I don’t need to state the statistics. It’s not uncommon for people, and especially women, to experience body dysmorphia, or tend toward disordered eating, over-exercising, or other habits due to poor body image. We get specific messages about who belongs and who doesn’t, based on how our bodies look. Sometimes it can be misconstrued as harmless, when actually it’s just the world being passive aggressive at us. And nobody says “I’m right, the world is wrong” quite like conspiracy theorists, so it makes sense that this possibility wouldn’t even occur to us. But it’s a real thing. Shopping used to be a nightmare for me. It was shitty when clothes didn’t fit right on me but they seemed to on everyone else, and my knee jerk reaction was always that my body was wrong. When clothes would fit on one part of my body and not the other, it was obvious that the outfit was intended for a certain type of person, and it was even more obvious I was not that type.
The truth is that we don’t see ourselves accurately. We don’t understand the sheer diversity in what bodies can look like and do. I want to turn your attention to the site, My Body Gallery (possibly NSFW). I came across it about a year ago when there wasn’t a great collection of images. Since then, more users have submitted photos of themselves, and the site is really being put to use. Users can choose a height, age, weight, pant size, and shirt size and see a number of user-submitted images of different women, each with different activity levels, who carry themselves differently. Alongside the images are personal stories of women’s relationships and struggles with their bodies. You can even take a quiz where you look at different pictures and try to guess who weighs a given number. The concept could have been stolen from the worst types of “Hot or Not” games, but it’s actually designed to confound you, as you begin to realize you have no earthly idea what different numbers look like on different people.
Though disordered eating and body image issues get dismissed pretty often, these commonly felt, negative experiences aren’t just because of shallow people. The best way to sell beauty to anyone isn’t to focus on how great they’ll look when they become beautiful, but to tell them how much more confident they’ll be, how much nicer everyone will treat them, how they’ll never feel depressed buying clothes again, how much better sex they will have, how no one will ever judge them. So that’s absolutely how we sell it, with values that equate with happiness, preying on social insecurities, and reinforced by everyday shit we have to deal with. And to some degree, it (sadly) does deliver. I noticed how differently some people treated me when I lost weight, like how all of the sudden what I had to say was important, and that I was being heard for the first time. That is what you get attached to. Achieving any sort of number goal weight is a reward for self-discipline and hard work, with the ultimate goal weight not being an actual number, but that you will be the kind of person you’re supposed to be, according to someone else.
It’s really easy to say people attribute too much to body image and scale numbers, and it’s easy to know cerebrally that these standards are all fucked up. What My Body Gallery does is root itself in representation, that make these truths feel emotionally true as well. We always repeat “representation matters,” but it’s not until we get even a smidge of representation that we realize that we’re only used to seeing one type of person and measuring ourselves against them. My roommates refused to have a scale in our apartment and I’m really grateful for it. Even right now, I’m the most active I have ever been, and I have to practice non-scale victories every day, and it is a practice I’ll likely have to adhere to for the rest of my life. The number of pushups I can do, the distances I can run, how my balance is, how much energy I have: these are things that I know. My knowledge of how I look is ultimately unreliable, but maybe we can help each other change that.