Body Policing

People...I’ve done something I’m not proud of. Today, I laughed at a little old lady. I’m going to refer to her as Doris (because I imagine all little old ladies have names like this). I was standing at a make-up counter and Doris was having a conversation with a salesman called Pierre. She was asking him about a recent campaign with Sophia Lauren and Pierre was explaining that although Ms Lauren looked spectacular in the recent campaign, it was actually for another cosmetics brand, not the one he worked for. Doris nodded and explained “Oh that’s a shame, I was so hoping to pick up one of her lipsticks, so I can look like she does.” And I laughed politely.

I laughed because I looked at this little old lady and I thought about Sophia Lauren and I assumed that the idea of her making herself look like one of the sexiest women alive was kind of laughable. I thought we all accepted that this idea was laughable. I laughed because it was the sort of thing my mother or my grandmother would have laughed about. It’s the sort of thing I have learned to laughingly say about myself. We aren’t supermodels. We aren’t glamorous women. We can’t look like them, no matter how much makeup we apply. And so I laughed at this little old woman. And then I looked at her face and she was smiling, kindly but seriously back at me. Pierre was looking at me as though I'd just kicked Mother Theresa’s favourite orphan. I realised at that moment that Doris had been dead serious.

And why shouldn’t she be?! Why shouldn’t she believe that she could be exactly like Sophia Lauren? What was stopping her?

Me.

I was the only thing stopping her.

People like me and the judgements we make about other people’s bodies (especially female presenting bodies), and how good or beautiful they’re capable of being.

My regret, dear readers, is that I didn’t take that opportunity to turn to Doris and say “You're already as lovely as Sophia. And I hope when you find her lipstick, it'll make you feel as fabulous as she looks." 

We spend so much of our lives passing judgement on other people’s appearances, that when I was finally confronted with a woman who had genuine confidence in her appearance, I honestly thought it was a joke. And that’s probably the saddest thing I’ve ever had to write.

All of us struggle with self-esteem, but we tend to forget that everyone else has the same shit running through their heads. Every time I walk down the street, every woman I see that’s a dress size smaller than me, fills me with self-loathing. I hate my body, when I see how much better it could look. But what I forget is how many women I’ve met who look at me and think, or even say out loud, “I wish I had your boobs”, or “your curves”, or “your smile”. I forget that we all look at each other and we only see what we don’t have. And sometimes we turn that anger and resentment into something truly poisonous. We start to judge each other.

Whether it's on the street, or online; we look at other people and we pass judgement on them for how they look. We label them too fat, or too skinny. We mentally tell ourselves that they’re sluts and douchebags. We make ourselves feel better by noting the people that are wearing things that they’re too fat or too old to be wearing.

If you’re passing judgment on another person’s outfit or body, stop and ask yourself why. What has this person done to offend you? Are you angry that they’re not conforming to the standard wardrobe protocol for people in their age bracket? Are they wearing something too bright, too short, too tight or too over the top, and for some reason it’s made you feel angry and upset? Maybe, just maybe, you’re jealous. Jealous of the confidence it takes to wear what they’re wearing. Jealous of how good they look in it and how happy it seems to make them. Jealous that they’re living their life without stopping to pander to society's norms. Jealous that this person is too attractive to be sexually available to you.

When we pass judgment on another person’s appearance, we’re policing their body. We’re telling them (even if we don’t say it) that how they currently look is wrong. We’re telling them that they need to be better, that they need to change, to fit in with some arbitrary standard that has been set by an invisible council of elders.

We tell fat people to lose weight. We tell old people to look their age. We tell people of colour to anglicise themselves. We tell trans people how to pass. We tell men to suit up. We tell women to be attractive but not slutty. We're so concerned with everyone looking a certain way, that we completely lose sight of the fact that we’re all completely fucking different.

We even see this in the communities of people that are meant to support us. How many times have women and girls been told that they're just "fake geeks" and "fake gamers" because they're too attractive to be real nerds? Often enough that it has its own meme. How many times have people with conservative looks been accused of not being "genuine music fans" because they don't fit the profile of a metal-head, or a rocker, or a fucking juggalo. Even within the LGTBIQA community, we have gay people accusing bi people of not being "gay enough" when they're seen having partners of the opposite sex. Or trans-exclusionary feminists telling trans-women that they're not really women, because they weren't born with a uterus, and therefore don't deserve any rights. Even now, Kim Kardashian is being shamed for sharing a nude selfie, because she's supposed to be a "role model" for young women. Because we all know that role models aren't naked under their clothes. God Kim, way to let us all down. 

We are perpetually policing people based on our own ideas of how they should act and look. When realistically, I don't know why the fuck we should care about anyone else's appearance. Seriously, what impact does it have on your life how another person chooses to dress or appear? I mean this very literally - what actual difference does another person’s appearance make to your life? Policing other people’s bodies doesn’t benefit us in any way, we don’t gain any advantage from it. Arbitrarily deciding whether or not someone fits a social standard is a pretty fucking boring game to play. And it’s not a game that makes us better people or that makes us feel better about ourselves.  

So from now on, whether in real life or online; when you start looking at other people and you catch yourself making snide comments in your head, passing judgment on the clothes they’re wearing, the way they’ve done their makeup, or what current fashion trend they’ve inflicted on their hair - stop. Just stop yourself and try and find something nice about them. Aside from anything else, it will actually make you happier. The more you find the beauty in strangers, the easier it is to find it in yourself. And if we all learned to be okay with ourselves, learned to love our “flaws” and accept that none of us is going to be everyone’s idea of perfect, we’d probably stop finding problems with each other as well.

Fuck body policing. Be your most fabulous, uncensored self, and encourage others to be as well. 


That is all.


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