Over the past several years, I have been asked for a headshot by various facilities where I have taught classes. And each time, I have kindly refused. I struggled to explain why. My feelings do not fit into a tidy and quick sound byte. My refusals were met with a range of reactions from easy acceptance to repeated questioning, likely related to the context and use of the pictures. Headshots and body shots are seen as essential if you are working in the fitness industry as I do, and in general when you are a community presence. In fitness in particular, and perhaps in other arenas as well, you are selling your look as well as skill set. As the years passed and I encountered a few more requests for photos by organizations and by clients and supervisors for my website, as well as for friends on social media, I knew I needed to write about this.
The looming issue for me is the cultural emphasis of physical appearance. It is a monster of a sociological issue that’s not going away soon and is deeply rooted in our supremacy culture (patriarchy, heterosexism, racism, ableism, ageism, sizeism – all the shitty, interlocking isms). Having people fixate on their external appearance is seen by some as a form of social control and keeps us busy in the tedium and minutia for some ephemeral, impossible standard that is not exempt from entropy.
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one” (Naomi Wolf; I believe these cultural forces do have a gender bias, but at the same time, the standards impact us all, to varying degrees)
Given that we will age, we will get sick and/or disabled, we will change sizes and appearance and all of these make us less attractive by our society’s standard over our life times, if we ever met them in the first place. These standards are also not static – they move, and that shiftiness is also thought of as another form of control. If the bar keeps moving, people will have to keep striving. That sounds exhausting……and political
If our culture indulged in the beauty that is beyond supremacy culture standards, economies would shift – billions of dollars in procedures, products, activities would be lost. Counter that economic loss with individual empowerment – we would be at home in our bodies and connected to our inherent magic, with time to live rather than wasting purpose pursuing cultural expectations.
There are many activists doing work on the issue of body shaming and beauty standards. One of my favorites is the website The Body is Not an Apology. From their article “Pretty hurts. The impact of beauty standards”:
“While our bodies aren’t politically charged beings, the ways in which we understand and take care of them are political. We shouldn’t be ashamed to fervently defend and love them in spite of larger, oppressive messages”
We are all entitled to look the way they look and love the way they look without being shamed for it, told they need to fix or change. There are many sizes, styles, and looks that encompass ideas of strong, healthy, and loved or loveable. We need to recognize that there is not a one size fits all; one person’s goals are another’s starting point. We need affirming places of self love free from cultural projections.
All the above – that is why I don’t post pictures often, if at all, of myself and of my children.
My appearance is not for consumption or approval. My appearance is not up for admiration, dismissal, or debate. By not posting pictures online, I am removing that aspect of my personhood from the blanketed oppression we place on each other. I refuse to participate in the shaming of bodies, and in doing so, I reclaim my power, and retain my appearance for myself alone.
My appearance also occupies political and social spheres of privilege – I have thin privilege. I have white skin privilege. I appear able bodied despite having invisible illnesses, pain, and fatigue. I am younger/middle aged. I appear cis gender despite identifying as gender fluid. By limiting my own pictures posted, I decenter these privileges – the thinness, the white skin, the ability assumptions, the age preferences, the mis/gendering, and make room for others. I am no longer interested in participating in elevating biased, supremacy-based cultural values and standards.
Am I being a coward or am I being courageous? I’d like to think courageous. While others bicker about what it means to be pretty or endorse the newest beauty regime for flawless (insert any body part), I have pulled out. Instead of playing this never ending game of whack a mole and striving for standards, I am working to dismantle standards, encourage self-acceptance and radical self-belonging, and, with hope, changing the game.
For instance, instead of judging others based on their appearances, I want to relate to each other as whole beings. I want people to want to know me, befriend me, work with me because of my WHOLE being, my spirit and passions. I want to get to know you for you instead of falling into the quick judgement trap based on looks. I want to know more important things like: when was the last time you really looked at the moon? Are you happy? What do you love to do? How are you working to heal yourself and others? When was the last time you heard the wind? What pulls you out of bed in the morning? I want to know others by their spirit and passions, their loves and losses, their beautifully complex minds. Those are our true gifts to the world.
Related but different – why don’t I post pictures of my kids on social media? Besides wanting to keep them out of the culturally judged appearance game, I also want to protect their privacy. I am a private person, for the most part, despite having a blog and being fairly active on social media. I value personal space and some degree of anonymity, and in keeping photos off of social media, I have a sense of space, anonymity, and privacy for myself and my family.
My children cannot consent to having their photos posted online. I can’t fully comprehend where their photos could end up, how it might impact my children later (ex. If they’d be embarrassed by a shared photo), or how technology can change – already facial recognition software is available. It is difficult to determine what technological changes might mean for them now or even in the future. So, I’d rather just err on the side of caution and pass on picture-sharing.
But what about grandmas and grandpas and (insert some relation here) that want to see pictures? If they want to see pictures, all they have to do is ask – texts, emails, or even better, Facetime (because there’s a level of engagement), is easy to accommodate.
Thank you for reading, community. My writing is a reflection of this issue as it pertains to me and is not a judgement of or a shaming of others who make different choices. Most people post pictures readily and happily on social media, putting me in a very small minority. You do what feels right for you, and within that is my hope that you feel some empowerment to step away from body oppression in a way that aligns with you.
Questions for the reader:
- What would it mean for a beauty industry if you were happy in this moment, with your body as it is?
- What if we reveled in aging, body diversity, non-colonialized beauty (which is expansive and abundant)?
- What if we realized that how well we match colonialized beauty standards is often based on luck?
- What would self-care and self-love look like to you? Are you doing those things for THEM or for YOU?
Written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT 500, reiki master, sexuality counselor and educator.
Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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