I started working in downtown Los Angeles 7 months ago. I still live about 60 miles away so I take the Metrolink train into town every day.
Union Station is a huge hub for transportation. There are buses, trains, railcars, and the underground metro. You can pretty much get anywhere in LA county and some neighboring counties from there. You can also get a mean Moscow mule.
Union Station is a big place and it’s always full of people. On a daily basis I see children, the elderly, short people, tall people, fat people, skinny people, barely dressed people, barely coherent people, people on bikes, people in love, people too tired to walk, and people running to catch their ride.
On paper, I’d say I’m pretty average for the general population of LA. Latina, female, 25, childless and loving it. But I have body image issues.
When people write or talk about having body image issues the response can be positive and negative. I’ve noticed some people will applaud those who write about this topic like you would applaud a small child who just learned to tie their shoe.
“Outstanding! Look at this person being honest and putting themselves out there. How brave!”
Why is it brave to talk about something that has been pushed on us by society like a consumer product? We’re all so frightened to talk body image publicly because if we say it out loud, then it’s real and we have to deal with it instead of pretending it will go away on its own.
We’re most afraid though, that if we own up to it will people applaud us on the outside, but secretly think we’re weak on the inside.
And maybe they will! Because people suck. But not all people.
I’m going to talk about my own issues with body image and I don’t want an applause, I just want you to listen to my story.
Every day, I see at least one billboard using sex, specifically the female form, to sell something.
Every day I use the internet, I will see at least one image of a woman completely photoshopped to look almost inhuman.
Every day I go to the store, I will see at least one magazine cover advertising all the ways I can make my body better.
Every day I turn on cable tv, I will see at least one commercial telling me which product I need to look better and thus be better.
It’s a torrential downpour of messaging targeted mostly at women with the sole purpose of reminding us, no imploring us, to change our bodies because they’re not good enough. And suggesting our worth is primarily determined by the way we look.
There are a lot of celebrities telling young women that the idea of beauty being shown to them through the media is wrong and that they can be whatever they want to be. Proponents of eliminating gender stereotypes try to voice to young women that their worth isn’t defined by how they look.
I think these messages are important. But they’re not changing what we see. They’re not changing the images on the billboards, they’re not changing the half naked women on magazine covers, they’re not changing the image, and they’re not changing our minds.
I realized this because every day I walk past hundreds of bodies that make me feel normal. Seeing more average people than edited people in advertisements every day has somehow reversed the damages done by those billboards and magazines.
I’m not saying I walk past people and think, “Well at least I don’t look like that,” and the comparison makes me feel better. I walk past every type of person you can imagine. Some people I think are beautiful, some I think are not. But even the ones I think are beautiful never look the same. Some are tall, some are short, some have blond hair, some are round, some are small, some are brown, some are white, and some have green hair.
Yesterday, I saw a man and I judged him. I’m human and I make rash judgments just like everyone else. His face, for no particular reason, made me think, “He probably doesn’t have a nice smile.” But I smiled at him anyway and he had one of the biggest, infectious smiles I have seen in a long time. It was wonderful and when I picture it now, I can’t help but smile again.
I see a lot of homeless people on my walk to work. Mostly people avoid them or ignore them. There was a woman in the park with a shopping cart full of clothes. She was kneeled over on the grass. When I walked closer to her I saw that she was giving water to a small bird out of a water bottle cap.
It’s these little pieces of people I see with much more frequency now that remind me what really makes a person beautiful. It’s not their arms, it’s not their legs, it’s not their hair, it’s not how much fat is on their body.
It’s whatever little thing you see in them that makes you unable to resist smiling.
There’s so much more to people than their waist measurement or how many hairs they have on their head. To reduce someone’s worth or even your own worth to what you can glance at in a mirror or in passing is simply a big mistake.
If you’re someone who feels insecure about yourself, take a walk. Go outside for lunch and put down your phone or whatever screen you like to stare at and stare at some regular people. Look at the average person around you. Smile at them. Maybe you’ll start to see the beauty around you and the beauty in yourself too.