The media presents women with a million ways to be beautiful. They tell us to buy products to cover our pores, buy products to make our eyes smokey (what does that even mean, guys?), they tell us to buy shakes so that we can be a size 8. They tell us again and again that if we buy a product, we will then be beautiful and worthy, and you can tell that they’re selling that to us because what woman in these ads is standing strong and alone? Nope. None. There’s always a man nearby, shirtless and sexualised.
Even in the images that float around social media, declaring that “strong is the new sexy,” we’re shown pictures of airbrushed and idealised women, and again, there’s an assumption that the ultimate goal of every woman is to be sexy. How low they must think our standards are for life. Beautiful and sexy are our only goals, apparently, and sometimes we decide to be strong, but even then, the images tell us that strong is also skinny and airbrushed and wearing very little clothing.
The thing is that I’ve seen a lot of strong, beautiful women, and none of them look alike. Some are a size 8, some are a size 22. Some are tall, some are short, some are married, some are single, and each and every one of them is beautiful. Each of them possesses strength. But each of them hears the same call from culture to be exactly the same as the women in the advertisements.
It’s crap. Plain and simple. This cultural call to conform to the likeness of airbrushed advertisements is crap.
There’s a photo of me from Saturday. It was at the obstacle called the Hurt Locker, and I remember the feeling. I was pushing a sled weighted with a 25kg plate across some wooden boards, and my legs were burning, and my teeth were gritted and my head was down as I dug in to get it done. And in that moment, my concern wasn’t for much else except what was happening then and there. I felt beautiful. I felt strong. And the photo isn’t what you’d see in an advertisement, but it’s beautiful. It is.
I’ve got a friend who loves until she’s weary. She pushes herself to love every single person she meets, and to make them feel known and valued. She is so strong in the way she loves people. She is so beautiful in how freely she does it, in spite of the struggles she faces, but there are moments when she feels wretched because she isn’t what culture tells her to be. But she is strong. She is beautiful. She is.
Another friend is talented beyond belief. She’s got eyes that see beauty in the simplest of things, and a heart that aches to love and be loved. She creates such immaculately beautiful designs and pictures and even floral arrangements, and yet, she does not know that the beauty she creates is merely an expression of the beauty within her. What she sees, and what she makes, is what she is.
Women are told to strive for an unattainable beauty, you see, but the truth is that they are already beautiful. They are already strong. On Saturday I had a brief moment where I felt that, where the cultural conceptions faded away and I found myself feeling that strength and beauty. There was no striving to be something then, because I was striving to do something. Perhaps that, then, is the trick. When we let go of striving to be something different to what we are, and we turn our focus to doing something, then we can be free of cultural calls and constraints.
And that freedom, should we find it, will be sweeter than fitting the cultural constructions of strength and beauty. I hope you find it. I hope I do too.