You Don’t Owe the World An Explanation

I get tired of screens, so instead of looking at my phone while waiting to see the various doctors I haul myself to, I leaf through whatever magazines they have lying around.  I prefer National Geographic and WebMD, but sometime all I’m stuck with are the usual run of fashion and decorating magazines.

I read these to annoy myself.  Okay, I read them because I read everything.

Such was the case last week.  While waiting for my three-month medication assessment at the psychiatrist’s, I picked up a copy of Glamour.  This particular issue billed itself as completely by women, about women.  They had articles on everything from female power in the fashion industry to politics to body confidence.  Then, after an article on female photographers and a series of photographs showing stretch marks, c-section scars and how a woman’s body can be a beautiful thing without being flawless, I had to flip through two pages of ads featuring skin creams, clothing lines and makeup – usually starting with the phrases, “Suffering from…?” or “Get rid of…” or “Tired of those…?”  All featuring models with photo-shopped skin who really need to eat more.

Hypocritical?  Maybe.  But I consider it more self-defeating.

Then it hit me: these kind of ads are in every single magazine geared toward women.  Glamour, Better Homes and Gardens, Seventeen, Cosmo – all of them.  (Redbook is particularly bad.)  Ads that tell us what’s wrong with us.  Ads that ask us not if we want young skin, but tell us that we need to get rid our wrinkles.  Ads that tell us our pores aren’t flawless.  Ads that tell us our underarms stink, our children aren’t well-behaved enough, our house is cluttered.  Ads that tell us we’re not good enough without makeup, saving money, hairless legs, a small waist or high fashion.

Tell.  That’s the key word here.  Not imply.  Not suggest.  We are being flat-out, brazenly told we are not good enough.  They use the words and everything.  “Get rid of those wrinkles.”  “Don’t let underarm smell ruin your night.”  “Turn your skin back ten years.”  “Hide those ugly roots.”  “You’ve give up with dieting.  Try <product> instead.”

And, yeah, I know it sells products.  I know why its done.  I also know it’s wrong.  Women are being bullied and we’re being bullied by people who are “helping” us to fix a problem we didn’t have until they told us we had it.

No wonder women have confidence problems.  We’re being trolled en masse.

Honestly, this comes after another epiphany I had several weeks ago.  For the life of me I don’t know what triggered it.

There’s a saying that floats around the internet that goes: “Being pretty is not the rent you have to pay for being a woman.”  I’ve decided to go a step further with this:

Unless you’re covered in blood, you don’t owe the world an explanation for how you look.

Now, I’m not saying we should get rid of dress codes or that you should just not bother with your appearance.  Additionally, I’m not saying people aren’t going to be judging you – people are judgey and they will probably never stop being that way.  But I am saying you don’t have to explain why your hair is a mess, that you’re not wearing makeup or how your oh-so-utterly-done with high heels.  Not because people don’t really care, but because it really doesn’t matter if they do.

Hear that?  It.  Doesn’t. Matter.  You will never see these people again.  You may not have even talked to them or looked at them in the first place.  Your paths may never cross again and, if they do, you don’t have to give excuses.  You don’t owe anyone an explanation for how you look.

I’ll admit this is harder in practice than in reality.  I like to look nice – I was taught to never draw attention to myself.  I frequently pull things out of my closet and go, “I can’t wear that to <fill in the location.>”

I used to tell myself, “Nobody cares,” but that wasn’t particularly effective.  I think because it relied on my believing other people don’t do something I do all the time.  I people watch and thoughts, unbidden, float through my head, like, “That’s a cute dress.”  “I wouldn’t wear those shoes.”  “I wish I looked that good in a crop top.”

I’m not the only one who does this.  I know because my mother and paternal grandmother have done it aloud.  We might all do it.  It might not even be a bad thing – analyzing people around you and making snap judgements might well be an evolutionary carryover from when we didn’t have time to consider if the other person/animal/thing was dangerous or not.

But “Nobody cares?”  Yeah – doesn’t work with an attitude like that.  Neither does, “The world judges, but who cares?” because that relies on a pre-established and incredibly strong self-confidence that most of us don’t have for any number of reasons, including because the world does indeed judge and it’s not afraid to say it.  And it has said it over and over and over again.

Simply not owing the world an explanation, however, is entirely in your control.  It’s cutting yourself some slack by saying, “I might have <perceived physical flaw>, but its because <reason> and that’s a totally reasonable reason.  If other people can’t figure that out, that’s their issue.”

And while this doesn’t always work in practice, it is helping me, at least, be the person I want to be, instead of the thing the world tries to tell me I should be.

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