I think we’ve all seen these articles, pictures, lifting of the skirt on the fashion industry and media. You know, the ones showing the original proof of a photo alongside its younger, sexier, Photoshopped twin. If you haven’t, check them out here:
Even without having seen this, or one of the other million posts, articles, or sites devoted to this same trickery, I think it’s safe to say that most people are aware of the digital capabilities at the fingertips of magazine editors. So, why then, with this knowledge at hand, do so many smart, capable and beautiful women (and men) feel deficient, less than, sub-par?
Lucky enough to call a tropical paradise my home, I am surrounded by a veritable pantheon on a daily. Scantily clad surfers and beach bums, who do favors for their board shorts and bikinis, amble down the dusty dirt road of Santa Teresa without the cockiness of a model on the runway at Fashion Week, and all with little more hair and make-up than a healthy sunned glow and salty hair…and maybe a bit of pink zinc on the nose and cheeks. The only idea these earth-bound gods and goddesses might try to sell you is that of surf, and maybe Pura Vida!
And yet, after two years of living on the beach surrounded by countless human specimens who appear to have just stepped out of the pages of Cosmopolitan or GQ, I have a much healthier body image than I ever did living in a small, but growing farm town outside of Denver. Why? Why do I feel more comfortable with my Switzerland (the name I have for that part on the back of my legs, just below my ass, that appears not to be either ass nor thigh; it’s neutral territory, or Switzerland)? And why am I no longer bothered by the fact that my thighs touch?
I will concede that the more active lifestyle and nearly-constant sweating under a tropical sun have helped me drop a few pounds with little concerted effort (I wonder what would happen if I did try to lose weight.), but I’m still the proud owner of a belly pooch, and that piece of fat between my boob and armpit that likes to fold up and push out when I wear anything the slightest bit constricting around my chest. I have witchy “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin” hairs I would love to Photoshop and fat feet that thank me for living in a place where flip-flops, not heels, are standard attire.
So if little has changed about my physical appearance aside from a tan, longer hair, and more tattoos, what is it about two years on the beach that have boosted my confidence in my body?
First, magazines are not readily available, I no longer own a TV, and my exposure to print advertising is terribly limited. I am not bombarded with images of women who are made up, done up, primped and preened by a team of trained professionals before their digital likeness is blended and blurred into something marketable. Sure, I’m surrounded by gorgeous women constantly, but they’re real. And there are just as many beautiful women with sagging tits, orange peel asses, muffin tops and any other number of “maladies” that magazine editors would deem in need of Photoshop to homogenize them into the standard perception of what “normal” is. As far as I can tell, “normal” is just another setting on a washing machine. Bottom line, the beauty I see on a regular is REAL.
And so #2: The beauty I see on the beach isn’t limited to a Size 0 (Who the fuck is this girl?) or the Under-25 crowd. It comes from not just confidence, but happiness. And though we as a society preach that money can’t buy happiness, it seems that the majority do not practice what they preach. It’s not difficult to spot those who have gone overboard with the collagen and lipo, the facelifts that only delayed the inevitable on faces that are too Botox-ed to show disappointment.
On the whole, my fellow beach dwellers are a generally happy bunch, not buying into the idea that things (they) would only be perfect if… Which, by the way, is the whole basis of the advertising industry: creating this idea within you that you are deficient or lacking in one way or another, but Wait!, what you’re looking for can be yours for the low, low price of twelve monthly payments of your self-worth.
Which leads me to C: There is a difference between “knowing” something, and really understanding the implications of it. We may “know” that there are more Photoshopped images in Cosmopolitan than ways to give blow jobs, but that may not stop us from feeling inferior when flipping through its pages. I may know that the dress I saw at Target won’t make me happy, but I’m still guilty of buying it in three colors. This is the hard part. During those times when I return to Colorado, my knowing and my understanding don’t always match up. I wear
more make up and spend more time on my hair. I buy cute dresses from Target and Forever21 and worry more about how I look. I keep up with the Kardashians. My biggest battle is quieting those voices (TV, magazines, radio, etc.) that undermine not just my “knowing,” but more importantly, my understanding.
So what do you do if you don’t live in a media Quiet Zone on the edge of the earth? Try this: Stop buying the magazines. I’ll try to stop caring that Kim and Kourtney have taken Miami. Fast forward through commercials telling you that you need this and that (Wow, technology scores one for me there!). Change the channel. Or better yet, turn off the TV. Go explore. Do something that makes your heart smile. Go for a walk. Stop making excuses. The best advice I can give is best summarized by Ashton Kutcher’s latest acceptance speech, “…It’s just crap that people try to sell you to make you feel less. SO DON’T BUY IT!”
Stop buying the idea that you’re not good enough or that happiness is just one pair of shoes away. Stop looking for things outside of yourself to make you happy or pretty. You are already those things, if only you’d take a second to put down the iPhone you can’t live without (but somehow survived without for years) and realize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, the common thread being happiness. Remember,