AKA, there's more than one way to see ourselves.
This is a conversation I've been having regularly lately, so I thought it would be interesting to expand on it a little, in a blog post - why do we see beauty in binary terms?
Well, growing up, we're very much taught to see everything one way or another.
- There's good, and there's evil.
- There's right, and there's wrong.
We're not really taught to think in shades of grey (not those shades of grey!).
The very first stories we hear, all of those fairytales, with the beautiful princess, and the horrible witch. Beauty is prized so highly, it's worth killing over (although, these days, Snow White's nemesis wouldn't so much need a poisoned apple, she'd just need a better aesthetician than Snow).
We're taught that blemishes and scars are 'disfigurements' - the bad guys have them, after all (still! Harry Potter aside).
We are taught to think in extremes of what is good, and what is bad, and then it becomes our job to unlearn that, and in many areas we do so successfully. But when it comes to beauty, and how our bodies should look, we seem to get stuck at thinking there's the 'ideal', and anything that falls short of that is simply horrible.
We don't, of course, apply this binary way of looking at things to other people, we keep it almost exclusively for ourselves.
Not hitting those unattainable beauty standards? Then we are failing.
But, what about all of the middle ground? Because...that's where the vast majority of us are. We may not be knockout gorgeous when we tunble out of bed each morning, but we are...ok. Can that not be enough for us?
In a 2020 survey the UK government did into body image, the discoveries are startling, including this:
"The majority of people feel negatively about their body image most of the time."
You can see the report's findings here.
Meanwhile, let's think about that one statement. The majority of people. At least, I guess, we're in good company.
Think about the number of people, and I'll focus on women here, who we see portrayed as having the bodies we should all be striving for. Actors, models, influencers. When you think about it, it's an absolutely tiny number of people compared to, well, the number of women there are actually are. And there's not a whole lot of diversity going on. We're not comparing ourselves to each other, but to a very narrow definition of beauty, and then finding ourselves wanting.
Let's take a look at models, this year, at London Fashion Week. You may not have heard of the controversy at the time, but this article spells it out - we are digressing in terms of the diversity of models the top fashion houses use on the catwalk. As the body positivity movement rises, fashion is going backwards.
If we want to break our own binary thinking around beauty, seeing a more diverse range of bodies presented as 'ideal' is important and, even more important, is just...average, every day bodies.
It's small brands that are really making the effort here.
Snag Tights, Understatement and even Ann Summers have all had social media campaigns showing diverse bodies, meanwhile The Bias Cut focuses on ageism, with a particularly inspirational campaign this year - #ilookmyage.
Find and Follow the brands that represent you
We need to seek out the brands that we do feel represent us - those where we see ourselves reflected, as we are. Those brands that are showing us, not showing who they think we should be changing into. (And be under no illusions, many brands are trapped in thinking that everything must be 'aspirational', never learning that women crave connections with brands who see them, understand them, talk to them).
If we want to get out of the 'beauty is binary' trap, we have to make an effort to do so, for ourselves. Follow the people who aren't striving for perfection - the ones who are embracing themselves as they are now. Follow the brands that aren't saying 'Fix yourself',the ones that know you're fine, as you are.
And understand, not being the most beautiful, not having the perfect body, does not equal therefore being wrong, or 'other', or ugly. It means being like the vast majority of people. And beauty is as diverse as people are.