Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of debate over the various picture collections depicting a group of very thin women and another group of curvy but not obese women and comparing the two. Usually in some way indicating that the thin women are not as attractive as the heavier built women. I’ve seen a lot of different responses to these. Ranging from some people who agree with it, those who are insulted by it (both thin women, curvy women and men alike) and those who are not insulted but would like to see something less biased.
I am not a skinny woman. Nor am I overweight. I’m probably better described as curvy. I also have horrible self image. The first time I saw one of the picture groups that declare curvy women to be more attractive than abnormally thin women I admit I was pleased. I like the idea that someone was boasting the idea of a healthy looking body. But then I saw all the complaints and while some were very badly written and way too overzealous I will admit that some also had a point.
Recently I saw an article where someone had taken classical paintings of nudes and used photoshop to redo the women’s body type to a 21st century standard. Many people were outraged. Not, because he was making classic paintings look bad but because he was implying that skinny women were not attractive. I personally didn’t see where this happened. I thought that some of them looked alright where the women where thinner and some didn’t but I didn’t feel any sort of overzealous need to get irate about it. Honestly, I was more distracted by the fact that their head proportions didn’t get changed to match the bodies so it looked a little boble-headish to me.
This got me thinking though, what’s the real issue here? So I’ve been thinking about it and the following is what I’ve come up with.
1: Sometimes things meant to bolster self esteem of one group tear down the self esteem of another group. Therefore, you have to be careful how you present such things. If you want to bolster the esteem of a specific group, destroying that of another isn’t the way to go because that group will retaliate and if the group whom you are trying to help isn’t full of selfish people they will then feel worse for your attempt because it will have hurt others. Thus the original good feelings they had up until they realized that what made them feel bad hurt others will fade into guilt over feeling good about it.
My suggestion is you try to do something that bolsters confidence in your target audience without alienating other audiences. If what you are presenting can be taken out of context by another group and seen as hurtful without trying too hard you might want to try another approach. That being said we all know there are people out there who are just negative people and will get butthurt over anything so you’re bound to piss someone off. My point here is that you should try to bring people up in a way that dose not rely on bringing others down. Don’t compare and contrast the skinny to the not skinny or the black to the white or the apple to the orange. Try to focus on what it is you are trying to point out about the group you want to make feel good. It may be easier to focus on a comparison to the opposite side of the coin but in the end you will end up hurting more than helping.
2: Context matters people! First of all read the captions or the article attached to any picture so you understand what the message that they are trying to get across is. If they are trying to state that curvy women are not well represented in media and are using pictures of very thin super models to illustrate this and then comparing it to an era that had a trend of more voluptuous models that is much different from them saying that a thin body type is unattractive. Whether or not they get the point across is another issue.
3: Beauty is subjective. Health really isn’t. Beauty, as in what is considered attractive is very much a personal thing. You might like thin willowy women or you might like incredibly curvy women. It’s a personal preference much like ones taste in ice cream flavors. Since that is the case you can’t really get mad at someone for having a differing opinion from you on that matter. Some people like tall women. Others like short ones. Some people like hair on a guys chest. Others don’t. Blonde. Brunet. Blue eyes. Green eyes. Large breasts. Small breast. So one and so forth. We all know what we like. Some of us even like a variety of different looks. So don’t get mad over someone stating their preference and don’t get hurt if that preference dose not describe you. It’s not like you’re trying to impress some random weirdo on the internet.
Health… is not a subjective issue on the other hand. Just as there is such a thing as too fat there is such a thing as too thin. An extreme on either end is not good for you and let’s face it there is a precedent for the stereotype of the anorexic model. It’s a highly competitive business that centers around a person’s looks. Both male and female models often suffer from extreme depression, eating disorders and low self image. This is often due to a variety of social and industry expectations of how they should look, what their measurements should be and so on. It’s not a healthy situation and it’s not helping them to point out this flaw in a way that degrades them.
A Humble Solution:
If you are inclined to make motivational images that depict an ideal of beauty and you truly want to help people remember this simple phrase:
Variety is the spice of life.
Don’t focus on one group. Focus on all of them. Why not show a picture of several healthy looking body types and declare all of them equally beautiful? Why not show the fashion industry and the media that you want to see different types of people walking the runways and on tv?
Tell them, “I want to see a 5’2” 165lb model in an amazing Alexander McQueen dress walk down the New York runway arm and arm with a 5’10 135lb model god dammit because they’re both attractive and human beings come in different sizes, shapes and colors! It’s time you were realistic about us, media people!”
Alternatively make a poster declaring each group individually amazing and beautiful but don’t have the poster involve any other group. Just focus on each of them individually. That way they all get their time to shine and no one else gets hurt.
Maybe I’m too much of an optimist but I like to think that the world can be changed if we just try and if we show each other a little bit of respect when it comes to how beautiful we are.