I know that images like the one above are supposed to make me feel better about my body; sharing the photos of old Hollywood actresses against today’s starlets on Facebook and Twitter is some women’s way of cheering on their friends. It’s supposed to send the message: “You shouldn’t feel bad because you don’t look like too-thin movie stars…Rah rah rah!” But the thing is, it doesn’t. Like the Nigella Lawson vs. Gillian McKeith photo before it, or the recent PLUS Model Magazine photo shoot, I know the intention of this graphic is good. But in reality, it’s just adding more pressure to comform to unforgiving ideals…and encouraging women to feel better by hating on each other.
I first noticed the graphic on a friend’s Facebook feed last weekend, accompanied by an avid conversation about which body type men find more attractive. Then I saw it on Twitter, shared by famed yoga teacher Kathryn Budig, who encouraged her fans to feel better about their bodies. Her tweet read:
embrace your bodies + curves! we’re on the same team as our body—love it, treat it right and know you’re beautiful.
I know everyone meant well. (Even those whose feel-good strategy involved tying self-esteem to what men find attractive.) But the underlying message of the photo is that one body type is more beautiful than the other; how is that supposed to make me feel good?
I’m no more likely to look like Marilyn Monroe than I am to be mistaken for Keira Knightley on the beach. No matter how much I eat or work out, I’ll always be working with the same set of genetics, and comparing myself to women who don’t resemble me in the least is never going to feel good, whether they’re a size zero or a size eight.
Just because you call a woman beautiful who isn’t stick thin doesn’t mean you’re promoting body acceptance. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: We won’t resolve our body image issues by creating a battle between size 12 and size zero, or judging someone’s health by rudimentary and outdated measures. What we do need is greater diversity in body shapes and sizes in movies, TV shows and magazines.
That’s why this photo, from IndieWire’s coverage of the Golden Globes, makes me happy:
No two women look alike in that photo. Their bodies aren’t carbon copies of one another gussied up in a different kind of dress; they genuinely have different body types and weights, and they all look great. And, even better: IndieWire didn’t comment on how their dresses looked on their bodies or whether they looked too thin.
Ladies, here’s my plea: We can’t build each other up if we continue to pit ourselves against each other on the basis of our body types. Thin women don’t deserve to be shamed any more than heavy women do. And no singular beauty ideal will ever be good for women, so let’s promote diversity instead of comparing one uniform ideal against another.