I Love This Photo

I have found few photographs as uplifting as this one:

Tribes Woman


(from here.)

There’s a lot of sadness in this photo, as if we are witnessing the first steps of a unique culture vanishing into abyss of modernity, but there’s hope too. As we witness *our* way of life being subjected to *her* gaze, it becomes apparent that there is more out there than the panopticon that is our own society.

I stumbled across this photo when I was torturing myself by using the internet to classify my body type. What I was really hoping, as I am always hoping whenever I do this, is that somehow my body will magically get categorized to be in the “hourglass” category. Unfortunately, it is nearly always categorized in the “box” category. And, even more unfortunately, if I could just lose a little off my waist, I could just barely classify as an “hourglass” shape. Well, logically, I know that if I lose an inch of my waist I will almost certainly lose an inch off my bust thus keeping me squarely a box. But, in my head, I always suspect that maybe, magically, my weight loss could defy my larger “body type” patterns and just remove itself directly from the offending area.

Then, I would be hot like Christina Hendricks and could resent everyone who was attracted to me for being a superficial ass. Victory!

Funnily enough, for years one of the things that kept me from this body type was skinny legs. I tended to put on slightly more weight in my upper body than lower body, which perpetually interfered with my plans for the optimal hip to waist ratio. The other day, I realized my legs had gotten a little bigger. I’m not sure if it’s from getting fatter or buffer (I prefer to imagine buffer,) but I freaked out. Despite a decade of telling myself that I wanted to put more weight on in my lower body, when it actually *happened* I started googling “thigh gaps” and lamenting the loss of my teenage skinniness.

Anyway, while I was subjecting myself  to all this judgement, I found this photo and realized that I am totally crazy. I have found myself caught in a narrow, temporal definition of beauty and I focus on it – performing behaviors that increase it’s hold on me rather than behaviors that support my own mental freedom. My mental habits reinforce my own dissatisfaction, and then consequently, fuel my drive towards cosmetics, certain exercise, etc. Sure, there’s beauty culture, and marketing, and whatever. I’d even go so far as to say, I don’t think it’s my *fault* I do this – I’ve just absorbed the values of the culture around me. However, it is still my *responsibility* to fix it, in the sense that no one else will fix it for me. And, this doesn’t just apply to appearance. My whole value system, all the ways I reduce myself to achieve my cultivated definition of success, are my responsibility as well.

And, this woman provides hope. Not because she’s better – for all I know, she devoted her entire life to acquiring a head-necklace of shells which chains her to an identity that doesn’t fit – but that’s not the point. The hope in this picture, is that this woman is totally different from me in all the ways I think are important, but probably exactly like me in all the ways that are actually important. We look at her, she looks at us, and we all see *another option.*

Not everyone thinks skinny girls are beautiful, not everyone thinks white face markings are beautiful, and one day both these definitions of beauty will be forgotten anyway. For me, that’s where the hope really lies. One day, all the systems that trap you, that trap me, that trap her will disappear. These traps are only in our heads, and are no stronger than our own minds. What will arise once they have fallen?

2 thoughts on “I Love This Photo

  1. thank you for writing this. social/cultural pressures and conventions are incredibly important things to understand. Once you understand your relationship to them, you can judge their utility to your life and things can change–usually for the better. The same way, people have different values–none of which are necessarily “wrong” or “right”. The reasons someone is attracted to you might not be the way that you think, when you make assumptions about the ubiquity of your own value judgments.

    It’s worse when you feel you can’t love yourself or other people can’t/shouldn’t love you because you don’t (or do, as you mentioned) meet the criteria of your own narrow definitions of “beauty” or whatever overall quality of attraction. Beauty often goes further than skin deep. I think that when your view is constricted, sometimes figuring out and accepting or acknowledging how other people see your beauty can teach you something about yourself and what you can offer the world. Your beauty is always your own, and what you make of it.

    Anyways, sincere congratulations for having this insight 🙂

    • Thanks!

      Your commented reminded me of how the photos Nancy thinks she looks good in and the photos I think she looks good in are totally different.

      You’re right though – accepting what other people find beautiful about you is sometimes difficult when it contradicts an identity that you want. Yet, ultimately worthwhile if you can accept it.


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