It’s Time to Stop Thinking about Beauty as a Competition

Attractiveness: now available to women of all different colors, shapes, and sizes! (And that’s a good thing!)


A few months ago while swiping through my Snapchat news stories, I came across an article written on DailyMail.com titled “Death of the Waist” with the sub-head: “Once hourglass figures were coveted. Today’s obsession with fitness is leaving stars like Davina McCall and Cameron Diaz with androgynous physiques,” written by journalist Hannah Betts. I screenshotted the article and vowed to come back to it and give it a piece of my mind… So here we are.

The unnecessarily controversial instagram posted by Davina McCall, critiqued by Betts

The article begins with the discussion of a photo (above) posted on Instagram by English television presenter and fitness guru Davina McCall, saying, “The 48-year-old television presenter’s body looks incredible—strong arms, powerful thighs, a stomach that is the epitome of muscle definition.”

Sounds positive, right? Well, not for long. Betts continues with her description of McCall saying:

“Yet what is most striking is that Davina—like so many of our super-fit heroines today—has no waist. Davina’s decision to ditch womankind’s customary shapely middle in favour of rock-hard abdominals is part of a worrying trend among today’s female icons—a trend challenging the traditional notion of the body beautiful.”

Ditch womankind’s customary shapely middle? Betts writes this description as if it were Davina McCall’s conscious decision to have a straight frame, and not simply her genetics. And it only gets worse:

“Where once to be sexually attractive equalled a curvaceous, in-and-out figure, now super-fit females crave a straight, androgynous physique. Thus the hourglass shape that has dominated cultural imaginations since the prehistoric age is being traded in for a lean, fatless, linear look, leaving its owners resembling, in many cases, slender, pert-bottomed little boys.”

Yes, you read that right.

These women resemble “androgynous,” “pert-bottomed little boys,” an appearance that offends the outstanding culture that has been held since the prehistoric age (because obviously cultural attitudes should never change).

Apparently, Ms. Betts has exclusive access to recently excavated tabloid articles from back in the prehistoric age … You know, the ones where the caveman version of Perez Hilton and his co-contributor Fred Flintstone are raving over Wilma’s voluptuous frame. Too bad Ms. Betts is the only journalist privy to these documents. Here all of us are thinking that prehistoric humans were busy discovering fire and inventing wheels when in reality they were measuring the worth of their women based on their body types, just like we are today!

Hot Cavewoman

Seems legit!

She’s saying female athletes just want to be men.

Betts references a “gym addicted” acquaintance of hers who uses exercise as a form of “maniacal, body-sculpting perfectionism, fueled by a self-scrutiny verging on self-hatred.” This acquaintance of hers, says:

‘You start lifting weights, knocking back the protein shakes. You’re surrounded by men with flat stomachs whose shape is all muscle, so you start wanting an athlete’s build. And athletes don’t have curves. Breasts, hips, waists—we call it femininity, but it’s all just fat to be eliminated.’

And since this acquaintance is obviously an accurate representation of all fitness-oriented women, it can safely be assumed that all women who exercise strive to be men. Betts agrees with her acquaintance’s view on the male ownership of athleticism saying that:

“Many of our athletic ideals are very much based around the male body—muscular and undeviating as it is. Men still outnumber women in most gyms, and their physiques are taken as the goal.”

So in summary, according to Betts, women who are athletic want to look like the men they see dominating the gym, and professional tennis player and Olympic medalist Maria Sharapova (pictured below), is the only woman who is (just barely) excused from the strict hourglass requirement of femininity, but only because she is “really an athlete and not a competitive yummy mummy” trying to look like a man.

Maria Sharapova

Well, that just doesn’t sit right with me, because athletic achievements aside, Sharapova is considered one of the sexiest female athletes in the business, and not because she is muscular, but because she looks more like a model than a tennis player.

Ms. Betts, this is my letter to you.

Ms. Betts, I urge you to educate yourself on why exactly it is that men outnumber women in most gyms, and why it is that our athletic ideals graciously accept muscular male athletes like Odell Beckham Jr. and Kevin Love (pictured below),

And yet these same ideals are so unaccepting of female athletes, female Olympians rather, like Serena Williams and Paige Selenski (pictured below), who look less like fashion models (like the barely acceptable Maria Sharapova) and more like athletes.

 

Serena Williams for New York Magazine

Olympic Field Hockey player Paige Selensky, featured this year in the 2015 ESPN Body Issue.

As a woman whose genetics deprived her of the traditional “hourglass figure,” and who happens to enjoy participating in femininity threatening activities like sports and exercise, let me try and clear this up for you Ms. Betts. But first, please excuse me for a moment while I pound a protein shake and try to speak through my unsightly muscles caused by my maniacal self-hatred.

Ms. Betts, our athletic ideals are only based on the male body because of the outrageous and indisputable disparity in coverage (and funding) of men’s and women’s sports. Because the media only pays attention to male athletes, women who are athletic are depicted as unattractive or, according to Hannah Betts “striving to look like men,” unless, of course, they look like Maria Sharapova, rather than seeing them for who they are: women who are also athletes. Because yes, that is allowed now.

The true motive behind “Death of the Waist”

At the end of the article you, Ms. Hannah Betts (pictured above) reveal your true intentions behind the article, giving us readers enough evidence to diagnose your disease. It is evident in the quote below, that you have come down with what I like to call, a severe case of butthurt. Betts says:

“As a resolutely old-fashioned curvy girl, I find it harder and harder to find dresses that fit. From Boden to Balmain, the assumption appears to be that the answer to female tailoring is straight up and down. If I find a frock where the top half fits, then the rest of it will dwarf my waist, hips and bottom; if the waist works, my breasts and hips will be bursting out.
Yet I am not a cartoon parody, merely a woman with the sort of hourglass shape that was once the female norm. Yet it seems that fashion can only follow where our figures lead it. Sadly, I must now accept that I am in the minority.
Whether the cause of our waist loss is feast, famine or frenzied levels of exercise, one thing is clear: we are losing something intrinsically female in our quest. What a waste.”

Hannah Betts, I am sorry that you are suddenly finding yourself the in minority, but did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, now you’re feeling the way that “oblong” women have been feeling this whole time.

I am sorry that you cannot find clothes that fit you. It is rather hard for me to find shirts that will contain my massive manly biceps or slacks that fit both my waist and my thighs… if that is any consolation.

I am sorry that society no longer finds your body type to be the only shape that can be considered sexy.

But mostly, I am sorry that you are using your media presence as a platform for you to clutch desperately to a culture that found only your body type to be beautiful and to attack those who fit this new standard you are describing.

Tearing others down does not build you up, and another person’s beauty does not detract from your own, so stop clinging to what is “customary to womankind,” because if we were sticking to what was “customary to womankind” we would still be living in a society where women and children alike were better off seen and not heard, and neither of us would even be allowed to discuss this issue in the first place. (Hell, this wouldn’t even be an issue because women would still be forced to hide their bodies so we wouldn’t know what each others figures even looked like. But I digress.)

Instead of using your voice to applaud the media for broadening their standard of beautiful, you are using it to set back the small steps of progress that we are making as a culture. Not to use your own words against you, but what a waste.

What about health?

Though I disagreed with the vast majority of this article, it did have a few good points on the topic of health and safety for fitness-oriented women. Betts, and doctors are right in questioning the women who use fitness as a cover-up for their eating disorders, and those who exercise to avoid “feminine fat like curves and breasts.”

It is true that many women go to unhealthy lengths to achieve “athletic” looking bodies. It is true that many people use social media as an outlet to display and flaunt their athletic accomplishments. And it is true that men and women are genetically different, thus developing muscle differently, but this article does not offer up any healthy alternatives to exercising, or even admit to the fact than many women are simply born with these “androgynous” looking bodies.

Does that mean that women should just surrender and return to the days that they used their Instagrams for “a gentler form of boasting in which women would post pictures of their homes, their children, the delicious home-cooked meal they had last night,” or those without an hourglass figure should just accept that they will never be seen as beautiful? I think not. Sorry Ms. Betts, but times are a-changing, and women are allowed to have interests outside of the domestic sphere, and straight figured women are allowed to love themselves, just as you are allowed to love your curves.

Sure, some women with “hourglass figures” are attempting to lose fat in hopes of gaining a more athletic figure, but I can tell you for a fact that Cameron Diaz does not have a square torso because she is simply “a fan of a square torso,” and that Pippa Middleton’s “unnaturally toned figure” was never and will never be an hourglass figure.

Cameron Diaz sporting the body that she was given thanks to her gene pool.Pippa Middleton also living in a body shape that was given to her by God, not exercise.

These women look the way that they do not because they are choosing to forgo their feminine duty to have big hips and a slim waist, but because that is the body type that was pre-determined by their genes. And these women couldn’t just “make the decision” to look like Kim Kardashian, or the “legendary beauty Marilyn Monroe,” any more than Kim could wake up one morning and decide to work out enough to look like Davina McCall. It isn’t physically possible, so stop talking about it like it is a choice.

There are many women who have straight figures who are not model-thin, and they face many of the same obstacles as you, yet you label them as “oblong,” and that is not fair. It is right to talk about the health risks, but wrong to generalize and say that all women who are shaped like this are starving themselves, gym junkies, or self-hating.

So what’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that women come in all different shapes and sizes, and we as a society are slowly coming to accept them all, and that should be encouraged.

Exercise aside, many women are genetically dispositioned to be more athletic, muscular, and straight. Many women also enjoy participating in sports and exercise, not to compete with other women and definitely not to look like the man on squat-rack next to them. Ever heard of endorphins, Ms. Betts? Some people exercise because it simply makes them feel good.

As a woman who would fall into Ms. Betts’ category of “oblong” or possessing the body type of a “pert-bottomed little boy,” I love that it is finally acceptable for a woman to be strong, and for their body to reflect that strength. I think that our society still has a long way to go, but the acceptance female athleticism is a step in the right direction.

It is possible to be fitness oriented without possessing an eating disorder or a case of maniacal self-hatred. I have to say that I actually rather like the feminine fat on my body.

I love my “pert,” muscular ass, Ms. Betts.

Back to Hannah Betts

Ms. Betts, I don’t mean to attack you. I really don’t.

I don’t think you meant to attack other women, even. I have read some of your other work and I think that you are quite intelligent and an impressive writer, but I do think that your personal bias towards your own body type led you to write an article that is quite destructive to women who do not look like you.

But you are the same woman who wrote an article just a little over a year ago titled Women are being bitchier than ever – where’s the sisterhood gone?”

In that article (linked above) you hit the nail right on the head, stating that girl-on-girl attacks only “divide us into ugly versus pretty, fat versus thin, small-breasted versus large, fashionable versus unfashionable – all enforcing the stereotype that a woman must be pretty, slim, buxom and stylish rather than, say, bright, healthy, happy and fulfilled.”

Yet the words in your most recent article are startlingly contradictory to the stance you claimed to hold just last year. There is little sisterhood in your most recent article, in fact you have gone and created yet another division between women, one between the “oblong” and the “hourglass,” declaring that the hourglass figure (having a thin, defined waist), is at the very core of “what it is to be female,” and that is just plain false.

But your previous work shows that you are conscious of the dangers behind, and the pain caused, by these restrictive social expectations. Maybe you should take a step back, reread your article from last year, and refresh your memory.

And now, to all women:

I write this letter from one woman who as been hurt by socially constructed standards of beauty to another. Society is learning to find another body type to be beautiful. That is a great thing! And this recognition of other shapes and sizes of beauty does not detract from your own beauty. Ms. Betts, your curves are just as beautiful as they were 3, 5, 10 years ago, and they will be just as beautiful tomorrow.

So why do you have to be the only one who is beautiful? Don’t we all deserve to be thought of as beautiful? More importantly, don’t we all deserve to think of ourselves as beautiful?

I think we do. Be proud of your curves, they’re sexy, dammit. But don’t spew hate all over those of us who do not have them. Because I think my curveless frame is damn sexy too.

This letter (novel) is addressed to Hannah Betts, but in reality, it is for all of us who have ever insulted another woman out of our own insecurity, myself included.

Dear me,

Dear you,

Dear anyone who identifies themselves as a woman,

Dear everyone who wants to identify themselves as beautiful,

Please try to remember these final two points:

1. Beauty is not a competition.

2. Another person’s beauty is not the absence of your own.

Sincerely,

A Fellow Woman

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