Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Benefits of Being Stacked

An interesting TED talk on the construction of beauty

"And I got these free things because of how I looked; not who I am. And there are people paying a cost for how they look and not who they are. {...} When I was writing this talk, I found it very difficult to strike an honest balance. Because on the one hand, I felt very uncomfortable to come out here and say, 'look, I've received all these benefits from a deck stacked in my favor.' And it also felt really uncomfortable to follow that up with 'and it doesn't always make me happy.' "

I think one of the hardest things women ever have to do is learn to be happy with ourselves, to be happy within our own skin. It's one of those things that I wonder if we ever really do. It's just so ingrained in us to hate our bodies that I often wonder if it's even possible not to.

I'm of the belief that there are three different ways of dealing with this.

The first is to change yourself. Many of us take this route. Not just once. But often. Most, everyday. We dye our hair. We wear certain clothes. We put on makeup. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. And I can honestly say that I do this mostly for myself. Because it makes me happy to do so. But, as a theater geek, I also know the value of a good costume. I understand that, when I put on that dress or that powder or those shoes, I am saying something very specific. I'm using visual means to communicate something about myself to the world. Be it the killer heels that make me half-a-foot taller, so I don't have to look up at people today. Or the concealer that hides the blemish that makes me feel too conspicuous for not the right reasons. Or, yes, the dress that reveals my assets, so for at least today I can mute down the voice that near-constantly points out all my flaws.

The second is to hate yourself. Again, not just once or sometimes. But. All. The. Time. To take that omnipresent voice in all our heads that assures us that if we just lost twenty pounds or had different hair or different skin and listen to it, let it color and sink its claws into everything we do. To define yourself more by what you're not than what you are. We all do it to an extent, but I've seen the damage it does to those who can't find ways to shut it out.

The third, which seems the best option, is to just stop caring so much. To give up the struggle. To realize that the world's definition of beauty is entirely unattainable and not worth aiming for. I can never decide if this is harder for ethnic minorities or not. On the one hand, we can't fit that definition of beauty. It is impossible for us. The standard definition of beauty is tall, thin, and, most applicably, white (don't believe me, watch the video). I grew up wanting to fit that definition, desperate to do so, while knowing I couldn't. 

Which, strangely, was helpful. I can't--not without drastic means far out of my financial and practical realm of reality--make myself white. I was born, will live, and will die forever outside the standard and accepted definition of beauty. After a while--usually about sixteen years, give or take your own awkward adolescence--you realize that it's not even worth trying. So you make peace with yourself. With your skin tone. With the shape of your eyes. With your height. And, yes, with your weight.

One thought that has always comforted me was the acceptance that, for all my assets and flaws, I'm actually fairly average. I can be pretty confident that, in any room I walk in, I will not be the most attractive person or the least attractive person in the room.

This shouldn't seem like a nice thought, but it is. I no longer have to shoot for that illustrious pretty rank because, no matter what I do, I'm unlikely to ever hold it. And I no longer have to worry about hitting that ultimate low because it's likely that I won't.

And, even if by some chance I do end up holding one of those titles, all it ever takes to change that is a room change.

Kinda makes the whole thing seem a little arbitrary and meaningless, doesn't it?

Yet we--and, yes, I am including me--spend so much time, effort, and money on it, sink so much stock in it. 

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