The Two-Fold Problem:
Over the years, I have noticed that my identity as a female has been grounded in two prominent factors; my appearance (specifically, my body type and shape) as well as my thoughts on becoming a mother. I have identified such through the unwarranted commentary and the messages I am bombarded with, which prompt the following contention: can we just stop the incessant judgement, comparison, and ridiculous set of ‘milestones’ that we assume suits all?
Body Positivity Means All Bodies
Let me break it down; years ago, my health became a priority. I enjoyed feeling better in my skin, noticing the shift in my energy levels when I ate differently and exercised a little more. Losing weight became a byproduct of a more conscious lifestyle, and I would listen to comments such as “you’ve lost your curves” and “you look like less of a woman.” The problem is that my body type and shape was immediately associated with my femininity, reflective of that (awful) meme that circulated a couple of years ago which suggested that “real women have curves, and only dogs want bones.”
While I think that this statement was initially intended to empower women and to allow for the existence of many different shapes and sizes, the problem is with the undercurrent implication that other body shapes may not be acceptable. Unfortunately, bouncing between ideals of what constitutes an acceptable female body is not a new thing as evident by the weight gain progoganda of the 1950s and the ideal versus the grunge look and body type commonly associated with the ‘90s. I can acknowledge the influence of the media and the Internet as a contributor towards anxieties surrounding body image, as it seems that no body type or weight is safe from scandal, commentary, or haters.
Even fitness bloggers and trainers aren’t immune to criticisms; Cassey Ho’s video ‘The Perfect Body’ (a response to hateful comments about her body by photo-shopping herself into a perceived ideal) provides a real-life reminder of unrealistic expectations, societal expectations and pressures to be something other what we are. As such, Cassey inadvertently echoes the requirement for awareness in re-training people in the realms of self-care and self-acceptance in face of the presence of fluctuating standards and critique.
Health, Body Type, Individuality
This is not just about industry standards and what the media is telling us is beautiful or acceptable; this is about us reclaiming our power and acknowledging that the media is always changing what it thinks, and then learning to filter what is helpful advice (usually within the framework of self-care and wellbeing) as opposed to the surface-level superficial. The latter is evidenced by the ‘thigh gap’ obsession, the ‘bikini bridge’, and more recently, the paper challenge. Somehow, wrapping a piece of paper around your waist and uploading to your social media outlet to prove a point about weight was considered admirable for a couple of social-media crazed days. What a perfect example of bulls**t, as it is completely in the absence of individual shape, body type, or even health.
The Mother Issue
Opinions regarding body shape bleed into what I want to do with my body as a female, namely, the ‘motherhood’ conversation. Though I occasionally flirt with the possibility of motherhood in my life at some point, when I confess that I’m not sure if motherhood is for me, I’m routinely greeted with dialogue about my role as a female. Not only is my body shape a symbol of just how ‘womanly’ I am, but my desire not to reproduce is also attacked the following way; “but you’re a woman, that’s just what you do,” and “don’t worry, that will change.”
There are so many ways to live a life, and prescribing motherhood and a must-do for a simultaneously invisible yet ever-present checklist of feminine milestones is un-evolved and narrow-minded. If someone should come to the conclusion of parenthood, they should be allowed to do so themselves. As a society we should recognise the individuality of the choice or circumstance and be ok with it. In short, imposing this on others even via our commentary to one another, is unacceptable.
Femininity is Separate from Motherhood and Body Shape
We need to stop associating body shape and motherhood with womanliness. Owning your body without judgment from others, unfortunately, seems largely impossible until people make a conscious effort to shift their dialogue, whilst being supported by others in the industry and online forums (a slow, yet moving process). However, we presently have the capacity to give ourselves permission to be all right with our bodies at a deeper level. We need to be mindful that we are not shunning one body type whilst idolizing another the same way we need to let women decide whether or not parenthood is for them or not. The undercurrent theme is the same; we need to allow for space for variety, as neither is a requisite for being a female or an indicator of the degree to which one is ‘woman.’
While filtering out the dumb stuff needs to become a tool, we really need to think about our own dialogue to each other in colloquial conversation. I’d love for my nieces, or daughters, or young people of the future to grow up in an environment based on acceptance where they don’t here things like “oh, your curves are so womanly,” “I can’t believe you’re eating that and staying skinny, you lucky b***h” or are measuring themselves with A4 pieces of paper to prove a point in the way of acceptance of self or approval from others. Similarly, I don’t want young women growing up with the invisible expectation that they have to be mothers, but rather with “you do your life the way you want to” which involves the implication of “irrespective of whether motherhood is a part of your journey or not.” This should be the norm.
The Bottom Line
Here is the brutal truth: nor my body shape, nor my status as a mother are going to influence whether or not I am a female, how female I am, or whether I am doing femininity ‘right’ or ‘correctly.’ I am on my own journey, and like others, I would love it if people were just a little less judgmental and appreciative of my path (or lack thereof, who knows) to motherhood. Until we reach the ideal point where we’re not attacking each other (even with unintentionally loaded comments), we need to recognise the importance of self-strength and consider of our own deeply rooted thought processes regarding motherhood and bodies. It is impossible and unrealistic for there to be a single standard, and acknowledgement that there will forever be a diverse range of bodies and lifestyles is paramount to ensuring that we’re actually living the lives that we actually want and that we celebrate and allow for uniqueness, individuality and choice.
Self-Care is Key
In the mean time, while we are creating a change and awareness, stepping up and speaking out, perhaps a self-reflective space is also required as we disqualify the ‘milestones’ of femininity and in general, treat ourselves and others with a bit less malice and judgment, and a bit more kindness.