Silencing Beauty Talk
On May 6th, 2019 the world watched with bated breath for the newest member of the Royal Family to make his way into the world. The details of the pregnancy were under the microscope from the very beginning, as the world passed judgement on every possible choice the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would make. Everything from where they would choose to give birth to the name of their unborn child was hotly debated by public figures, talk show hosts, and the general public at large.
Then, just 2 days after the birth, little baby Archie was presented to the world in the loving arms of his father as his doting mother watched over him and gushed with pride and happiness. And as if that introduction were an invitation to the world to pass further judgement, the whispers of the world grew to a roar as every social media platform raised their weapons, becoming a proverbial firing squad ready to take aim.
Everything about Meghan Markle’s birth experience was judged, including her postpartum body. The comments ranged from negative to positive, discouraging to supportive, harsh to inspired, and everything in between. I can understand the motivation behind all of the individuals standing up in solidarity with Meghan, speaking positively about her post-baby body. In the current climate of “me too” and “times up” we feel driven to raise women up. A myriad of comments were made about her body being “real”, speaking to the idea that she represents what true postpartum bodies should look like. There were comments about how beautiful she looked and how she actually appeared like she “just had a baby”. But, when you can take a step back and see that these comments are still judgements, then we can start to understand how destructive those words can be.
Most of these comments were subtle comparisons to Kate Middleton’s postpartum body, which was much thinner and harder. So, by saying that Meghan’s body is what real women look like then what does that say about Kate? Clearly, she’s not a real woman. And, what about all of the women who are bigger, rounder, or softer? They must not be real women either. If this is the standard of what a post-baby body should be then anyone who falls on either side of the curve isn’t normal.
So herein lies the real issue; the problem isn’t how we speak about beauty it’s the fact that we speak about it at all. That we have the audacity to pass judgement of any kind on something so surface level, vapid, and transparent. If women want to be heard, to take back their right to determine what happens to their body (how sad it is that we ever lost this to begin with), we can start simply. Your body, your choice. How you look and how you practice self-care is nobody else’s business. If you want to rock a bikini post-baby, great. If you want to cover up and wear a robe, that's fine too. You suffered from extreme morning sickness and didn’t work out while pregnant? Well, you grew a human. Did you run a marathon while pregnant? Guess what, you also grew a human. No extra praise needed one way or the other. No backhanded compliments or subtle jabs because one woman chooses to go through the experience differently, look differently, or shows up differently because... news flash: we are all different.
When we stop talking about beauty we create time to speak about things that are so much more meaningful. We don’t need to stop complimenting others or sending positivity into the world. We just need to leave beauty out of it. Our little girls and boys will hear us speaking about more important issues. We can discuss things they are good at, things that bring them joy, and things they hope to achieve. We can remind the people in our lives that we value them for what they do and how they act instead of what they look like. Praise them for attributes they can control and be intentional about the message you are sending.
In a world where the most vulnerable are inundated with messages of beauty, marketing campaigns full of products to fix themselves, and images of what “pretty” is, we need to be the voice of reason. The voice of change. We need to fill young minds with positive talk that has nothing to do with how anyone looks. Real progress will not be made by redefining what beautiful is, but instead redefining our values and placing beauty much lower on the list, or ideally not on the list at all.