The day I got training wheels was the day I realized I was “curvy.”
My dad came home with a set for me when I was 7 or 8 years old, just a few days after I’d ridden a bike for the first time down a hill with a speed bump at the bottom. My skinned knees, wrists, elbows, cheek, chin and ribcage were not at all amused when I lost my balance and made hard contact with concrete. I asked for a set of training wheels, post haste.
My dad sat down to affix the wheels to my bike while I pretended to supervise. He perused the instructions and muttered to himself that the wheels were not suitable for a child weighing more than 50 pounds. I felt my cheeks go warm with embarrassment since I knew for a fact that I weighed more than these wheels’ apparent max capacity. Dad took notice and said “Are you kidding me? You weigh more than that?!? Yikes!” He said it with a smile and meant no harm, but I still left the room with my head hanging low. I felt ashamed.
Just like that, BAM! I was hyper-aware of my body. It dawned on me that 85% of my female classmates were indeed smaller than I was, and that the boys liked those girls better. An aunt had recently offered to pay me one dollar for every pound I could lose, because didn’t I want to be prettier? When puberty struck quite suddenly after an injury to my jaw did something wacky to my pituitary glands, my insecurity level reached a frightening peak that lasted well into my twenties. Body image issues followed me like a stage-five clinger with an axe to grind; I spent years trying to be smaller and employed unhealthy means to try and get there.
So now curves have sort of made a comeback: joy to the world! You see it on TV, on the radio, on the internet and on t-shirts bearing Marilyn Monroe or some other curvaceous female’s image: real women have curves, it’s all about that bass, and anacondas don’t want none unless you got buns, hun. You’d think I’d be all about this refreshing mentality being of the curvier persuasion, right? Well… about that.
Here’s my first issue. The kind of “curvy” that’s lauded as sexy too often only refers to the Jessica-Rabbitesque shapes of women with voluptuous hourglass figures and not so much to that of plain ol’ fuller-figured women such as myself. I try so hard to identify with the “curves are hot” thing because frankly it feels like I should, and while I do appreciate society in any way embracing the concept of beauty being packaged in different sizes and shapes, it doesn’t always feel like my particular body type is the “right” kind of curvy. This is where social media can really make a regular girl want to pull her hair out; the Instagram models and Kim Kardashian types with their overabundance of self-indulgent photos make a great and maddening case for the fact that my curves are for the birds in comparison to theirs; not only my non-carved waist but my cup size, butt, nose, lips, eyes, pinky toe and gosh-damn nail beds are apparently the wrong shape, size, color or model year.
This brings me to my other problem with the “real women have curves” movement, and that’s that it does the exact same thing that the “skinny is sexy” ideal does: it defines beauty and sex appeal as only applying to a certain type of woman with a certain set of characteristics. It not only leaves out the women who don’t possess those physical traits but shames them into feeling like they aren’t feminine if they don’t. What I’m talking about is skinny-shaming, and it’s everywhere I look.
Given my life’s quest to be thinner, I’d never really given much thought to this side of the struggle. Think about it though. Being told or made to feel that I’m not beautiful or attractive because my body cannot fit into a size 6 is annoying, no doubt about that; my hips don’t lie and they say “we’re wide!” so I try and try to get their circumference down through healthy eating and exercise. Meanwhile a slew of other women wish theirs were a little less modest and a little more Minaj because in pushing the agenda for seeing beauty in a larger figure, smaller girls have become the new punching bag.
This is very evident in media and music which have begun painting women’s bodies as less desirable if they lack the certain curvature that has become so synonymous with sex appeal, like when Megan Trainor’s momma apparently told her boys like a little more booty to hold at night. I know a lot of people are giving her props for the message behind that song, but that message is sullied for me because it puts down the girls without said booty abundance. Then we have Nicki out here going so far as to say “f*ck you if you skinny, bitches!” This grinds… my… gears. It belittles women who don’t fit the big booty bill and is demonstrative of one of my major hot buttons: women’s body-shaming coming from other women. Enough already. A naturally slender, less curvaceous female is just as real a woman as Amber Rose, Christina Hendricks or Sofia Vergara are, and no one should tell her or me or you any differently.
I’m not setting out to tell anyone to rewire themselves in what they find individually attractive. What I do want is collective acceptance of the female body in all its variation. I want for all of us to be able to feel comfortable in our own skin, to be seen as perfectly beautiful, sexual, desirable creatures with appeal and worth and value that isn’t measured by our waist-to-hip ratio. I find it unacceptable to define beauty in exclusionary terms, and not just in how men see women but in how women judge each other as well.
So here is my own little body image manifesto: I think a woman should feel sexy whether she’s shaped like a Coke bottle or like a Coke can. She should focus less on being thicker or thinner and more on being healthy. No woman should feel pressured to wear makeup, nor should she be shamed if she happens to really like putting it on. Let a girl wear sky-high heels whether she’s 5’6” or 6’5” and don’t give her lip about it because that is her prerogative. Please, love the big boobs or full derriere of women who possess these body parts- but don’t make the women who lack these assets feel inferior either. Don’t assume that the skinny girl is healthier than the one shopping for plus-sized jeans, but don’t discount the slender girl, she might just teach you a few things. Gisele is a beautiful woman, so is Tess Holliday. Curves don’t make a real woman and neither do six-pack abs. You know what all real women have? DNA, cells, cytoplasm. Real women have mitochondria. Put that on a t-shirt.