Real People With Real Bodies
I remember when that video of a model being made-up and airbrushed into perfection first made the scene. It opens with a perfectly “normal” looking woman who is then tended to by an army of workers, as if she were a Queen and they were her worker bees, until she looked ALMOST like a model. Then, after all the make up and hair styling, the perfect lights and lenses and soft focus, an artist Photoshopped her images until, sure enough, she looked like every model we see in the pages of every magazine.
That is not real. That is art.
It was a relief to many of us at the time. Especially women, who had been chasing an ideal that simply wasn’t possible. That wasn’t even real. And those of us raising girls, who could raise them on this video, rather than the fantastical images of idealized and imaginary women that would taunt our girls through puberty with chants of inadequacy and imperfection.
Those women you see in magazines are not real. Their hips and thighs are erased at the edges to make them look thinner. Their folds and creases are softened to give them the lifeless sheen of dolls for sale. As it must be, they’re selling unattainable dreams, and the products needed to chase them.
But then came the memes, chasing these paper dolls off of our social media feeds. Pictures of women with big, bodacious bodies jumping joyfully ocean waves wearing bathing suits. I was so happy to see these bodies. These bodies that look like bodies I know in the real world. But they often came with a tagline that, while understandable in its backlashing fury, was no better than the two-dimensional paper dolls we were leaving in our past: Real Women Have Curves.
I embraced it because it needed to be said. But it was so incomplete. Many women I know had no curves. And we were all real women too.
Real women come in all the shapes, sizes, styles and colors. We are ALL real.
Meanwhile, men weren’t faring a whole lot better. We’d been told that “real men don’t eat quiche” since the 1980’s. But in the early 2000’s, we started hearing talk of “revoking the Man Card” for sins such as eating salad, not supporting the NRA, not controlling your woman and a whole slew of societally created nonsense. The masculinity of “real men” was seemingly revocable for any petty offense. They became “not real” for stepping outside the box, even slightly.
Their bodies, until the recent advent of “the dad bod,” were judged no less harshly than women’s. Men’s magazines, just like women’s, are focused on how to get a 6-pack (not the deliciously refreshing kind) so that you too can look like an Abercrombie and Fitch Model. That model is, of course, no more real than the women who we’ve done such a good job of debunking.
There is no such thing as a “real man” or a “real woman.” Not in a singular “that is it” way. Nope, we come in a dizzying variety. And we’re all real.
Humans – which, really is what we all are, nothing more, nothing less – come in all shapes and sizes. We come in all colors. We hold a variety of religious beliefs. We express our gender and sexuality and creativity and personal ideas of the world in infinite ways. We color our hair and our skin, we decorate and alter our bodies in as many ways as the human imagination can manifest. But we are all human. Nothing more. Nothing less.
We are all real.
So, a few things to understand about us humans:
1. We are a VERY diverse species. Human bodies come in all shapes and sizes. They come with widely variant skill sets, of body, brain and spirit. My favorite physical example is the (sadly, out of print) book Athlete by Howard Schatz. In Athlete, Schatz photographs athletes from Sumo Wrestlers to Jockeys, NFL players to Gymnasts. I can think of no clearer visualization of how different we are, physically. And these are all people who are at the top of their games, a pure physical expression of the design of their bodies. Would you ever suggest that an NFL linebacker would be better if only they were a Jockey?
So to with the various ways we are “smart.” Stephen Hawking is widely considered one of the smartest men to ever live, but I’d be willing to bet there are things he’s terribly daft about. Not to mention that he’d make a lousy ballerina.
As a species, we need this diversity. We need the designers and the builders, the visionaries and the people who keep the trains running on schedule. We need people to do all the things. And for that, we need a variety of physical, mental and emotional strengths.
2. We change with time. I can do things at 45 that I couldn’t do when I was 5, or 25. My brain has changed. So too has my body. Yet, somehow, we have gotten stuck in this idea that, as humans, we are at our best in our mid 20’s. And we should hang on to that with all we’ve got- and we’ve got creams, diets and magic pills to do that!
Yes, I’ve heard people cite all manner of “evolutionary psychology” garbage, suggesting that the weak and old are naturally swept out of the herd and left to die. Those same species also routinely eat their young, poop as they walk and sleep in trees. So let’s not start with that specious species comparison.
3. We feel best when we do what comes naturally to us. Our job is to not only figure out what our unique strengths and skills are – both mentally and physically – but to develop them in a way that empowers ourselves and the community around us.
There is a well-loved quote that says, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (This quote is often attributed to Einstein, though there is no evidence anywhere that he said it.)
4. We have value based on what we contribute to the world, not what we look like. We live in a culture that values appearances over substance. Let’s change that. I can’t look like you, you can’t look like me. I probably can’t do what you do, but you probably can’t do what I do. If I were to be judged based on my ability to write code that makes banking easier, I’d be a failure. But I’m good with being judged on my ability to inspire others to live a healthy, happy and compassionate life. That’s my ninja-skill, and I use it with abandon.
The simple acts of making others comfortable and happy, of being a supportive rest stop on a weary day, of raising little humans who will take over the world are all powerful and important jobs. They make the world a better place.
You change the world every time you are kind, and every time you are cruel. Be aware of what you’re leaving in your wake, and make it something that you’re proud of.
5. Bodies are for doing things. I look at bodies a lot. I have gotten caught in an awkward stare more than once. When I see a big butt, my first thought is “I bet they can squat a lot.” Broad shoulders? Pull ups, or the ability to out hang a zombie if need be, since they can’t climb. Long, lean legs? Running. Bodies are for doing things. Whatever body you have, it’s good at something. Find that thing. Find the thing that brings you joy. Stop trying to make it do or be something that it isn’t designed to do or be.
You truly cannot judge a book by its cover. Rarely, if ever, will a body reveal to you the soul of the person it carries. You can travel the world and see natural wonders that boggle the mind. You can also sit down and ask the person next to you about the life that delivered them to that moment. Judge no one. You do not know their story. Ask their story, if you are ready to be open to it and feel it as if you were in it. It will change your life. Let yourself be changed by the humanity of others.
I will never a linebacker, or a jockey. Or the CEO of a huge company. Or a scientist. Man, the list of things that I will never do is longer than any wish list I could ever generate.
But I rock the living daylights out of being a 45 year-old mother, wife, lover , friend, coach, small-business owner, community activist and dilettante farmer on my little farm in the city. Seriously. I am so good at that.
What are you great at? What brings you joy? What do you do that brings joy to others?
Go do those things. As only you can.
You are better at being you than anyone else can ever be. So do it. With all you’ve got.