I’ll be the first to say that the whole hammering on how the media makes women and girls feel bad about how they look is a pretty beaten-to-death topic. But this isn’t one of those blogs. We all know the media – and now, social media as well – is just a selection of perfectly timed, often Photoshopped impressions of what the world is like, when the reality is usually far from it. You learn to get over all of that as you get older and stop paying heed to overpriced glossy mags with cheap advice inside. This is about the perception of beauty and what is sexy to society, how it changes over time and why I no longer care much about it, nor should anyone else.
I’ve always said your body carries something far more important: your mind, your soul. It ages over time and regardless of how well you take care of it, the reality is you will start feeling the effects of aging as time goes on and you will have to fight harder to not succumb to it. Back when I was a pre-teen and early teen, the idea of what you should look like to be sexy, was the whole Kate Moss figure. Tall, lanky, no indication of curvature (or personality, for that matter). Back in the 90s and early 2000s, boyfriends and husbands had to deal with the anxiety-inducing question they were likely to be asked at some point in their relationships: “Does my butt look big?” White girls everywhere had a paranoid fear of the uncontrolled expansion of their gluteal regions. It was pretty much the dooming gong that wiped out any hint of sex appeal, even if the rest of your body was in pretty good (read skinny) shape.
Me, I had the greatly unfortunate genetic predisposition of having natural curves. Curves that, for the most part, showed behind me, not so much in front. I still remember an older family member looking at me one day, when I was about 8 years old, and saying, “Shame, you have such a big butt. You’re going to have to live with that for the rest of your life, it’s your grandmother’s bad genes.” Yeah, she wasn’t all that tactful, I always considered it a characteristic of hers that was best just to laugh off. But this stuck when I realized that, even at my fittest, I really wasn’t going to run, jump, rollerblade, bike or swim my ass off. Fast forward a good decade or so when I was at a braai at a friend’s house. Two lesbians were sitting on the couch, clearly a bit tipsy as they didn’t realize how loudly they were discussing me as I walked past. The one asked her girlfriend what she thought of me, the other’s response was, “She’s okay, but jeez too bad about her big ass.” Even when I wasn’t acting like an ass, I always had one to fall back on, it seemed. By then the rest of my adult curves surfaced and I was a full-on wide-hipped, narrow waist girl. Which was okay, until I went for a job interview, got the job and, while sitting in for the (extremely skinny) receptionist one day, found mails (hey, I was bored, it was late December) between her and one of the guys there, discussing how disproportionate I look and how weirdly I am built. Fortunately by then I’d learnt the water-off-a-duck’s-back trick pretty well, although I couldn’t help but wonder. ‘Disproportionate’ is a pretty extreme description, after all.
Just for interest’s sake, I just Googled “Disproportionate Girl” and the image below came up, among others… Would you believe, the image is tagged with the title “Nobody Can Be That Disproportionate Can They?” Yes. Yes they can be. Thank you.
So I went through my twenties, phases of training, eating very little, weighing very little, eating more, weighing more. Eventually I decided screw it, I was just going to focus on being completely healthy and not try to kill myself to look a way that my body wouldn’t succumb to looking like. So then, about a year ago, I got into the gym thing properly again and started doing heavy weight lifting. That’s when it emerged that somewhere along the line, while I wasn’t giving a damn about what’s sexy anymore, things had changed. Curves were now a lot more welcome and lo and behold, suddenly having a big butt was all the rage. In fact, if you were one of those unfortunate white girls with a flat ass, you’d surely be squatting from sunrise to sunset, just in the hopes of getting a little bit more protrusion going on back there. I had to laugh. Today, women like Michelle Lewin are considered goddesses…ten or even five years ago, most men and women would have recoiled and said she’s built like a man.
Now, if a guy gets asked “Does my butt look big?”, he’d better jump to say “Yes, absolutely!” to avoid hell breaking loose. I feel sorry for guys, really, I do. How you ever keep up with what’s okay and what isn’t, I don’t know. Being muscle bound was always an appealing thing for guys, now it’s just more the case – and requirement – than ever before. At least you don’t have to worry about some parts being too big or too sm…uh, yeah.
Today, instead of skinny, the more muscle you have, the better. While the whole healthy and fit route is great and I encourage anyone to be more attentive to what they eat and that they get exercise, there is an issue here. This super ripped and built obsession has unfortunately caused an uprising of supremacist douchebaggery of eye-rolling proportions, because people have gone and taken it a bit far again. Now your worth is so fixated on your bulging quads and ripped abs that nobody stops to think or care about actually developing a personality, between all those hours of pumping at gym and devouring chicken breasts and broccoli.
(You can stop reading now if you don’t want to see the usual, flowery, moral-of-the-story conclusion I always end off with.)
Now I ask you, with all these crazy fluctuations in sex appeal criteria, just in the last 20 years alone, why do people torment themselves so much to look a certain way? The sheer amount of damage you can do to your health alone is reason enough to be cautious. There are things that don’t ever change. Like how much impact a kind person has on those around them, the value of having a sense of humor, a sharp wit, developed understanding of the world or a personality that is so diverse that it’s fascinating to be around. These are things that take years and decades to build and they don’t ever become less valuable…in fact, they become rarer over time, as many people seem to become stagnant or bitter in their older years.