Words can heal, words can inspire, words can defend, and words can unite. But when the words you are hearing are:
“You alright there fried eggs”
“You’d look so pretty if you didn’t have that wonky tooth”
“Wheyyy, check out those thunder thighs”
Words can hurt.
Words hurt so much more than people realise, and growing up I had a lot of words thrown at me. I had positive words, but I also had words that pulled apart my appearance, words that pulled apart my voice, words that pulled apart my personality and those words cut deep. They cut real deep. The problem is that those words were thrown around by people I should have never listened to, but it’s hard not to listen when you’re an impressionable young girl with low self-esteem, and the magazines you turn to for guidance, advice and empowerment are filled with the very thing you’re trying to escape: the feeling that you’re not enough.
I know that you know what I mean. Walk into any shop and look at the magazine rack in the women’s section. What do you see?
Front covers that mention something about sex (and how you must be the best at it), that you should look taller (but not too tall because men don’t like tall women), that you need to be skinny (but not ‘too’ skinny—only to what the magazine deems acceptable), that you are allowed to be curvy (but only in the places magazines tell you are attractive).
Now I’m older, I know there is no such thing as a perfect body, and we should be grateful for what they enable us to do. But back then I did not. I just knew that I was surrounded by things telling me that I wasn’t enough and as a result, I grew up spending way too much time picking apart every little thing about my body.
For example, I could tell you that: My right eyebrow is thinner than my left. I have a dark brown birthmark on the right side of my face which people ‘jokingly’ mistake for chocolate. My left lateral incisor is a bit skew-whiff because I melted my retainer after having braces and I couldn’t afford to replace it so of course my tooth moved back! My bottom lip is hella bigger than my top, which pretty much disappears when I smile. My boobs are no more than a handful. I have muscly calves and thighs which are dotted with both cellulite and stretch marks. My legs turn blueish when I’m cold… And I’m almost always cold. And well, I can’t criticise my feet because all feet are weird.
Isn’t it strange that there is not one part of my body which hasn’t been open to scrutinisation at some point in my life? That my brain doesn’t automatically appreciate all that my body can do, but looks at the differences society told me are imperfections? When the truth is that none of those things matter. Those things don’t make me a better or worse human. Those things don’t define who I am. Those things don’t tell you that if we homies we homies and I’ll always be there for you with a hot choccy even if it’s 2 am. Those things don’t tell you whether I am a good or bad person. Those things are just a list of differences. Not good, not bad, just different.
I haven’t bought a magazine since I was fifteen years old, and even though it’s been ten years since I stopped buying them, I still feel the pressure to look/act/be a particular way. I mean I ignore it because I think I’m pretty damn ace nowadays and to be honest also a little bit lazy; I haven’t got the energy to be anyone but me.
But the pressure is still there. Especially in photos because despite our best efforts, we do want to look our best on camera.
But the reality is that I’m not one of these people who will look effortlessly chic with perfect sea-salt curls. I won’t disappear to spend hours on my hair and make-up when travelling so that I’m ready to hit a golden hour and look all tanned and highlighted in all the right places and stuff because the truth is that 5 pm I’m more likely to be thinking about food, not foundation.
This isn’t a story which ends with 100% self-confidence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, confidence is a working progress. But this is a story where I put on a swimsuit despite the voices of my self-conscious past and I felt fabulous. Gutted that I didn’t have a massive floppy hat, but fabulous nonetheless. It’s a story where I wore a swimsuit which nipped in at my waist and cuddled my hips. It didn’t cover my cellulite or my scars, but it flattered my boobs and never rose unwarranted to give me a wedgie. It’s the story where I felt confident enough to snap a few shots before the vulnerability crept back in. It’s a story of a 240-second photoshoot of prancing along the seafront before I realised that the floor was hella hot and there was no way I could pose ‘nicely’ whilst my ass and feet were quite literally burning.
To me photos are memories, and whilst at the moment you might not feel the most confident or the most comfortable, in years to come you’ll look back and wish you had more photos to remember things by. You’ll want the photos which captured a moment and still tell a story. Because for all that our bodies are, they are most of all, capable, and we should be celebrating what our bodies can do rather than what they are not.
I didn’t start this post with a point, I just needed to write until the words made sense and to say that we are all different. You don’t have to have symmetrical eyebrows. You don’t need to have a flawless face. You don’t need to be a certain size. You just need to live your life as fully as you can and remember that words matter, and shapes do not. That you exist and perfection does not.