It is undeniable that as humans, we are bound by unspoken societal rules of what we can and can’t do, even if our actions affect no one but ourselves.
We live in prisons created by such ingrained beliefs that most of us don’t even notice our own institutionalization.
Our physical appearance is so heavily judged on a daily basis.
My own experience has motivated me to write about the topic. I am certain that as a reader, you will be able to relate, as most of us have been subjected to appearance bias or discrimination to some extent, at some stage. I write from a woman’s perspective, as that is who I am; but the concept can be applied to any gender. Body shaming comes in so many different forms, and is extremely prevalent in today’s society as we share images on media more than ever before.
This is a message to the person who tried to body shame me.
Be smart – but not in a bikini.
I was recently told that I was too pretty, too young and showed too much of my body to be an effective writer. And no, I didn’t take this as a compliment. I’m not writing about this to be conceited – because that’s not my view. And it’s a form of body shaming; a form of singling out my body and making me feel limited by it.
This made me think.
Sure, you can be smart. You can write. You can study.
You can give whatever message you want to the world.
But not if you’re wearing a bikini. It seems that the body has become so incredibly sexualised in society that the mere act of showing limbs has become synonymous with vulgarity.
As I navigate this confusing maze of paradoxes, double standards and societal ‘norms’, I see the following set of rules continuously emerge time and again:
Apparently you can be intelligent and educated; but only if you are wearing corporate clothing. You have no credibility if your body can be seen. And even if you do wear corporate clothing – you just can’t be “pretty” if you want to be heard.
But wait – you can be pretty. You can wear a bikini. However if you do, you can’t have an opinion. Or be old. Or worst of all, be fat.
And you can show your body proudly, and be comfortable in your own skin. But not if you are a woman. If you are a woman, you must be kept hidden, you must go through some kind of socially acceptable angst, you have to be apologetic for what nature has given you and you have to be denied the right to accept yourself as you are, because that’s frowned upon.
Recently I received a stark reminder of society’s clear stance in relation to body image and the freedom to be yourself.
I was basically told all of the above “rules” by a stranger, albeit not in those exact words. Regardless, the message could be clearly inferred.
The other day I received an email from someone. This person privately messaged me on my website email email@example.com
Naturally, I’m always ecstatic to receive feedback about my website and blog posts.
Except it wasn’t exactly the type of feedback I had expected.
(Note: It crossed my mind to include an excerpt of the email here, but I’m extremely against public shaming and I don’t want it to come across as that, so I deemed this to be unnecessary)
The email did include an explanation of how they came across my work; basically this person saw a post I had written on an online community forum, under my personal Facebook alias, asking a question.
Interestingly, the question was completely unrelated to my website or page and I never identified CristyFit in any way. I had simply asked for travel advice on a topic specific forum, because it seemed like an easy way to get a response from other travellers in real time.
So, as it typically happens in the internet age, this simple innocent act prompted them to “research me”.
In essence, this person “stalked me” on social media from a random community post, saw a link to my page somewhere on my profile then subsequently checked my website.
Well, so far, so good. Despite the ‘creepy’ factor, it earned views for my work and that’s not a bad thing. I do want more people to visit my website/pages, and I am always grateful about their interest.
But here’s the thing.
They then proceeded to tell me in this “feedback” email that I would have received a different response (other than the nice and friendly comments I did get) from the original community forum if had a different Facebook profile picture – and if I wasn’t pretty.
Even though they added an obligatory sentence saying that they did like my blog – they almost immediately nulled this comment by highlighting with such conviction that people will not read my blog posts, or any of my writing for that matter, if there are images of me in it.
Apparently I’m too pretty, and they can see my body so no one will ultimately care about my words.
It’s quite mind blowing that someone felt so strongly about this, that they went through such effort to privately email me through my page.
In fact it really bothered me.
Because of all the endless things this person could have said – this is what they chose to say. This is what they chose to focus on. How my physical appearance made them feel uncomfortable.
The huge irony here is that they took it on themselves to “nobly” warn me that people won’t read my content if I post nice images of myself and my body- but they have done exactly that themselves. I can’t imagine that they did actually read my blog, as no reference to the written content was ever made.
They spoke only about the images. That was their entire and only focus.
The email was written in a somewhat ‘friendly and advice giving tone’, which made it all the more infuriating, because the person seems to believe that they are helping me by telling me that my own body is apparently inappropriate and shouldn’t be seen if I want to have a voice as well.
So basically – they warned me against what they themselves stood for. Against the kind of person they are.
This is disturbing for so many reasons.
First of all, my content is physical and mental health related.
My intention is to connect both body and mind.
I love photography and art.
I think the body is beautiful.
I think people are beautiful.
I don’t wear a bikini or show skin in images just to gain attention – I do it because that’s me. That’s my body. That’s how I feel comfortable.
This is highly representative of the kind of person that I am. Beachy, natural, sporty, uninhibited, free-spirited.
I spend a lot of time training, or outdoors. I love experimenting with different photography concepts.
I love being completely authentic.
I chose to be the model for my own page, because it helps me to feel what I write about when I see myself as portraying the words. The ideas are totally relevant and interlinked with my images. There is a multitude of context to all the imagery as it relates to my writing, and the intent is that they create art together.
Not to mention I am also a personal trainer, and as we say in the industry – my body is my business card.
CristyFit is a mental and physical fitness blog, therefore both the condition of my body and the written content I post are highly relevant to my theme.
I take care in choosing images to convey my message. My images are art and my photographers are artists, our ideas are a collaboration of soul work. Clearly not everyone understands that.
I couldn’t help but also wonder – if I were a man, would I have received this email? Women are constantly told not to dress in a certain way so as not to entice men, as though this is their sole purpose of existing.
We are women. We have these bodies. People and society just need to get over it. We don’t exist for the benefit of men, we are each our own person. We are not provoking any thoughts; we are not inviting ourselves to be sexualised. People are responsible for their own thoughts and intentions, no matter what others do.
We are just living as people and physical beings. Human beings.
At the end of the day, this is me as a human being.
This is my physical appearance
I am slim and I am fit, this is who I am, this is not a fake or marketed persona.
Of course I could post the same content wearing a suit. But not only would that not illustrate the aspect of physical fitness that I so strongly want to interlink with mental fitness, but also it would not illustrate my raw and real image, but rather a false alias created to fit into a safe society box.
And just for the record – I never wear suits.
This is my own website, my own blog, where I express myself passionately – therefore I’m going to be me.
There will be people out there who don’t think I can talk about mental health and post my own photos being who I am – my blog and internet content is not for them.
In the end, beauty is entirely subjective. It lives on the eye of the beholder. I can only be myself, and some will find that beautiful while others won’t.
Live your truth now
But there’s still more. They didn’t stop at just objecting to a fit person’s image. As I previously mentioned, they did also highlight that I appeared young, and that was also somewhat of a problem in conveying my ideas.
This person warned me that I should not post photos of myself looking “young” because one day I will get old and I won’t look good anymore.
The biggest problem with this statement is that – this is me NOW.
This is what I look like at this present moment.
Why shouldn’t I live my truth now?
Why would it matter so much what I look like when I’m “old” (whatever age that actually is) when I may not even be around.
We may not be here tomorrow, or even in the next hour.
Why must we be so worried about the future that we just can’t live in this moment and enjoy who we are in the present?
People’s opinions on the topic will differ, but my stance is that I disagree that I should be so cautious about aging and not enjoy who I am now because my physical appearance will change.
The people that give this kind of “advice” are the same type of people that crucified me when I chose to get tattoos, reiterating the same phrase I heard more times than I can count ‘one day you’ll get old and they won’t look good’.
They are also the same people that told me to stop living my life because of their opinion of what is beautiful and what one is allowed to do when a certain age is reached.
Why should we be so ashamed of ageing?
I’ve seen elderly people that look healthier than younger adults. It’s all about the choices you make.
My values are strongly aligned with health and fitness (of the mind and the body), so no matter what age, I still plan to be healthy and fit. And if I still want to be doing this in the future, I hope I can proudly display the image of who I am and embrace myself at a different age.
We all change so much. You can’t be afraid to live because things may change one day. Because invariably they will, and you will have spent your years living in fear. In fear of what others think.
If you are aging, you are in fact blessed.
Aging is a privilege denied to many.
Break the cycle
I still wonder. Why is a bikini photo so significant to this person? I wonder if maybe they should really examine their own internal insecurities rather than reflecting them on someone else.
Fix the issue from its roots, not its symptoms.
It was stated in the email that the main reason they wrote to me was because they themselves had gone through physical changes and felt that society treated them differently as a result of these changes. I feel awful for them that they had a bad experience and I can see that it has clearly affected their self-esteem.
But it seems that instead of growing from this experience, it has made them judgmental towards others instead.
Again, I wonder. Why wouldn’t they want to break that cycle? If they were judged on their appearance, maybe they should evolve to strive not to judge others on theirs.
If you have ever experienced this kind of pain – why would you inflict on others the very injury which has hurt you?
At the end of the day, I believe that we should seek to be less judgmental rather than asking others to hide who they are to fit into our ideas.
I didn’t need their warning. I know the society we live in. I know that there are several countries which shame the human body, and particularly women’s bodies. I know that many places heavily restrict clothing and attire because of religious and cultural beliefs.
I will say this: I value FREEDOM.
Throughout history, it can be clearly observed that people will and have gravitated towards freedom when given the choice, experience or political permission. Many historical events to date have revolved around human freedom, the abolishment of judgement, of discrimination, of genocide, of colonisation, of dictatorship.
I strongly believe that, at least in developed countries, we are gravitating more and more towards freer societies. There is a direct relationship between education and freedom – the more educated we are, the more we choose freedom.
And, if I could exist in a society where people were more than just bodies, where there was no clothing, no need to protect your body from violation, no seeing the body as impure and no hiding from who you really are, I would with no hesitation.It would be amazing to be able to live in a society where our bodies were not used as the main statement of who we apparently are.
Why fit in when you are born to stand out?
We are all so different, but our inherent need to belong keeps forcing us to conform. Most of us are terrified of standing out, of being different, of standing alone.
Overall, in relation to society, the media and body image, the concept of being yourself has become a battle you can’t win.
These are just some of the arguments I have observed on mainstream media:
- If you’re thin, you’re too thin. You look anorexic. Eat more, you need a steak.
- If you’re fat, you have no self-control, stop eating so much, get your ass to the gym, you should be ashamed.
- If you’re getting older, you’re wrinkly, your white hair is not worthy of photos anymore, your sagging skin is unsightly, you’re past it.
- If you age well, you must have had surgery, and if you did have any enhancements, then you’re fake and shallow, why can’t you just accept aging gracefully?
- If you’re pregnant, you can’t gain too much weight because how will you get a post baby body? Then if you stay fit you get accused of putting the baby in danger. And if you do gain weight, you let yourself go; you’re not a yummy mummy, you aren’t Instagram-worthy, kiss your sexuality goodbye
- If you exercise, you must have a booty, or rounded muscles to prove that you are in fact fit. Shape up but don’t do cardio or you’ll lose tone, don’t lift too heavy or you’ll be bulky. Maybe you exercise because you love it but if you don’t have a fitness model body it doesn’t even count, so why bother being good at any sport when it’s all for looks.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do it to other people? Why do we allow ourselves to be so easily manipulated by external agendas and we stop seeing the magic that is who we are?
Layers of meaning
At the end of the day, this is who I post for:
The right people.
The right readers.
The right followers.
The ones who won’t go anywhere.
They won’t go anywhere if I age, if I wear a sheet, a dress, a tailored suit. They can see beyond that, and they understand the art.
This is who I create for. I create for you who are reading this post.
The way I see it is, if someone who reads my blog or follows my social media pages likes my content for any reason, I am just grateful that they enjoyed it and connected one some level.
If they like the image but don’t read the words – that’s great.
If they don’t care much for the image but the words touch them – that’s also great.
If they like both the image and the written content, even better.
And if they don’t like either, well you can’t please everyone.
It’s that simple.
This email bothered me so much and I do admit it affected me. It affected me enough to take to my laptop and write this blog post about it.
But it didn’t affect me enough to change my attitude about the fact that the body is beautiful.
It didn’t prompt me to change my work or become ashamed of my photos.
It didn’t make me more afraid of aging than I already am. There is beauty in aging; we must all train ourselves to see it outside of society’s youth obsessed culture.
So this is a message to the person who tried to body shame me, who tried to stop me from accepting myself as I am and who tried to reflect their own issues and society pressures upon me – you will not succeed. This is exactly the kind of thing I speak against. You have only made me more determined to bring awareness to it.
How has your experience affected you?
What kind of society pressures have you been subjected to in terms of your individuality and physical image?
How has this affected you?
I’d love to know. Leave me a comment 🙂
Thank you for understanding my art. The beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.