Listen. I don’t really want to talk specifically about my body here, but I do want to talk about the perception of that body in general because I recently read an article in passing that enraged me. It’s called “The No-Bullsh*t Swimsuit Guide for EVERY Body Type.” I was researching ski jackets, obviously.
This article is from the oft-shared Huffington Post, known for its (nominal) left-leaning approach to most topics and the article I read is a light-hearted little piece that lists features that one can exaggerate or hide, depending on preference, for the swimsuit season. The writer chose not to include type-words for shapes like “apple” or “pear” and I thought well, isn’t that a nice change? I am more than a piece of fruit, aren’t I?
And then I found a phrase I had to read again. It was under the heading “Cellulite.” Dear God. Swimsuits are already a trigger word for many women (and everyone else who is past puberty and has lost that precious childhood unconsciousness about their bodies). To bring up cellulite in polite company is taboo in my experience, except among good friends and even then we don’t refer to it by name, we call it by nicknames or use oblique statements. I hoped that the writer would handle the topic with some generosity. After all, this is from the Huffington Post, supposedly egalitarian and feminist in its message and viewpoint.
The exact sentence is like something from a 1950’s housewife magazine: “But there’s no reason to turn into ‘Modest Molly’ or sacrifice your personal style when attempting to keep those unsightly dimples under wraps.” If this sentence doesn’t make you rationally angry, then consider why I found the phrase “unsightly dimples” inflammatory: no one gets to bully my body, even me (especially me). No one is allowed to categorize or criticize any inch of my flesh. I am especially piqued by the word unsightly because it is a vicious word. I looked it up and it’s meaning, according to the Merriam-Webster thesaurus I keep in my bedside table, is harsher than I believe the writer intended: “unpleasant to the sight; ugly.” Synonyms include–but are not limited to–grotesque, hideous, unappealing, and vile. What makes this passage even worse is that in the same paragraph, the author states, “Whether you’re slender, curvy, short or tall — cellulite doesn’t discriminate.” So a vast number of us are jiggling sacks of cellulite. Ok–then why is it vile? How is the norm, or at least the average, also the grotesque?
Unlovely is another synonym of unsightly and it was the one that hurt. To be called lovely, for me, is the highest praise possible. Lovely is a delicious word, a lush and rhapsodic word. It is full of tenderness and intimacy and affection and, well, love. In the context of the body, unlovely is cruel and uncalled for, almost a depredation or invalidation. It is the absolute absence of love for the subject.
As I have read and re-read this article, I’ve come across more features that are worrisome. Few, if any, of the models are WOC and none of them are darker than Turks and Cacicos resort tan. There’s also a troubling dissonance in tone between “unsightly dimples” and this recent article from the same site criticizing Urban Outfitters for using a larger woman to model a size the company doesn’t even carry. In the bathing suit article, the issue is that women of size should cover up their bodies, in the other article women aren’t even given clothing options to cover their bodies with. The tone difference between 2014 and 2016 is stark and strange.
I will allow that the swimsuit article came out in 2014 and the times they are a’changin’, but I don’t want to be told that if I cover my flaws, I will be better. I certainly didn’t need to be told that as a sophomore in college. Why must they be considered flaws at all? The phrase “unslightly dimples” doesn’t frustrate me because it was used by this particular author in this particular article. I’m frustrated because I’ve heard and read the phrase before and am finally too tired of the mindset it engenders to not call it out. There is something inherently wrong with our idea of beauty if it separates the idea of the feature from the nature of it. What I mean by this is that most women who have thighs that are thick and supportive and strong and powerful also have thighs that are not smooth in texture. The two can exist separately, and they certainly do, but they also very often exist together–fullness and cellulite. And that are not unsightly. That is nature.
This rant is not about the body. This is about words and how our society tosses them about in relation to the body.
Soon, I’m going to be living in a culture that values size and thickness. A South African ass is a thing of beauty, from what I’ve been told. I know American beauty culture is changing as non-white voices are able to grow louder in the porcelain din, but I’m looking forward to that first walk on the beach. I’m eager to see if there is a difference, in display and in size and in color. Fingers-crossed.
Go forth and be lovely in thought and heart and body–whatever texture or shape or color or size.
(P.S. Don’t forget about my Beast. It’s in there in the photo, I promise you.)