Nature Vs. Culture

April 2, 2012 2:22 pm

-By which I mean that beauty is subjective. (But also that it is objective).

When I was in school – year 11 or 12 I think, which would make me 16 years old – a friend of mine
informed me that a sibling of hers had overheard a conversation on the bus home, between two
people from our year group. They were discussing the relative physical attractiveness of various
members of said year group. ‘Who’s fit and who’s fugly’, if you will. It had apparently transpired that in
the opinions of both overheard parties, I was assuredly one of the uglier members of that group.

Hearing this news crushed my soul for the remainder of the time that I was awake that night; I was at a friend’s birthday party sleepover. I suppose someone nearly always gets upset at some point during those kind of get-togethers, but never before had it been me. We had all been friends since starting school, and had always been a fairly stable, contented bunch when we were together. Silly little me.
I was never ‘popular’ in school, never part of the ‘It Crowd’ and I had never considered
myself remotely attractive. My skin was bad and my hair simply refused to do anything pretty. I had
no boobs, (still no change there) nor any figure to speak of because I was far too skinny and when I
wasn’t too short I was suddenly too tall. I never seemed to be able to get clothes right – probably due
to the aforementioned lack of figure. Nevertheless, I definitely didn’t want to hear that other people
had noticed – worse, cared about all that stuff, and were discussing it on the bus ride home. That

Now, I metamorphosed around the time I started university or just before, into something
much less unappealing to the eyes. Perhaps I was never as unattractive as those people made me
sound (and later feel). Perhaps as I grew up the people I mixed with were also becoming more mature
and less shallow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not your typical 20-year-old when it comes to love/sex life;
I’ve not had many boyfriends and whatnot. But I’ve definitely had admirers. Nowadays, I think I could
actually list, if I wanted to, a healthy number of people who would vouch for my non-ugliness.

Why am I telling you about this? I think what I’m getting at is the extent to which what other people
think about us affects the way we think about ourselves. I get horrendously self-conscious about
buying such snack food items as crisps and sausage rolls because they are manly and unhealthy and
as a woman I should not want them. Are you really going to eat that? Don’t let anyone see you buying
it. Cringe, cringe. Who has made me think this way? Who has made me feel that I may not eat just
exactly what the heck I want to eat? I’m not gloating here, but my metabolism has always been a bit
of a machine, perhaps by virtue of whatever stroke of luck I have been granted in this life, or maybe
just by virtue of my general hyperactivity since (according to my mother) the day that I was born.
I could probably eat three three-course meals a day for three weeks and not put on a single pound.
Why do I still feel embarrassed and guilty when I order a burger in a restaurant? Why, especially
when I generally eat quite healthily, do I go all ninja about it on the relatively rare occasions when I
bring home purchases that include pizza or chips? I can’t be seen eating this stuff.

I have spent a fair amount of time in the last couple of days reading about eating disorders. According
to science, the only reason we all think we ought to be a certain size, weight and shape is because
the people making money off of our sorry asses (literally) decided that this should be so. Apparently,
there is plenty of proof that a lot of ‘overweight’ people have outlived a lot of skinnier folks. There
is evidence suggesting that it’s the constant fretting about being ‘too fat’, and the stress of being
stigmatized by society and never being able to accept yourself the way you are, that causes the heart
problems and high blood pressure associated with being overweight. Not the weight itself. Samoan
women, who are typically a lot bigger than our barbie-shaped ‘ideal’ woman, very rarely suffer from

any of the illnesses we like to blame obesity, almost solely, for the occurrence of. There is a lot of
evidence – and common sense, when we all actually stop to think about it – suggesting that each
individual person is different to every other, and thus each individual has their own healthy weight,
shape and size which they are naturally predisposed towards occupying. Ok so for some of us, like
me, (and I guess I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones, because like it or not the world right now is the World
Right Now) this means skinny. For others it means the exact opposite. And that ought to be ok.

We’d all be better off if both extremes became acceptable, accepted and celebrated in our culture.
We need to change the way we think about ourselves and about each other when it comes to
physical appearance. And we want to; we’re trying to. Take Gok Wan, for example. Whatever
your opinions of him may be, you can’t say he’s not doing a good thing in trying to help women
whose bodies don’t conform to their society’s ideal, feel better about themselves. Feel better
about aspects of themselves that it would be possible but frankly unrealistic, in today’s world, for
them to dramatically change. It speaks volumes that around 90% of people who successfully lose
considerable amounts of weight through dieting don’t go for long before they put it all – or more –
back on again. There’s evidence here and there that we’re still trying to love ourselves and each
other. (If in doubt, Google ‘inspirational stories’ or something similar). Unfortunately, the tyrannous
rule of the almighty dollar is holding us all back. We all know that ‘Sex Sells’. One logical next step is
that insecurity sells. And so we are manipulated by the mass media to believe that the way that we
are is not good enough. That way, we will buy into anything that might help us be ‘better’. Meanwhile,
TV and the movies tell us that love and happiness are only for beautiful people people whose physical
appearance conforms to a certain set of dimensions and proportions. A set of dimensions and
proportions that are basically impossible for the vast majority of us to achieve, no matter how hard we
try. The fact that you’re probably thinking to yourself right now about how certain aspects of people’s
bodily appearance – perhaps certain people you know – could never seem attractive to you, shows
just how deeply ingrained this stuff is. I guess the people who are trying to change this need to keep
trying. The rest of us need to actually listen to them and support them, instead of paying attention to
Hollywood and the clothing and makeup and hair dye and perfume ads. If more us can do this I am
inclined to think, or at least to hope, that Nature will win in the end.

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