Last weekend my dad and I got into a conversation about bodies. While cleaning up the kitchen, we started talking about weight and body image, and for the first time possibly ever, I came out of that conversation feeling OK. No tears, no rushing to a mirror, no internal promises to start a diet tomorrow.
This would not have been the case last year.
My father and I have always fought about what bodies he accepts as “healthy” or attractive. I am very close with my dad, so these conversations usually leave me feeling all kinds of angry, but also guilty. In spite of my best attempts to come at them with empathy, I tend to jump in with my fists raised, and my heart on my sleeve.
In the year since he and I last talked about health and weight, I’ve begun actively seeking out social media that reminds me that I am not alone. Relatively speaking, my body does conform to many normative standards of beauty, but like many of us, I — and people I love — have been trained to believe that it will always fall short. This reaction makes sense when all we have to work with are the narrow standards for an “attractive” or “fit” or “healthy” body that society provides us. We talk a lot about how we need to call out mainstream media for celebrating only thin, white, cis, traditionally feminine women as beautiful and making us hate ourselves. What we don’t hear enough about is where we can find alternatives. If we are going to do the difficult and never-ending work of unlearning normative beauty standards, we have to be as persistent and consistent as mainstream media is with us. Luckily, there are people out there creating media that showcases different bodies wearing different clothing and doing different things than we get to see in mainstream media.
I’ve begun keeping a list of some of the media sources that are inspiring me lately. Many of them are plus-size fashion bloggers showing us that “dressing for your size” just means wearing cool clothing that feels comfortable for you. Others are challenge the binaries of gender and race through their creative fashion choices. There’s even a blog in there to remind me that sex will never look just one way. This is nowhere near a definitive list and I would love your help. What are your favorite places on social media to see people challenging norms around gender, sexuality, size, race, ability, age, class, and everything in between? Leave them in the comments or tweet me @JulianaBrittoS. If I get enough, I’ll share an updated list!
My favorite part of exploring these images has been realizing just how incredibly different each person is. These social media mavens force me to reconsider that damn, armpit hair can be really hot, or wow, that is the cutest belly roll I have ever seen. These images also serve to reaffirm my belief that beauty is not the only way we can value bodies — especially women’s bodies. We can value them for what they do, how they think, what they create, or how they love.
In the past year, my wonderful partner and I have both been learning how to love our bodies outside of the parameters given to us by our culture, and define our own ideas of what attractive is. There is something so deliciously rebellious and hot in seeking the sexy in what other people see as shameful. We’ve reconsidered what “perfect” skin, body hair, or body shape looks like and learned to tuck affection into our folds, tie it around skinny legs, or entangle it in unshaven leg hair.
When my dad and I spoke about weight last weekend, it was still challenging. We’ve come a long way over the years, but we may never agree. But this time was a bit easier. This time I had seen the diversity humans can embody, and I couldn’t unsee it: I know that my body is wonderfully “normal” in that it is unique. No one looks quite like me, and I love it.
Juliana wants to know what inspires you about body diversity. Tweet @JulianaBrittoS suggestions to add to this list!