Thursday, June 16, 2016

How You Look vs. How You Feel

We currently live in a very politically correct culture. PC culture is one of the bylanes on the highway to Hell - the kind that are paved with nothing but good intentions, but still generally lead you toward misery and suffering. Don't get me wrong. As a highly sensitive person, I don't think we should go around swinging slurs and insulting people, just because we have the freedom to do so. That's not an argument I'm making - that's not who I am. Sensitivity is wonderful. But there is a point where being politically correct can go too far. Where it runs the risk of limiting our freedom of speech, hampering our ability to speak honestly and express genuine feelings, and, as a result, stands in the way of spreading the truth.

Case in point, if you've ever read any kind of fashion guides or magazines (or articles online), you've probably come across a feature that explains how to dress to your body shape. Generally, there are certain kinds of clothes - styles, cuts, and patterns - that look good (from a communally accepted viewpoint derived by professionals, despite the fact that much of this is subjective) on certain body types and not others. This can be helpful advice to those looking to improve their image and learn how to dress in a way that flatters their natural assets (and obscures their biggest flaws). Obviously, this can also serve to make people feel bad about their bodies, because it puts a lot of emphasis on their superficial qualities, and tacitly implies that how you look is critically important.

My perspective on these kinds of things is that they're just a guide. And there is some validity to them (although individual results will always vary). I've learned, just in my own experience, that there are some clothes that look better on me than others. I have incredible legs - so I like to wear things that emphasize and show off my legs. One thing I've learned is that, while I love tank tops - since they actually cover up less of your body - I look better in sleeved shirts (even if the sleeves are very small). The reason for that is because the sleeves de-emphasize my broad shoulders, which works against the image I'm usually going for, which is femininity (note that another person who finds broad shoulders attractive might come to a different conclusion than I have). In the swimsuit realm, I've learned to avoid the bandeau-style tops (even though I love them), in favor of the stringed triangle tops, because the latter "break up" my shoulders better, the broadness of which is just emphasized by the "straight across" approach of the former.

I guess I should consider myself lucky that I have a "bikini body" at all - although that's a hollow victory, because, mainly due to my anatomical equipment, I cannot realistically wear a bikini anywhere except maybe some kind of a fetish ball where having a very noticeable bulge, if not my genitalia hanging completely out, would not be a problem. But that's another thing. There's a movement - one which I wholeheartedly support, in intention, if not technical terms - that tries to claim that there is no such thing as a "bikini body". Anyone can wear a bikini to the beach (or pool, or waterpark, or whatever). And this is true. If you like bikinis, or for any reason want to wear a bikini, my view is that you should. But that doesn't change the fact that some bodies look better in bikinis than others.

Here's where sensitivity rubs up against truth in an uncomfortable way. The truth is that you may or may not look good in that bikini. But the bottom line is that if you want to wear it, for reasons other than "looking good" in some external, narrowly-defined way (including your subjective opinion that you do look good in it, despite what any pop culture fashion designer wants to claim), then you shouldn't be discouraged from wearing it. If wearing it makes you feel good (e.g., "fuck it, I'm wearing a bikini!"), then that's good enough. I want to see you at that beach owning that bikini!

The conceptual problem here, I think, is that we assume that looks have more importance than they really do. And looks are important. But they're not the only thing that's important, and they're not even necessarily the thing that's most important - even when we're talking about clothes. How important that is is entirely up to you. These people telling you what you can and can't wear - looks are very important to them. But that doesn't mean they have to be important to you. I mean, there are professionals you can pay to have them tell you what colors you look good in. If you really care about your looks, then maybe that's something that would be worth doing. But if, on the other hand, you really like that outfit, then for the love of all that's holy, you should wear it and feel good in it, no matter what anyone else's opinion is!

It's how you look and how you feel, and anyone who has ever criticized your looks is missing part of the equation. That doesn't mean that all this looks business is bogus - it's just that it's only part of the equation. So try to keep that in mind. We do not need to go around preventing people from giving advice (to those who care) about how they can improve the way they look (according to this or that narrowly-defined standard), just because we happen to have a terrible body image problem in this culture. Body image problems stem from believing that image is more important than it really is. The solution is not deluding ourselves into believing that image is meaningless - lies take a lot of work to maintain, and hamper our ability to judge reality. The solution is to simply place more emphasis on the fact that looks are not the end of the story. If you feel good, then what difference does it make how you look?

That's something I've learned as a nudist - not to judge people by how they look. Some people look good, and they're fun to look at. But that's not the end of the story. That doesn't determine that person's worth as a human being. If you're a looker, that's fine. If you're not, that's fine, too, because there are a million other good things you can be, like a friend, a companion, fun, funny, smart, insightful, athletic. And none of that depends on how you look or what you're wearing. So don't let your looks be the sole determinant of your self-worth. There's more to life than that.

tl;dr - it's not a bad thing to care about how you look, and want to improve your image. But there's a point at which caring about it too much becomes unhealthy. And you shouldn't convince yourself that you have to wait until you have the perfect body until you can start enjoying life. Looks are just the cherry on top of life. Do they make it better? Yeah. But you can still have a sundae without them!


  1. It always annoyed me how Pearl Jam changed the lyric in Fuckin' Up from "It's how you look and how you feel" to "it's not how you look, it's how you feel." Seems like they're replacing Neil's realism with blind optimism.

  2. Yep, and it seems like pandering to me. Definitely had that in mind when I wrote this post. "Blind" is exactly how I would describe those who put *too* much emphasis on political correctness. Willfully blind to some of the less flattering truths in reality, that is.