I've been fortunate to be able to support a powerful awareness campaign being run by the Butterfly Foundation.
"Don't DIS My Appearance"
It is a cheeky campaign for a serious cause.
No matter how high performing they are, so many single awesome, high achieving young women I know have insecurities about the way they look.
It’s almost something any two women can bond over, no matter where in the world they are from.
“Oh gosh, I ate SOO much today, and it’s all going to my thighs!”
You would be forgiven for thinking it was a line out of ‘Mean Girls’ and not a regular conversation between fabulously functioning females in 2015. It breaks my heart, and I would be lying if I said that I was always the exception. I also hate that it is true, because it wrongly reinforces a stereotype that says women are obsessed with and overly concerned with their bodies.
“I exercise so that I can eat chocolate,” is not an uncommon sentiment. Sometimes it is said almost solely to fit into the expected discourse, because for some strange reason being concerned about weight is just so ‘normal’.
The ubiquitous and insidious nature of the media, and the advertising and image-saturated world we live in means there is no way to get away from a constant reinforcement of what is considered ‘beautiful’, what constitutes the ‘ideal’ and what a woman ‘should’ look like.
It takes constant reminding to disassociate from these cues and remind ourselves that there is no ‘ideal’. It is also worth remembering that these images are essentially produced art rather than a replication of a reality, but that is easier said than done. Ironically, as a covered Muslim woman, most of the time people can’t see my body to judge, but I know and that is enough to spur the internal conversation.
What is even more bizarre is Western standards of beauty being applied to people that are obviously structurally different. I’m an Arab African woman by blood so how on earth will I ever look like a J-Law or Emma Watson? I can’t, and yet somehow subconsciously I expect my body to be able to be moulded to a genetically different norm.
It is said that in Cuba, no matter what a woman looks like she has an inner sense of self confidence. How? Because apparently, growing up in a country without advertising from the nearby United States and the West, she isn’t constantly bombarded with capitalist-driven images of what ‘ideal beauty’ looks like. She grows up thinking the way she looks is beautiful, and just fine the way she is.
Isn’t that incredible?
Beauty and body image are peculiar concepts. What is considered beautiful is completely subjective, but in the world we live in there is absolutely no doubting that there is an ‘ideal’ standard of beauty and everything else is ‘exotic’.
I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents brought me up to have confidence in my abilities as an individual, and my self worth was tied more around how I could be of service to the community rather than how I appeared. That being said, that wasn’t always the case, and it isn’t all black and white. I grew up wanting to slice my rear-end off. All the Caucasian girls at my high school had flat bottoms and mine was round and protruding. Awkward, right? It always making my dress hitch up when I checked myself out in the windows. What I wouldn’t have given to be the same as everyone else, the same as the models in magazines and TVs all around me…
Now though, according to Vogue, the ‘booty is back’!
Wonderful, or perhaps not so much. Because the booty is only considered beautiful if it is a particular type of booty, and accompanied with a body that is just as thin (or fit, because that’s the new thing) as any other model.
Honestly though, this commentary is a little unfair. Although the internet can be a terrible place for women, particularly in relation to body image (Twitter can resemble the Amazon: Beautiful but also full of blood-thirsty piranhas), it has also spawned an incredibly supportive movement and brought like-minded, empowered women together.
Not only are these movements about highlighting alternative forms of beauty, but they are about encouraging acceptance and celebration of difference. It is also about finding female role models who are not celebrated because of their physical beauty but because of what they do.
If there is a way for us to tackle the scourge of low self-confidence related to body image, it will be through that – through empowering young girls to realise that their self-worth is not tied to what they look like but who they are: their intelligence, their humour, their wit, their opinions, their laughs, their tears and their actions.
I look forward to living in a world where women feel comfortable in their own skin and their self-worth is not defined by a constrained and unachievable standard of beauty. Perhaps there will be some of that Cuban spirit in us all!
Don’t DIS My Appearance is a national awareness and fundraising campaign for the Butterfly Foundation, calling on all Australians to take a stand against a culture of appearance based judgement and negative body image.
Funds raised go towards better prevention, education, treatment and support services to fight eating disorders and the devastating impact they have on sufferers, families and our community.
We are asking people to paint their middle finger for May. Check out other ways you can get involved here.
So get amongst it!