It is quite a bold statement to (truthfully) say “I’m fine with the way I look”. It’s beyond trite to remark that we should all love ourselves as we are – that’s not what I’m arguing. I’m pointing out that, objectively, this is a remarkably difficult thing for humans to do.
For example: White people want to tan, at the risk of skin cancer and freckles, and brown people bleach their skin at the risk of skin cancer and white blotches. In India and Thailand (and likely other countries that we’ve not yet visited), medians are rife with billboards for ‘Snow White Skin Cream’, ‘Silk White Skin’ and ‘Whitening Skin Salts – with added turmeric!’, all of which claim they can lighten the skin by several shades with continued use. In Bangkok, it is not uncommon to pass women with smooth brown legs and pocked, crater-like faces that are caked with pale cream. Many children have the creams spread across their cheeks, noses and foreheads to help their young skin develop in the ‘right’ direction, colour-wise at least.
Where is the fine line of ideal skin tone? If you naturally have olive skin, then people will think you’re not white, and white is right (according to the cosmetic industry, anyway). But if you are too white, with pale, pasty, sickly skin instead of a healthy, tanned glow, that is also clearly undesirable (just look at those adjectives). Is it because it is human nature to always want more, to strive, to not settle for being contented? Is it the grass-is-always-greener mentality? So, if that’s the case, isn’t it sad that we can’t realign this burning need to be better towards something that we can change without harming ourselves, and that might actually make the world better as well?
People with straight hair envy those with waves or curls, whilst those with curls dream of having hair that just lies flat. If you were bold enough to state, “I’m actually completely happy with my hair (eye colour, skin colour, weight, height…)”, it would feel strangely arrogant. But it shouldn’t be considered arrogance – it is acceptance. Imagine someone saying that to you: admit it, you would feel a jammer of unease and judgement come over you. The same is true when someone says they are very good at something, or that they have a certain positive character trait. We all know this, and so we also know that being truly happy with one’s body is almost shameful – a secret that needs guarding.
In high school, we had an exercise in Assembly one day. The lights were dimmed and someone read out statements. We had to walk into the centre of the hall if we agreed, and stay at the edge if we didn’t. We then had to look at who was in the circle, and who was out, and ponder. It gave some obvious results, such as all the black and brown students stepping to the centre in response to the question, “Have you ever experienced discrimination based on skin colour?” There were a few boring question, such as “Have you ever felt pressure to drink and/or smoke?” when most people stepped forward, apart from the one keen Republican student.
And then there was the question, “Have you ever wanted to gain or lose weight?” Of the 200 students, 197 stepped into the middle. The three tall, popular senior girls that everyone knew sat out on the edge, and I thought they looked haughty and disgusted by the group’s response. I guessed they were thinking that we should all rise above such mundane worries and be happy with our bodies, as they clearly were with theirs. I was not happy for them.
So what does this say about us as humans? That someone having the courage to announce they are happy with their weight is upsetting? No wonder we are always tanning or bleaching. And then the next question: how many of us pay lip service to this dissatisfaction, but are actually content? That’s an even harder one to work out.