Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely, positively, have the best Mom in the whole world. She’s so awesome that I capitalize Mom even when it’s not grammatically appropriate. I wouldn’t trade her for any other mom, actual or fictional, in the whole world.
Now the disclaimers:
- My Mom is crazy
- But in the cutest possible way
- This is a true story, though not a politically correct one
- But it beautifully illustrates my point so I’m going to tell it to you
- Stick with me to the end, I do have a point
Several years ago, my Mom decided to join the Peace Corps and went to a small town called Kayes in West Africa. She did amazing work setting up internet cafes and teaching people computer skills. They love her, they still e-mail her.
Mom wrote me a letter roughly every 10-12 minutes while she was there, and one Saturday I was sitting and catching up when I received a letter that started off:
Dear Ragen, (that’s not the interesting part, as Ragen is my name)
First you have to understand that it is very hot here, almost 120 degrees every day. (Well, I’m sorry to hear that but you joined the Peace Corps so I can’t really rouse too much sympathy.)
Second, you should know that the largest trade ever given for a bride here was 1 air conditioner, and that was for a Malian Princess. (No. No way. No FREAKING WAY!.)
I have offered your hand in marriage for two air-conditioners. He knows that you may not come to be his bride and if not I have agreed to return the air-conditioners when I leave. (WHAT THE $%&#?!?!?!?!?!?!?!)
I don’t condone being traded for air-conditioners and my Mom and I definitely had words about this, but that’s very much beside the point right now.
Here’s the thing: The standard of beauty in Kayes is different than it is here. There, the bigger you are, the more attractive you are. I am a regulation, hottie, perfect 10, supermodel in Kayes, West Africa. My mom had my picture up and apparently men would constantly ask her “Who is that beautiful girl?”.
My point is this: there is a place in the world where a 5’4, 280 pound woman is considered the height of beauty. Try to wrap your mind around that for a minute. There are places in the world RIGHT THIS MINUTE where women who look like me could go and be the epitome of beauty. Can you even conceptualize it?
This is a picture of me (5’4, 284lbs, no make-up, no photoshopping) . To the men of Kayes, this is physical perfection.
I was with a group of men the other day in a training class where we are all very honest with each other. I was talking about the film America the Beautiful and specifically about the scene where the guy says he likes a slender girl but doesn’t know why. One of the guys, who I consider a good friend, intelligent, and reasonably sensitive, immediately said “That’s just how we’re hard-wired!”. I didn’t want to start a debate in the middle of class so I let it go. The truth is, I don’t think he is hard-wired. I think he’s “soft-wired” by the images of beauty that our culture has thrown at him since his birth and his choice (conscious or subconscious) to accept that standard. If he was born in Kai he would probably be making the opposite argument.
Of course I don’t live in Kayes, West Africa, I live here. Here in America where some intelligent, reasonably sensitive men think that they are hard-wired to find me unattractive; and that’s something that I have to deal with. I choose to believe that I am beautiful and desirable and plenty of people have agreed with me. I don’t feel a need to be attractive to everyone and if someone isn’t attracted to me I might be disappointed, but I’m aware that it’s them and not me and I don’t take it personally. Alternately I could try to change myself to better match the cultural standard of beauty. I want my choices to be respected and so I absolutely respect someone who does this – I just hope that they do it with the complete understanding that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are an inherently amazing, beautiful person who deserves love and respect, and chooses to match society’s beauty ideal for ease of social navigation. I could also just move to someplace where my beauty would be more celebrated.
Why not change or move? Because somebody has to say no. The fact that beauty has changed shape, and that there are places in the world where it’s “Beauty Opposite Day” every day, tell me that it is possible to change our cultural standard of beauty, and if it’s possible then I’m for doing it. I’m for walking around all day long knowing that I am beautiful, inspiring others to know that they are beautiful, and changing the world. How about you?