Some Musing on "Body Image"
One group or other at USU recently had a night dedicated to a thing called "body image". What is body image? As far as I can tell, it's a specialized subset of another thing called "self-esteem", referring specifically to how people feel about their bodies. I went to this event because it had food, some healthy, some not so much. And also because this was a topic I didn't consider myself super knowledgeable about and I believe in educating myself and stuff. This will be a fun topic for me to write about and not strange or awkward at all.
What always gets overlooked in any discussion about human bodies, the proverbial elephant in the proverbial room, is the fact that all human bodies - male, female, intersex, black, white, orange, young, old, thin, fat, weak, muscular, healthy, diseased, or whatever - are fundamentally the same: disgusting beyond all reason. For real. I don't understand people who claim that learning about human anatomy strengthens their faith in God, because personally it makes me lean toward nihilism. Maybe at some point you get desensitized, but I'm nowhere near that point. A body is basically a mobile odor factory that doubles as a galaxy for bacteria. Even innocuous little things like vocal chords are unnecessarily gross. In one class or other I had to see footage of vocal chords doing "vocal fry", an obnoxious thing that every teenage girl in America does to make her voice sound obnoxious. I could have died happy without seeing that. And it wasn't just me, because most of the class let out noises of shock or revulsion. Humans are grubs. I just needed to get that off my chest and thanks for tolerating me.
The presenters showed us some videos geared toward women but stressed a couple times that their research has shown that men have just as many negative views of their own bodies. Eating disorders, however, remain a predominantly female phenomenon. They didn't address this apparent discrepancy. If I had to guess, I would say it's because our society teaches men from a young age that they're not supposed to have feelings, so they're more likely to repress and ignore their negative ones until they kill themselves. Something like 85% of eating disorders are among females and something like 75% of suicides are among males. Or maybe body image really doesn't bother men as much because they know women don't tend to be as visually stimulated anyway. (Please don't send me death threats for making that generalization.) Personally, I hate every part of myself except my beautiful eyes and average ears, but I don't worry about it very often. I just figure this piece of junk is what God gave me and there's nothing I can do about it, so why stress? Besides, I know it's really my voice, mannerisms, and personality that make me unattractive.
Somebody needs to do a study, though - and maybe we could redirect a few billion dollars from Trump's stupid stupid wall to this far more important endeavor - on whether California girls have higher self-esteem than other American girls because of the songs by the Beach Boys and Katy Perry. Really, when you think about it, the Beach Boys song is unnecessarily cruel. They could have just been like "This is our personal preference in girls", but no, they had to be like "The girls in every region of the United States besides California all have their own positive qualities, but they just aren't good enough and we wish they were different." Really. It's kind of awful when you think about it. The good news, however, is that being a true "California girl" is more a state of mind than a geographical designation. If you like sunshine, heavy taxes, and getting cancer from literally everything, then you too can be a California girl. Even if you're a boy. But that's just my mansplanation and it could be completely wrong.
The group discussed the phenomenon of movies and advertisements manipulating people to an impossible standard of beauty, again stressing that this is done to men as well as women, though again, I can see how it would have a more negative psychological impact on the latter. This is one of those things that I'm well aware of but get angry about all over again every time I'm reminded. What I wasn't aware of was that the manipulators will sometimes actually mix and match parts - eyes, arms, legs, whatever - from different people. Why do they do this? Because many consumers are stupid enough to buy products that are advertised with attractive people who have nothing to do with them, and to throw money at whatever sewage Hollywood wants to pour down their throats. I will say that while I think Rian Johnson is a godawful writer and Rose Tico is an annoying and preachy character, I respect his decision to turn her attractive actress into a frumpy-looking nerd on purpose. Most directors' idea of a frumpy-looking nerd is a hot girl with glasses. Rose, for all her deficiencies as a character, is a real person fawning over her celebrity crushes and that's awesome.
I will say that I don't believe everyone is beautiful, let alone equally beautiful. I think that's a load of crap. "Beauty", at least in the physical sense, refers to traits that most humans are programmed by millions of years of evolution to find attractive because they signal reproductive fitness. ("Cuteness", though sometimes used interchangeably and able to serve a similar purpose, refers to specific kinds of imperfection, e.g. a disproportionately large head, that are meant to signal helplessness and trigger instincts of care and protectiveness.) Preferences differ between individuals and across cultures, but the basics are pretty universal. Most of us at first glance find certain people more attractive than others, but most of us are woke enough to know that looks don't really matter, so in order to resolve our guilt we tell ourselves and each other that "everyone is beautiful". We all know on some level that this isn't true but we try not to think about it too much because then we would feel guilty for having evolutionary instincts.
What if, instead of repeating this lie, we taught our children from childhood up that everyone has the same intrinsic worth independent of what they look like, how they talk, how they dress, who they vote for, and so on? Of course, most parents are already trying to instill this value in their children, but obviously we as a nation and as a world need to do a much better job of it. Society is no help. While preaching out one side of its proverbial mouth that "everyone is beautiful", it does all this airbrushing and Photoshopping and objectification crap that broadcasts the insincerity of its first message to anyone with half a brain. We're supposed to believe that plain and ugly people don't exist, so this frees us to guiltlessly dehumanize them. There was a viral meme on Facebook a few years ago where jerks shared pictures of people that most of the human race would consider ugly with captions like "Will someone please tag so-and-so, he left his whatever at my place last night". I think most people who did this never realized how mean-spirited it was. News flash: most people in photographs on the internet are/were real people. Momo is an exception. Probably.
The societal hypocrisy was even apparent in one of the well-intentioned videos the presenters showed us. It was that video that went around Facebook a few years ago where this forensic artist asks women to describe themselves and then he asks other people to describe them and the pictures he draws from the latter descriptions are more attractive. Even though this video says that "You are more beautiful than you think you are", it implicitly affirms that some features and some people are less beautiful than others. The first pictures are clearly meant to be less beautiful than the second, but they still look like women. One woman says something about the size of her jaw, indicating that she has low self-esteem and sees this feature differently than other people, but this only matters if some jaws are less attractive than others. And we all know that they are. The world is horrifically unfair. But I believe it's almost always better to acknowledge harsh truths than tell ourselves comforting lies. We need to cope with life as it really is, or spend as much time as possible escaping from it into sci-fi and fantasy worlds like I do.
Speaking of women, a federal court recently noticed that requiring men to register for Selective Service in order to be granted rights that women are granted by turning eighteen is constitutionally indefensible. I think a perfect solution to this problem would be to abolish Selective Service, but nobody asked me, and it's more likely that within a few years women will be required to register and then get drafted when North Korea bombs us. So now conservatives are rhetorically asking, "Is this what you wanted, you stupid feminists?" and the feminists are like "Uh, yeah, actually it is, thanks." If I cared about the future of the human race, I would point out that males are much much more expendable from a reproductive standpoint and that sending a more or less equal number of females to their deaths in the event of war would not prove beneficial to our species or society in the long run, but what's the human race done for me lately?
In conclusion, God - whom I still believe even though the nightmare-inducing hideousness of His alleged greatest creation poses a significant challenge to my faith - loves you the same as everyone else no matter what you look like. He doesn't care what you look like really at all. "[T]he Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.