I was a bit afraid to publish this post. I hope you all know my heart. Today, I want to pare down and have a chat. (Thus, a picture I posted a little while ago on Instagram with no filters and no makeup, because I think it’s appropriate and I am feeling too sick to do the planned bare-faced, jeans-and-tee shots)
I’ve been seeing some interesting comments (and gotten some interesting comments) on blogs lately in regards to having confidence and feeling beautiful, fit, pretty, or what have you, and it’s sparked my general need to rant today. Or, you know, present a more thoughtful blog post.
The comments I’ve seen bring up something called “the skinny privilege” or “the pretty privilege.”
This idea is almost always found on blog posts from women who are encouraging self-confidence despite flaws, women who are pretty, or have a relatively ideal body shape, or have a relatively enviable life, and the comments usually say something like this:
It’s easy for you to say “be confident” — you’re young, beautiful, have good skin, and have the skinny privilege. You should be more thoughtful about people who aren’t like you; it’s hard for people who have bad skin, who don’t have an hourglass shape, who aren’t fit, who don’t have money. How dare you say every person can be confident, you have no idea how we (the un-ideal body shape, skin type, lifestyle) feel and how hard it is for us to get over those flaws. You should have considered that and written a better post to include us, too.
I have gotten comments like this, I’ve seen comments like this on other blogs (some of them actually very polite and nice, some of them very snippy and irritated), and here’s the thing: I do understand. Sometimes, if you aren’t the ideal — you don’t feel beautiful, you want to be seen as more than just what’s on the outside, you get judged for not being what society deems “beautiful” — you get discouraged by a pretty woman saying that everyone should be confident in who they are and that every woman is beautiful in her own way. You’re annoyed because perhaps you know you aren’t beautiful or you never will be beautiful, and you hate it when you perceive you’re being told that beauty is the only way you’ll measure up. Beauty isn’t all there is to life. Youth isn’t forever. A model-esque body shouldn’t be the only desirable body.
But here’s the other thing: just because someone is thin does not mean they are or have always been confident. Just because someone has a socially-deemed symmetrical face does not mean they feel beautiful. Just because someone has rad makeup skills does not mean their skin is perfect. And, just because someone has any of these things does not mean they have always had these things. Sadly, the world still runs largely based on appearance, and women are highly influenced by that.
And I know so many women who have that thin body that society envies who have had eating disorders, who have been unable to gain weight, who have always been skinny, who nobody realizes have issues of their own, because they are “so lucky to be thin.” Women who couldn’t gain weight in pregnancy and feel that the small size of their babies was their own fault for not gaining baby-nourishing weight, who had to give up breastfeeding because of it; women who are told by one side that they’re so gorgeously thin, and by the other side that they need to eat a hamburger; women who are recovering from anorexia who still shy away from being told they look healthy, because all they hear is “you look fat.”
If you watch TV or just walk through a city, you see many women with fit bodies and pretty faces who don’t think they’re enough, or who perhaps haven’t shed their old selves — their overweight selves, or their acne-ridden selves, their too-skinny selves, or their ugly-duckling selves. Despite who they are now, they feel like who they were. Their brains don’t compute the changes.
I was one of those people for a very long time, and this is why I tend to write posts about finding your own confidence and being okay with your own beauty, or just who you are in general. This is why I have written posts acknowledging that I know my own value now, which can perhaps come off the wrong way.
But I have not always been what everyone would consider pretty, fit, or clear-skinned. I am not currently what society would call an ideal body type at 5’6″ and 174 pounds (previous to pregnancy); I will never have an ideal body shape because my breast-waist-hip ratio is more pear than hourglass. I have always had a curve at my belly, fat on my thighs, a bubble-butt, and a small chest. Even when I was at my thinnest, I still felt like the fat girl because I have a naturally curving body that jiggled even after drastic weight loss. I had acne through my late teens and early twenties, I was overweight for years, I have really bad eyesight, and I’ve always had bad teeth.
And I am not writing any of this for reassurance or compliments; I know my merits now, and while I’m still working on my body, I’m okay with who I am in the moment.
I am writing all of this because I think that those “pretty privilege” comments, while I understand sometimes where they come from, should perhaps take a moment to stop and think. They ask the blogger, in a sense, to quit judging based on the physical, yet that is exactly what those comments are doing. They are judging this person based on the physical — this person is what most would consider pretty, fit, or blessed with a more upscale life, so obviously they have never felt ugly, fat, or experienced lack of money.
And in a sense, they are body shaming, lifestyle shaming, or beauty-shaming people. They basically stipulate that because this person is beautiful, this person must be confident and is not allowed to have securities. Most of these bloggers are not writing body-confidence posts because they feel beautiful and know it; most of these bloggers are writing body-confidence posts because they either are not the ideal, even though they do hold beauty in their own way, or because they have not always been or felt the ideal, and they want to encourage others to start thinking positively. Or perhaps even if they are relatively confident in themselves, and know they are within the ideal of what society accepts as pretty, they are still targeted, judged and criticized because they have a natural belly pooch, or a curvy butt, have the inability to gain weight, or they choose not to shave.
Because of that, they write posts to encourage women of any shape, size, or looks to forget what society says, and rock what they have. They write these posts because they want to change and challenge what is shunned in the eyes of the world because it’s not considered beautiful. Or, they write these posts because, like me, they used to be the fat girl, the acne-prone one, the one who hid in a corner ashamed of her body or her glasses or her less-than-perfect teeth. And they want to encourage young girls not to get too down on themselves, not to feel ugly just because they’re not ideal, not to let model bodies and photoshopped faces influence them to set unrealistic or unhealthy goals.
What’s more, in the blogging world it seems as though there should be some consideration for the fact that these are personal blogs. That one cannot possibly write from every single perspective, nor should a person have to write from every single perspective, if they put forth what they believe with respect and as much clarity as they can. These spaces are personal blogs. Personal lives. Personal opinions. Personal style. Most posts written are not written with the expectation that everyone will agree, nor that everyone should agree; most posts are written to express thoughts that, while they will hopefully encourage others, are mostly meant to be applied to the blogger’s own life, friends, and perhaps blog-friends.
We all know our general demographic, who we interact with, who comments, what problems pop up in the lives of those who follow our blogs — I know that most of my readers are between 19 and 35, are mothers or housewives or young women interested in fashion, and mostly tend to struggle with the same things I do, or are interested in the same things I am. Body image, comparison to others, retro style, motherhood, confidence, etc. So, I write things that I hope will interest these people, but I also write things that are just heavy on my heart. Things that I’ve been asked, emailed about; things that have been mentioned in comments; things I see on other blogs that interest me.
And I know that what I write, how I believe, who I am, and what I wear will not appeal to every single person, so I don’t expect every single person to take my words to heart. I don’t write for everyone. I write for the people who need it the most. I write for the young girl who emails me wondering if something is wrong with her because she doesn’t have a boyfriend at 14, or the fellow mother who writes to say she struggled with the same body issues I’m going through right now, or the non-ideal bodied follower who is happy to have finally found a “normal-bodied-woman” who dares to wear vintage clothes.
And, I write for myself. I write to find release, to find new confidence, to exercise my skill, to see if there are others out there like myself, to share my life, to connect. I write to make friends. I write because it interests me.
So, the next time you read a post about body confidence from a woman who seems to have it all, remember this: she may not have always had it all. She may still be struggling with inner demons. She may still feel like the outcast even though she looks like the popular one. She may have friends who need to hear what she has to say. She may have followers whose hearts yearn to hear someone tell them they are perfect just the way they are. She may not be writing specifically for you, but she is writing for someone. And even if her life seems perfect, or her body is one you wish you had, or her face is beautiful, she may need to write it for herself. To remind herself that the person who critiqued her bodycon dress because she has curves is wrong; to remind herself that the person who yelled at her to eat a hamburger has no idea how hard she works to gain and retain just five pounds; that she can be what she wants, because she is who she is. That beyond the ideals of society, there is beauty in her that only she has; that even if she’s not the ideal, she’s still worth something to someone.
At eighteen, I was rising up towards 180lbs (compared to my friends, who were generally around 120 or 130lbs) and rarely let people take full-body photos of me. I wore baggy jeans, sweatshirts, and tee shirts all the time because I didn’t want to stand out, and I didn’t know what else a “chubby” girl could wear. Often, I thought I looked like a boy because people always told me I looked like my brothers (which, duh, siblings, but as a young, struggling-with-weight-and-prettiness girl, that was crushing to me.)
Take it from me, a woman who has grown from a plain Jane to whatever it is you want to call me now; I know. I know that some would say I have the “pretty privilege,” whatever that is supposed to mean. I know that I’m not bad looking, that I don’t have a bad life, that perhaps now it’s easier for me to be confident because my skin is clear and my body has adjusted to its womanly proportions.
But I haven’t always been who I am now. And sometimes, the old self wins. Sometimes that’s still what I see on bad days. Despite beauty. Despite a good life. Despite weight loss.
And those are the days when I want those girls who are who I was to know: it gets better. To know, they aren’t actually as fat as they think they are, or perhaps that what they perceive as unsightly extra weight is attractive to someone somewhere. To know one day they’ll wish they hadn’t spent so much time worrying about the lack of curve to their hips or the lack of breast tissue or the few pimples that popped up for a few years. I want them to know that beauty does not need to be defined by perfection. That beauty should be defined by themselves, and themselves alone.
The beauty of their face, their mind, their heart. Beauty that counts; who they are, who God made them. These are the things that matter.
Disclaimer, you don’t have to be what society calls beautiful to still be beautiful, and while I do use “beautiful/beauty” in this post a lot as a reference to the outside, because that is how I’ve read comments directed at myself or others, being beautiful is not limited just outer beauty, but also inner beauty, personality, and your mind. I have met people who I did not consider attractive at first until I grew to know them as a person, and now in my eyes they are some of the most beautiful people I know.