You see it every day in the obvious places: A haggard looking parent’s reprimanding shush at the child who has just loudly pointed out that “fat” person in the line at the bank, often followed by an apologetic grimace that barely conceals the fact that they silently agree with their offspring’s observation. That disgusted scowl directed at the person making use of the obesity scooters at Ralph’s. The surreptitious sniggering at the “beached whale” by the sea on a sunny afternoon. Less obvious though, is in that gorgeous smiling couple plastered on the billboard, embodying the epitome of health and beauty and happiness.

Some people think I’m fat. I’m perfectly healthy, but that’s not the point is it? Someone’s size isn’t an accurate indicator of how healthy they are, and it vexes me when people pretend that “being concerned for one’s health” is a sufficient excuse for being a dickhead to fat people. “Fat people,” whatever that means. In Isla Vista, it seems that everyone who isn’t a size double zero is “fat.” I’m not going to say that I’m not fat, because regardless of what size I am, I’m probably never going to feel “not fat.” I shrink from social situations that require minimal clothing and I have several dresses hanging in my closet unworn because of a fear that a solitary misplaced roll might cause someone in the club to projectile vomit on me.

That said, I don’t support the perception that makes me feel so insecure, but it’s a damn sight easier to express body positive ideals than it is to actually live by them. Funnily enough, what you think and how you feel don’t always coincide. It’s hard to love yourself in a society that perpetually reminds you that you’re disgusting. It’s hard not to internalize the notion that your natural shape is “wrong.”

Even “skinny” people are afraid of being perceived as fat. I know countless people who I couldn’t even picture being any thinner than they are who bemoan how much weight they’ve put on recently. In fact, most of the people I know have this terrible relationship with food where it’s forgotten that calories are a unit of energy, not obesity.

I saw this before I moved to California, but I guess being here has really hammered home for me how crazy and pervasive this body negativity really is. Before I came here, I had never encountered anyone who had undergone cosmetic surgery, but here I’ve met several people who went under the knife before they’d even fully developed. The ready availability of cosmetic surgery in the U.S. highlights how ridiculous this perception is because it emphasizes the fact that no matter where you stand on the beauty scale, there’s always somewhere further to go. No matter how “perfect” someone looks, there’s always a bump to be shaved, an ab to be augmented, a nip here, a tuck there, etc. The beauty bar is continually raising, and I honestly cannot pinpoint where it might stop.

When did being natural cease to be desirable? People say they aim to appear “naturally perfect” and seem unable to understand the oxymoron inherent in that sentiment. Our notion of perfection is antonymic to nature because it’s made up. Imaginary. Constructed. We’re constantly harking after an ideal that is arbitrary and subject to change. Heck, if I’d been born in the Renaissance, I’d have been a total babe, but maybe not so much in the 21st century, because what’s “ideal” is fluid. I asked someone who’d had a boob job what she was going to do if having large breasts went out of fashion and she just raised her eyebrows at me and told me she’d get them reduced, duh. Cosmetic surgery seems to be a whole new kind of trendy, and it’s so pervasively accepted that people think of it as no more dangerous than splurging on a pair of Louboutins. But it’s dangerous, and it’s also meaningless. Maybe at the moment it’s a status thing, another way of showing that those who can afford to can cheat nature will, but what happens when we can all get cosmetic surgery at the drop of a hat? How far can we take this? I’m picturing a society where the elite have fingers coming out of their foreheads just because they can. It’s frustrating that even people like me who can acknowledge that “perfection” is arbitrary and ridiculous still can’t escape the pressure and shame foisted upon them by the society that promotes it. When I think about how I want to look, I think, “I’ll draw the line at getting surgically altered,” but really I shouldn’t be thinking about altering my appearance at all. I should be able to be happy with the way I look and feel in a healthy, natural body. But it’s hard to see yourself as beautiful when society tells you you’re disgusting; if you let it, society will keep telling you you’re disgusting, the bar will keep being raised and you’ll never feel “right.” So screw society, screw the bars, screw it all and give loving yourself a go. Because if you can do it, maybe eventually I will too

Naomi Rea is building a time machine and going back to the Renaissance to model for DaVinci … at least he knew beauty when he saw it.

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