight or their looks. These are miniscule things on a very grand scale and there are other things we should be preoccupied with, like what to eat for dinner or where to go for summer vacation. I have always believed that I am destined for greatness and that somehow I am going to change this world for the better. My parents have raised me to be a woman confident in my abilities and I can only hope that from here I will gain even more confidence, a healthier lifestyle mentally and physically, and an awareness of the hidden messages in media and the unconscious things being fed to my brain.

All I’m trying to say here is please, stop the body shaming and lets start a revolution where we see with our hearts instead of only our eyes.

E’s Response:

It really opened up my eyes to the reality of the objectification of women. Like, literally, objectification. Women’s bodies turning into things:

I was like wait. Seriously?

Women should be sexy. I believe it is important for women to feel attractive and well-liked by the opposite sex. But girls, we are human beings, and we are so much more than that. We are the glue that holds together humanity. We are strong, capable, smart and half the population. This blog is about creating a new culture, and the picture above shows just how much we have to change.

We must accept our bodies for what they are. I’m not saying we should be content with being unhealthy, and we should feed our bodies, exercise them, and love them, while trying very hard not to criticize.

I know this is easy for me to say. As P says, I have America’s “ideal” body type. I am young, white, and thin with long legs and small boobs. Also, I tend to live in my head a lot. I don’t watch much TV, I don’t look in the mirror that often, and we live in a small town without billboards or the ads in telephone booth. The only magazines I read are Smithsonian, National Geographic and Scientific American Mind. My parents and grandparents praised my for my intelligence, kindness, and most of all, work ethic, but never really talked about my looks. As a consequence, I have grown up slowly and without many body issues.

I am afraid my daughters may not be able to grow up this way.

P has opened my eyes to a whole world of scary, degrading media that make women seem infantile or overly vulnerable in order to sell products (see above). They make women that look perfect but act strangely. These conflicting ideas are confusing and upsetting.

It has been scientifically proven that first impressions are important. However, it has also been scientifically proven that a great personality makes people see you as more attractive.

My theory is that we can all achieve a basic level of good looks. We can do this by keeping ourselves clean, healthy and well-groomed. The rest of what makes us beautiful (90%) is made up by an enormous smile, confidence, a kind heart and a capable mind.

Example 1: Frida Kahlo. She made the unibrow cool with her confidence and artistic ability. She also had a leg weakened by polio, so that it was significantly smaller than the other. It didn’t cramp her style one bit.

She must have been attractive because, apparently, she had loads of extramarital affairs during her marriage to the talented Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Not that I’m supporting affairs, but it just goes to show you that you can rock anything if you wear it with enough confidence.

Example 2: Keira Knightley. I know what you’re thinking. She’s beautiful and has got nothing to feel self-conscious about.

What I appreciate about Keira Knightley is that, yes, she has the “ideal” American body type, but she does not conceal the fact that she has a proportionally limited bust (like me).

While she is thin, she does not wear pads or have surgery to enhance her breasts. She also does not have perfect teeth, but rocks this so it only adds to her charm.

Of course, we don’t notice these things because Keira Knightley is an talented, confident actress who rocks the body God gave her.

So it does’t matter if you look like this:

(Model featured in Italian Vogue)

Or this:

(Models featured in American Vogue)

Or this

(us in our bathing suits)

We will judge you by the ability of your intellect and the kindness of your heart. And we will never to cease to strive for equality and acceptance.

Hugs and Kisses,



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