In yesterday's QotD thread about our physical "flaws," Shaker Keori commented: "Some days all the clichés about real beauty being on the inside just don't cut it." And all I could think was: Do they ever cut it? I mean, seriously—has anyone really ever felt better about being criticized for on judged on hir appearance by a total stranger because a loved one assures hir zie's a good person, lol?
It's a temporary fix at best, maybe a salve that takes away the immediate sting of a direct assault on one's esteem—but if you've got a socially unacceptable flaw, if you sport some evident deviation from the Beauty Standard, you could be the best human being on the planet and it isn't going to insulate you from some asshole shouting "Moo!" at your fat ass from a passing car or asking "What's wrong with your face?" or launching any one of a zillion juvenile epithets—pizzaface! snaggletooth! gimp! freak!—in your general direction just because you have the temerity to be publicly Less Than Perfect.
Being beautiful on the inside doesn't change the fact that it's still a radical act to look different and be happy in this culture. If you're obviously, undisguisably Less Than Perfect, you're not only meant to be unhappy, but deeply ashamed of yourself, projecting at all times an apologetic nature, indicative of your everlasting remorse for having wrought your monstrous self upon the world. You are certainly not meant to be bold, or assertive, or confident—and should you manage to overcome the constant drumbeat of messages that you are ugly and unsexy and have earned equally society's disdain and your own self-hatred, should you forget your place and walk into the world one day with your head held high, you are to be reminded by the unsolicited comments and contemptuous looks of perfect strangers that you are not supposed to have self-esteem; you don't deserve it. Being publicly Less Than Perfect and happy is hard; being publicly, shamelessly, unshakably Less Than Perfect and happy is an act of both will and bravery.
That is the world in which we live. And being beautiful on the inside doesn't fucking change that.
Even believing, despite a near-constant bombardment of messaging to the contrary, that you are beautiful on the outside, irrespective of one's alleged flaws (and maybe even because of them!), doesn't fucking change that—because, as Shaker Rana pointed out in the aforementioned thread, it's not just our opinions of ourselves with which we live: "I basically do like my body, even with the unruly leg hair and crooked teeth. If I could just be, and not be judged by other people, I'd have no problems with it. I'd smile my crooked yellow smile and dance around on my bare hairy legs and everyone would smile back. Unfortunately, I have to live with the world's judgment as well as my own."
Which is why it is imperative to challenge the criteria by which the world judges beauty, to look at the profoundly unreasonable, totally crazymaking, and inherently condemnatory Beauty Standard in its increasingly unachievable face and tell it to fuck off.
Part of challenging the BS (heh) entails loving ourselves for who we are, embracing our Less Than Perfectness and resisting the urge to conform to any standard that purports to be universally attainable. The only objective to which we should aspire is our own healthfulness, which is unique to every individual person.
Part of it is learning to critique the BS on the basis of its asserted universality, rather than suggesting anything prescribed by the BS is intrinsically bad, or that people who strive to adhere to it are somehow flawed. Demonizing thin women in a misguided attempt to un-demonize fat women, or declaring marginalized men (e.g. fat men) "real" men at the expense of other men, or ignoring that it takes not just both will and bravery, but also privilege, to flaunt one's rejection of cultural expectations, in order to censure people whose conformity might be an important coping strategy—all of these things are to be filed under Ur Doing It Wrong.
One of the most important bits of teaspooning we can all do is simply to refuse to judge other people's appearance, which is important both culturally and personally. Judgment is, at its roots, projection—evaluating people's deviations from a standard we endorse. We are thus quick to see our own "flaws" in others. Judgment reinforces our own shortcomings, reflects our perceived failures back to us, makes it difficult to love ourselves when we see our own supposed defects everywhere we look.
We must extend outward the same generosity, flexibility, and esteem that we should each grant ourselves to be happy in who we are. Letting go of the culturally-imposed obligation to judge everyone is hugely freeing—and it makes accepting oneself a helluva lot easier. It's a gift to ourselves, and to everyone else who steps into our gazes.
And a final part of challenging the BS is filling the void of alternatives with deviant beauty. Like telling stories about ourselves subverts dominant narratives about marginalized people, showing pictures of our imperfect bellies, and our melasmas, and our excessively lined hands, and our head-to-toe fatty-balattyness, and all our other "flaws." That's why projects like Adipositivity and Men in Full and This Is Beautiful are so essential.
And to that end, I invite you to submit a photo (or photos) of your flaw(s) to Shakesville's This Is My Flaw Project. Your flaw may be something that bothers you, or it may be something that is a flaw only according to the arbitrary guidelines of the BS that you actually quite like about yourself, a flaw you happily flaunt. Please email them to thisismyflaw-at-hotmail-dot-com.
(If you would like to be identified when they're posted, let me know and include your Shakesville handle. If you don't want to be identified, that's totally okay—and I promise no one else will see who sent them besides me.)
In coming days, I will post all the pictures I receive in a gallery of our own deviant beauty for all of us to admire. Because Less Than Perfect doesn't mean less than.
And because sometimes a teaspoon is a camera.