“You just have to accept your body. You may not love it all the way, but you just have to be comfortable with it…,” reads a quote attributed to Rihanna.
With all due respect, Rihanna, fuck off. And to everyone else constantly sprouting thoughtless, meaningless “love your body, love yourself” jargon without nuance, please do the same.
That’s everyone’s problem, right? That we just don’t love ourselves enough? No. The reality is that we don’t all have equal access to self-love, just like we don’t have equal access to anything—from food to education to fresh air.
What you look like, how you grew up and what resources you’re working with directly affect what you can reasonably be expected to do, including loving your appearance. A thin, light-skinned black woman with light eyes and enough money to keep the straight weaves flowing and the pores cleaned out cannot, in any way, understand how hard it is to “just be comfortable” with yourself when you’re fat, dark-skinned, pimply, visibly disabled, obviously gay or trans or a part of any of the other groups of people that we all actively oppress each day. If you’re some combination of more than one of those groups? Lord help you in any quest for mainstream affirmation of “loving yourself.”
Now, I am absolutely not suggesting that people who aren’t mainstream beautiful can’t love themselves and be happy. I’m not inviting everyone to a “woe is me, little dark/fat/nappy-headed/acne-
What I’m saying is that this constant, flimsy, one-size-fits-all push for acceptance is thin. It’s weak. It’s annoying at best and insincere at worst. Instead of telling me to love my “flaws,” stop telling me they’re bad and undesirable in the first place. My fat? Tell me that stuff’s amazing, don’t tell me to love it out of one side of your mouth and then diss women who look like me out the other side.
The problem, dear people who are fond of motivational sayings, is not that people don’t have the mental will to access some elusive well of self-love. Instead, the real problem is that you, your mother and your cousin, too, spend all day, every day affirming that some people have every reason to love the way they look (i.e. Rihanna) and that other people have no business doing the same (i.e. people who look more like Gabourey Sidibe, whose looks all of you happily dissed when Kanye West rapped, “my bitch make your bitch look like Precious.”)
A $60 billion weight loss industry and a $170 billion cosmetics industry—not to mention the influence of magazines, television shows, films and music—valiantly combine to ensure we all hate every dimple, pimple, roll, stretch mark, wrinkle and pore.
I call it victim-blaming. How dare you, fat, dark-skinned woman with nappy hair, not love yourself the way some thin, white woman with straight hair is apparently able to? It’s no matter that your image, when it’s ever spotted in media or referenced in music, is maligned and deemed pungent on its face. It’s no matter that every encounter with mainstream culture tells you that you’re wrong and different. You are just not trying hard enough to accept yourself, damnit!
No, no, no.
The problem isn’t a lack of self-love. Or a lack of the will required to love yourself. We all need to acknowledge the power and privilege aspect of acceptance that’s at work every time each of us looks in the mirror, goes shopping for clothes or posts a selfie on Instagram. We all should, if we’re concerned with acceptance, work to make a world where all bodies and states of appearance are accepted, loved and regarded with respect.
That’s not the world we currently live in, though, and it’s not helping anyone to keep preaching self-love and self-respect and self-confidence and all kinds of stuff that actually has nothing to do with self, but everything to do with y’all.
For those of you all sure to protest that you’ve learned to love your non-traditionally attractive appearance, or to point to the token celebrities who are beautiful members of a maligned group (“Kelly Rowland!” “Queen Latifah!”), we’re not actually talking about one-off examples here.
We’re talking about how we are all indoctrinated into seeing some people as better, and for women that means more beautiful—thinner, possessing a certain body proportion, more reminiscent of white people’s skin color and hair texture, able-bodied, etc. Whether you individually believe this message almost doesn’t matter—there are too many out there that do and those people affect how you and your appearance navigate society.
Does anyone, theoretically, have the personal will and resolve to love the way they look, regardless of how they look? Absolutely. Just like everyone, theoretically, can become a millionaire, even though we all (should) know about the systemic barriers to financial success that start in childhood and continue throughout the public education system and criminal justice system that make it much more difficult for people of some groups to achieve the same goal as people of other groups.
If we understand this theory as it plays out in other aspects of our lives, why are we so hell-bent on discarding it and preaching self-love and self-acceptance anyway? We would do better working to eliminate the systemic barriers to self-love that are present for a lot of us, than constantly sprouting affirmations and meaningless jargon about self-acceptance.
And, if we’re being honest, the same ones of you preaching about loving yourself are the main ones doing everything in your power to uphold the current system of beauty capital. All of those “bitches/chicks/girls be like…” Instagram images that are essentially created to show one person’s beauty over another person’s apparent ugliness? All of those Facebook status updates about “getting right?” All of the times you’ve snuck a picture of a fat person or an old person or a person you thought was ugly and posted it somewhere for your friends to mock? Yeah, you. You’re part of the problem.
Stop telling me to love my flaws. Instead, try to stop constantly telling me they’re wrong from the onset.