One of my favorite comedians, Dylan Moran, talks about the "ideal body" in one of his performances. "The keyword here, is 'ideal,'" he said. "You could be anything. My ideal body, you know, would be just probably something like, one eye, you probably only need one; a kind of sucker thing instead of teeth, because they just give you grief in the end, you know; and a long, long tube with my arse way over there so I don't have to deal with it. That would be ideal."
The outlandishness of his description aside, it's important to read between the lines. In his eyes, as it should be in most people's, is that the word "ideal" is based simply on an individual's belief.
My ideal body is short with a small waistline, some natural curves and maybe six-pack abs, just for kicks.
Notice I didn't say tall and thin. What I basically described is my ideal body. I don't plan on being a size zero, really ever. It's not my body type or what I want.
But most popular culture would have you believe that women should have their "ideal body"—tall, skinny, a size zero, maybe long, thick blonde hair, perfect tan complexion.
It's frustrating to be held to these standards. My whole life, people have reminded me of how I'm not like that. I've always been a little heavy; my hair has always been thin and frizzy and curly; my skin has always been sensitive and blotchy and pale. The thing is, I can lose weight; I can wear makeup; I can buy expensive hair products and biotin, and use excruciatingly hot straightening irons to tame my locks, but none of that alters my genetics.
No amount of fat-shaming or skinny-shaming or "thinspiration" can change the fact that all women are different and none, really, has the "ideal body." While makeup, clothes and perfect hair enhance beauty, they don't change the person underneath. I can wear as many high-waisted long skirts as I want to, but when I take off my clothes at night, I look down and still see the fat on my stomach, arms and legs.
All this talk about the "ideal body" and the images we see in magazines only serves to make women pick out every flaw we see, and we see a lot more than are probably there. The most beautiful woman in the world could look in the mirror and see something completely opposite of
everyone else. It makes you envy those women who know they're beautiful, and show it. And not all of them are thin and tall. I admire women of all sizes who look in a mirror and don't see every flaw.
In "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore said that those who look into the Mirror of Erised and see nothing but themselves are truly the happiest people in the world. But if you were to look in that mirror on the condemned third floor, would you see just you? Or would you see your deepest desire?
I think we'd all see the one thing we really want. We're human, right? I would see myself as a world-champion fencer with a killer body and some magical powers. But I truly wish I could look at my reflection and see myself.
If you can look in a mirror and only see you, the rest of the world can't touch you. No amount of negative media coverage can ever make you feel like you aren't good enough.
That's what I strive for. I'm tired of sitting around feeling sorry for myself and the way I look. For too long, I've let too many people tell me that I'm not good enough, that I'm too fat or too short or too plain or my personality is too rude or annoying. I'm not a model. I'm not a perfect "ideal" person. I'll never be either of those things.
I'll also never stop believing in myself. Recently, feminine hygiene company Always released a commercial called "Like a Girl." In it, interviewers ask girls of all ages to define what it means to do something "like a girl." When older girls were asked to throw like a girl and run like a girl, their reactions were generally very dainty and, frankly, they sucked. But the young girls did something else—when asked to throw like a girl, they just did what came natural; they threw and hit hard, They ran fast.
The whole point is that "like a girl" should not define the parameters of what a girl (or woman) can or can't do. It challenges the societal idea that girls and women should be feminine and wear makeup and not be athletic or loud or passionate, that women should be subservient to men instead of treated as equals; that women (or men) should only love the opposite sex and never question their sexuality; that women should be blamed for being raped or abused; that women shouldn't use contraception or enjoy themselves during sex; that women should hate their bodies and strive for the unreachable goal of being the "ideal woman."
One quote in that commercial that stands out to me. When one of the older girls says, "Why can't 'like a girl' also mean 'win the race'?"
I follow an Instagram account called "The Topless Tour." Its feed consists of women posing with their backs to the camera, nothing covering their upper body. It's not as sexy or risque as it sounds, although in at least one of the photos, a woman is nude.
The Topless Tour is about being a woman ... hell, being a human and appreciating the skin you're in and feeling free to be who you are.
The documentary "Naked Is Sexy," spearheaded by Jackson native Mea Ashley, shows that women are beautiful with or without makeup, the perfect hair or camera or phone filters (see more on page 34). It makes me feel like I'm not completely crazy for never wearing makeup.
I love campaigns like The Topless Tour, Naked Is Sexy and Like a Girl because they show women that they don't have to be afraid of their bodies. Just because you don't look like Barbie doesn't make you any less of a woman.
And just because you don't do feminine things like wear makeup or style your hair everyday doesn't make you worth any less. If anything, it makes you more human because you let the world see you for who you are. And the human body, in all of its shapes and forms, is beautiful. Don't let anyone make you feel like you aren't good enough because you don't have the "ideal body." You know what? Neither you nor I will ever be the "ideal woman." It doesn't matter if you're fat, skinny or in between.
Amber Helsel is the assistant editor of the Jackson Free Press.