I think most people can relate to feeling pressured to meet some kind of societal standard of beauty. Social media, with its positive aspects, often magnifies that drive to compare our lives (and bodies) to other people. And unfortunately, it’s sometimes fueled by the way the Internet enables strangers to throw stones from behind a keyboard.
I run public accounts on several social media platforms, sharing about food, fitness and my own life. I have insecurities like anyone and when I started blogging, I questioned whether or not I wanted to leave myself open to Internet trolls by sharing my personal fitness journey. For the most part, I’ve had a pretty positive, hater-free experience. Until one day last year.
I was a couple years into my bodybuilding journey and just starting to incorporate personal progress pictures into my Instagram feed. For months, I’d specifically focused on building upper body definition and slowly but steadily noticed improvements in my arms and shoulders. So I decided to post a transformation picture. A few hours later, a nasty comment appeared.
The commenter told me how “muscles on women look gross” and that I should stop before I “ruined my body” and started “looking like a man”. I remember feeling stunned. Partly because I’d thought looked good and partly because someone had intentionally gone out of their way to make me feel ugly. For a moment, a lifetime of insecurities came flooding back. I even considered deleting the picture.
Then a realization hit me. I didn’t agree with a word they’d written. I looked at the picture again. It was solid progress that aligned with my goals. I worked hard for those arms and was pleased with them. And it suddenly struck me that I didn’t have to care if they liked my arms or not.
And then you know what I did? Deleted the comment, blocked their negative butt from my account and headed to the gym.
It honestly took a while to recognize my fairly big moment of personal growth. At a different point in time, that comment might have devastated me. But two things had somehow clicked in my mind at that moment: 1) that no matter what I looked like, someone wouldn’t like my appearance and 2) that it wasn’t my job to please them in the first place.
The big problem with trying to please the world with your appearance is that it’s impossible; a person who fits one particular standard beauty simultaneously won’t fit several others. That notion used to depress me. Like no matter what I did, someone wasn’t going to like the way I looked and I was a failure somehow when that happened.
But the reason I felt that way was because I’d been looking at it wrong; as if it was somehow my job to please other people’s perception of beauty. But it wasn’t. And if it wasn’t my job, it also didn’t have to be my concern when someone left a nasty comment about my arms. Like, who cares?
Imagine someone trying to make you feel bad for choosing a chocolate fudge cake with sprinkles for your birthday. Seriously. If they tried to argue with you that your favorite kind of cake was the “wrong kind” of cake and you needed to change everything around their favorite cake. You’d probably tell them they were nuts (especially since they weren’t even invited to your party in the first place) then go on with everything as planned without a second thought.
Heck, you might even fill a bathtub with chocolate fudge cake, pour a bucket of sprinkles over your head and send them a video of yourself rolling around in it. Because that’s how much you’d care if someone didn’t like your birthday goals or favorite kind of cake.
As silly as that sounds, that’s what we’re doing when we allow others to dictate our appearance. You wouldn’t let some crazy person dictate your birthday or let it ruin your party, right? Because that would be ridiculous. So why would you let someone do it with your body or let it ruin your self-esteem?
Your body was not created for earning other people’s approval. It’s not your job. But do you know what is? Learning how to peaceably live with and take care of yourself. If you’re caring for your body so you can lead a long, happy, healthy life, who cares if someone doesn’t like your arms, your hair or your nose? You definitely shouldn’t. Because it’s not your job.
There’s no magical cure for personal insecurities or comparison. That’s a part of life we have to learn to navigate. But when you start learning to accept that people-pleasing isn’t your responsibility, it bothers you less when you don’t fit someone else’s “ideal beauty”. Your body isn’t for them.
People will criticize your appearance for any crazy reason. You can try to please them or start learning to recognize them for what they are: ridiculous and ignorable. Since then, I’ve received a few similar comments about my body becoming “too muscular”. I just thank them for noticing my gains while I pump a dumbbell in one hand and hold my protein shake in the other. Cause this ain’t their cake or their party. And ladies… If anyone tries to tell you women shouldn’t have muscles, just tell them to kiss your big, beefy, beautiful biceps.
All writing copyright © 2018 Rachel Elise Weems Woods