As the Be Your Own Muse community continues to grow, we as editors are continually being introduced to countless women who epitomize the BYOM spirit – they are bad-ass, inspiring, thoughtful, articulate, compassionate, confident…we could go on and on. As a testament to this ever-expanding network of wonderful women, we want to share a refreshing and compelling piece on the concept of “loving your body” and what self-love and acceptance really look like, written by a friend of a friend whom we are so glad to know, the insightful Shannon Oksman.
We all have beauty on the inside. There are inherently beautiful qualities inside most everyone, with the exception of serial killers, sociopaths, and clowns (or in John Wayne Gacy’s case, all three). And we all have something physically appealing about us, even if it is something only a mother could see. And that is what I’m going to talk about.
Let’s get real, I laughed my touchas off when I saw that viral video of a woman walking around NYC for six hours getting cat-called. Not because sexual harassment is funny, it certainly isn’t, and it is a definite problem. But truthfully, do you know what would happen if I did that? Absolutely nothing.
Apparently I am a superhero, because I have the magical ability to be invisible.
That isn’t to say I’ve never been complimented on my looks. That isn’t to say I don’t feel beautiful around my beloved husband who always makes me feel sexy and desirable. That also isn’t to say I hate my body, or that I see some hideous beast in the mirror.
The fact is that while I have beautiful dark blue eyes, great hair, and a killer rack; I am in fact quite average-looking. I am fat (a Size 18-20). I am short (5’1). I have plain features: reddish-brown short hair, round face, stubby legs, tiny feet. I have huge boobs, which can be a curse as well as a blessing. When you’re fat, having a large chest forces you to get shirts that are like small tents, making you look even larger.
I have facial hair, due to a hormone imbalance that I work diligently to either mask through the magic of Clinique, or pluck/shave constantly (I’m terrified of the pain of electrolysis). I have some of the worst teeth on the planet. Most of my bottom jaw are still baby teeth, my adult ones never grew in down there! None of this makes me a walking chubby horror story. But in this country, admitting that you’re just kind of plain or average is almost the same as saying you hate the way you look. I really don’t. Not to say that I didn’t used to. But I’ve come to make peace with what the genetic lotto has given me.
Do I wish I could look like the woman in the viral video having men shout out obscene things to them? Completely guilty. Not to say I would like to constantly deal with sexual harassment all day long! But I would kill to be a size 5 with a model’s face and a few inches taller. Or to be able to wear heels without the very real fear of breaking my neck. When wearing heels, you might mistake me for a newborn calf trying to figure out what the hell this whole gravity thing is. Although honestly, that’s me even in flats.
The point is, there comes a limit to how much whining about needing to “love our body” and “feel beautiful” before it not only rings false, but rings silly.
I have come to terms with the honest truth: I am average-looking. Borderline cute. That’s about it. I’m never going to get the bartender’s attention in a sea of young, flawless 20-somethings. I am never going to entice the fancies of perverted construction workers (nor do I want to!) when I walk by them. I’m never going to strut (or in the case of reality, since that’s what we’re talking here, seriously maim myself) down a catwalk for Victoria’s Secret. That isn’t to say plus-size women aren’t beautiful. There are a myriad of stunning heavier ladies like Adele, Tess Holiday, Rebel Wilson, and Melissa McCarthy. But they are not average-looking. They are strikingly beautiful, regardless of the conventional standards of beauty that hold you have to be thin.
What I have learned (and it has taken a long time for me to accept) is that it is OKAY to be average looking, and to say that out loud without it somehow meaning you are putting yourself down, or fishing for a compliment. Women today are taught that if they don’t say they are beautiful that they have low self-esteem. Not “beautiful on the inside”. I mean the surface stuff. Part of that stems from the larger problem in contemporary society that if you aren’t conventionally attractive that you do in fact in some ways become invisible unless you start asserting yourself more.
Being average-looking and overweight as a female (there are absolutely lookist and weight-centered issues for men too, but I am speaking from experience, and I have only ever identified as female) has taught me some valuable lessons. When you are good-looking in this country you have the doors of privilege open to you in ways you may not even be fully aware of: you are often paid more than your average-looking colleagues, people are nicer to you, you get more attention from your preferred gender, people attribute the qualities of kindness and high-intellect to you even if you do not necessarily possess them, people put up with a higher drama quotient from you in relationships, and you are not always held as accountable for your actions as a person of average looks is. I have read studies that show this. I have witnessed it from afar. I have been guilty of treating pretty people with a bit of a fangirl-y attitude myself. I have several friends who genuinely look like models who I have seen these things happen to countless times.
What being plain has taught me throughout seeing these doors closed to me, like Stephen King’s Dome, is to accept what I cannot change and push those doors open with my other qualities: my wit, my intellect, my gregariousness, my loyalty, my borderline-bossiness, my tenacity, my creative side (writing, acting), my loquacious nature, my spirituality, my…yup, you got it: inner beauty.
I make people stand up and pay attention! I can hold the attention of a room full of people (having had great practice as a teacher), I can have incredible conversations, and when I was single I had plenty of men flirt with me. None of that is due to charisma borne of physical beauty. I learned to subvert that need to be pretty not just by having good self-esteem (which comes in waves, being fat has plenty of emotional caveats no matter how much I yell a Tarzan yell of plus-sized pride), but by simply accepting that there is a beauty in being average.
It isn’t better than being gorgeous. That is a lie, and a lie I refuse to tell. The hard truth is that being gorgeous gets you places; it gets you connections in ways being average, especially as a woman, simply can’t. But being clever, resourceful, friendly, positive, outgoing, and exploring the world without the need for physical validation, now that is an above-average talent. There is nothing fatalistic in accepting what you do not possess. It is merely embracing honesty and running with it, making something good out of it, and in turn, improving how you feel about yourself. That isn’t to say I always feel great about it. That would be another lie. It’s perfectly human to resent oneself after thumbing through Cosmo or People Magazine, or walking past a Victoria’s Secret. Or being completely ignored in a bar when you are single. But in finding an acceptance of who I really am, I found that plain, fat, 5’1 me in flats is not so bad. Hell, it got me a fantastic husband, 2 adorably crazy cats, an M.A. from one of the best universities in the country, a cacophony of incredible friends and family from all walks of life, wonderful former students, and mind-blowing journeys throughout this world.
All without a catwalk in sight.
+ WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY TOWARDS SELF-LOVE + ACCEPTANCE LOOKED LIKE? LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!