There is something that I read and hear all the time that has always really bothered me, but I’ve never quite articulated how I felt.  After reading these emotional posts by Her Bad Mother and Girl’s Gone Child last week I’ve been thinking about it a lot and wanted to address it here. It’s about the dichotomy of body image in our culture; the fact that we get many, many messages to look a certain way to be socially acceptable, but that if we do put any time, thought, effort into our appearance we’re also “shallow”.  I just saw it again on someone else’s site. A blogger calling herself shallow because she cared that she was almost down to her pre-pregnancy weight.

I think this is utter bullshit. 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel pretty.  For women (and men) there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel attractive and wanting to look good.  There is nothing wrong with caring; it’s part of human nature.

We’ve all heard (or been told) the usual lines about “looks shouldn’t matter” and being “liked for who you are” not your clothes, etc. etc.  (And I got an extra helping of those sentiments from my hippie upbringing – with a good dash of feminism to boot – and so, extra guilt.)  But here’s the thing… most people feel better about themselves and have more confidence when they like how they look. Regardless if that means you dress like a Paris Hilton clone or a punk rocker, whether you just dab on a little lip gloss in the morning or are readying yourself for plastic surgery. Not that I don’t think there are people who take it to unhealthy extremes, because I think there are many who do. However putting some effort into your appearance, even just thinking about your appearance in general, does not automatically mean you are shallow and vain.

Reading these stories that other women share about hating their bodies or appearance is heartbreaking to me, and really disturbing. Especially when those same women talk about being afraid to give birth to daughters, because they want to spare their daughters the pain that they went through about their body image.  Stories about women being victimized because of some aspect of their appearance are even worse.  And yet it seems women still feel guilty about caring about body image, even a little.  It’s as if we acknowledge that media’s version of beauty is unrealistic, then we must also reject all conventions of beautifying ourselves – even if those conventions make us feel good.    

There has got to be path we can walk between feeling guilty if we do anything to look nice and taking personal appearance to an obsessive extreme.  A place where we can feel good about how we look, even taking some care about our appearance, without being deemed shallow and vain. And this has got to be a path we can teach our daughters. 

It wasn’t like I didn’t go through an awkward period (a rather long one actually).  It’s not like I wasn’t teased in high school for being skinny and too smart (plus being a bit “creative” about my fashion choices) and very, very uncool.  And then, conversely, again disliked as an adult in the work place for being… skinny and smart, but this time it was accompanied with snide speculations about who I must be sleeping with (because god forbid I was actually competent).  I’m not a beauty queen in any sense. But even though I didn’t/don’t like my nose or my skin or had a lot of confidence in myself as a teen, I can say I have never “hated” my body the way some women talk about themselves. 

I would have really liked it if someone back then had shown me how to choose the proper foundation (so there’s no orange line along your chin in every high school picture) or told me to start using face cream early or helped me pick flattering clothes.  Instead I had a mom who was hippie enough and a creative enough that she didn’t really care too much about those things. I was left floating to find my own way to self-confidence, along a path strewn with mixed messages (like a damn hurricane went through).  It would have been nice if someone could have helped steer me.  It took a while but as I grew older I did find my way. 

And maybe part of that was I just never bought into the bullshit, on either side, completely.  (You know I first got called “weirdgirl” in high school.  I’m sure it was meant as a dire insult, but being a bit weird I thought it was kind of a hoot.  Because I really don’t think I’m all that weird.  You know, except for thinking for myself.  I guess that’s pretty weird in high school.)

I like to feel like I look good and I don’t think I’m shallow.  Does that mean I spend hours grooming myself?  No, but I’m not going to feel guilty for when I do take some time or the fact that I care.  Neither am I going to criticize anyone else’s choices to do what makes them feel good about themselves.  Thinking that I’m fucking fabulous might be a bit vain, but given the choice between thinking I’m fabulous and feeling crummy about myself?  I’ll take a little vanity, thanks.  And I hope to God my children will too.

Of course, teaching our children to be healthy, well-rounded individuals is ultimately the goal, but that starts with what we buy into.  Our generation has been caught between idealistic feminist values and the era of supermodels and it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  We don’t have to buy into this bullshit guilt, the labels of “shallow and vain”, of “real beauty” vs. “artifice”.  Just as we don’t have to fall prey to the “beauty industry” and media’s warped standards.

I say renounce the bullshit, ladies.  Its time is over.   

                    – the weirdgirl