This is my skin, and no one wears it better than me. That scar under my chin? From a bicycle accident when I was 9. I tried to jump a curb, overestimating my bike-riding abilities while trying to show up the obnoxious boy down the street, and smacked into the concrete, bruising both my face and my ego. I cried, and it was bloody and awful, but it reminds me every day how lucky I was (and am) to have a Mom who would sit me on the kitchen table, patch me up with Bactine and a Band-Aid, then give me a Yoohoo and let me stay up late watching The Dark Crystal. Is my chin unblemished? No. But it tells a part of my story.
That girl on the train I see every morning? Her hair is gorgeous. It is golden blonde, like Princess Aurora’s from Sleeping Beauty, and no matter the weather or how long it’s been since she styled it, probably flows gracefully towards her shoulders and moves perfectly in the wind, as if she stepped out of a Pantene Pro-V commercial. My hair is more straw-colored, and if the humidity is above 4%, my hairstyle choices are a bun or looking like I stuck my finger into an electrical socket. One time for Halloween I went as the Bride of Frankenstein and didn’t even have to buy a wig, just some temporary hair dye. I have frizzies and flyaways, and my attempts to straighten my uneven curls often get me tangled up, literally, in a round brush and a straightener. But it is my hair. The same hair that my Dad had to attempt to wrangle into a ballerina bun for picture day at my dance studio when my Mom was out of town; a bun that was so horribly done that my dance teacher laughed, and so did I, and the group picture from that day contains several plastic smiles from other little ballerinas and a hysterically laughing one.
Eva Mendes is beautiful. She is curvy in all the right places, and flat in all the right places. Her bust spills ever-so-slightly out of dresses when she makes appearances at awards shows and red carpets, and her arms and legs are sculpted and toned. My curves are more generous. My breasts can sometimes get in the way and end up looking a hot mess, and my ass protrudes farther (in both directions) than hers. But it’s mine. Its extra padding helped me sit more comfortably through 15-hour marathon study sessions while in law school, and is the reason I am more comfortable than a lot of people when having to sit on the ground for extended periods of time.
One of my best friends is tall and slender. Her legs seem to go on for days, and I’m quite certain her spirit animal is a giraffe. She glides graciously from place to place, her willowy body effortlessly transferring weight from one endless stem to the other. She is undeniably beautiful, and almost every woman she meets says something to the effect of “I wish I had your legs.” As for me, I’m not short, but my legs are. All my height is in my torso, and my legs are somewhat stumpy compared to my lengthy abdomen. I have trouble keeping up next to fast walkers, despite years of living in NYC, because my Fred Flintstone-like gams can’t quite create large enough strides to make strolling with normal-legged people easy. But these legs powered me through several long distance runs and a half-marathon, and stayed sturdy as I hiked a glacier. They have, quite literally, carried me through life well thus far, so I’m not about to apologize for their apparent inability to be “ideal” in shape and size.
Despite a long process of body-hating and self-body shaming, I’ve finally arrived at a place where I accept my body for what it is: the only one I have, that is uniquely me and deserving of some damn love. After all, what does the word imperfection even mean? And what does it imply? It means its opposite must exist; that there is a “perfect,” an ideal for which we should all strive. That failing to meet it makes one defective, flawed.
I refuse to accept this premise any longer. Sure, Eva Mendes and my friend and the girl who I always see on the train in the morning all have beautiful, enviable features, and those features make them uniquely human and pretty. But so do mine. And so do yours.
Ultimately, it would be wonderful to live in a society where outer beauty takes a far back seat, or even the trunk, to inner beauty. We are so far from that, though, and whether we like it or not the importance of physical beauty likely isn’t going anywhere soon. So part of the lesson we must teach the next few generations (and ourselves, while we’re at it) is that there is no universal “perfect” when it comes to one’s body or physical features. It doesn’t independently exist. Our society has created that benchmark through a slew of media campaigns, celebrity lifestyles that promote crazy (and expensive) standards of beauty which the average person cannot meet, and the fact that we as a society collectively buy into it. I am as guilty as anyone else on that front.
Sure, there is a natural physical state at which all human bodies sit with good nutrition and exercise, but that natural state is different for everyone. It’s not necessarily coming down the runway at me in giant angel wings and a sparkly bra. It’s not necessarily Christina Hendricks’ glorious boobs and ample curves peeking out from under her dress, either. Neither of these is inherently good or bad; they just are.
Since perfect doesn’t exist, imperfect doesn’t exist either. Curvy, skinny, muscular, slender, tall, short, stumpy legs, bubble but, frizzy hair, acne, big ears, knobby knees, scars — this is who we all are. It’s who we should be, too. It’s a pretty fantastic thought, if you really think about it. In a world where hardly anything is new anymore, you are unique. Out of 7 billion people, you are the only physical embodiment of you.
So let’s celebrate that. Next time you’re watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show or reading a magazine, smile at the models and celebrities and say “That’s nice, he/she is beautiful” then give your own big/small/muscular/flat/whatever ass a nice slap and say “But damn, so am I.”