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It’s become practically impossible to spend any time online without coming across some type of "love your body" rhetoric. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s also great that women – historically confronted with unattainable ideals of feminine beauty – form the majority of spokespeople. “Strong is the new skinny” was a popular meme for a while, although it did little to advertise achievable physical standards for most women. Let’s be straight here, the chances of my ever having a lithe, slim, toned body, while not impossible, are highly unlikely, no matter how much I work out. “Beauty at all sizes” was another phrase floating around for a while, but again the target audience was largely female.
Nothing against us women, but we need to back up for a second.
What do we achieve by demanding acceptance at every size, while still maintaining an atomizing focus on the female body? By keeping the conversation in the realms of womanhood, do we further ‘other’ ourselves? The issue of body acceptance, to me, is one of humanity – not one of women or one of men. It encompasses all of us – male, female, trans, etc. We all have bodies. We all encounter various typologies through the media or simply through observing those around us. Typologies that, in most instances, are out of reach (due to weight, ethnicity, or any number of other complicating factors) for the majority.
How can we move the conversation of body acceptance into a gender-neutral zone?
This article in particular, about the public's reaction to a male model some considered dangerously underweight, got me thinking. Men come in all sizes, too. Maybe this model is healthy at this weight. Maybe he's not. Either way, he should have a safe space within which to explore his body, without having to confront any type of external criticism. Strangers telling him he looks unhealthy might be just as problematic for him as telling him he looks healthy. Ultimately, we do not know him. So let’s stop judging his body.
This is not to say that we should remain silent when signs of unhealthy behavior begin to creep up in those we love. When someone who typically looks pretty good suddenly sports a nice pair of gray bags under her eyes, most people ask if she's getting enough sleep. These physical signs of distress help us, as social creatures, recognize when something isn't quite right.
But that information should be gleaned after a pattern of observations: I see you every day, I know how you typically appear, when something is wrong I can therefore easily spot it. When I see an image or a video clip of someone I've never seen before, I have no background observations off which to judge or base my opinion. So let’s help each other out, watch out for each other, take care of each other, but remember that, just because we can see people who live 2,000 miles away, that doesn't mean we know them.
Men come in all shapes and sizes as well. Men can feel the pressure of absurdly muscular models. Another phrase that flew around for a while was: as much as women want to look like Barbie, men want to look like Ken. No one should want to look like anything but what they look like.
We are all beautiful. For men and women both, our bodies are one piece of a whole. Let’s start celebrating it all.