I recently read an interview with FKA twigs in which she highlighted an issue that I’ve never heard discussed before. An issue that has dictated the way I’ve viewed myself since the incredibly young age of eight. Now, at nearly twenty, I’ve finally heard the words I’ve been waiting to hear. “I’m not skinny, and I’m not curvy, I’m just really strong. That is me, and that’s really beautiful as well. People don’t really talk about athletic women. It’s a whole segment of women who are completely missed out.”
In our society, women are only considered beautiful if they’re skinny or curvy. There is nothing special about the extremes or the in-betweens.
Aged eight, I vividly remember sitting down on a chair in a ballet class, waiting for my turn to do Pas de bourré and looking down at my thighs. They were squished together, spilling out across the seat with not an inch of thigh gap present. I looked at the other girls and saw they had what seemed like miles between their legs. From that moment on became incredibly self-conscious of my body. I observed that I was different from everyone else, and my difference was ugly.
The reality was I had been intensively training from the age of five, so by the time I was eight I had built up a ton of muscle. What I didn’t know back then was that relaxed muscles flatten and expand. But for me, aged eight, it was black and white; girls could either be fat or skinny, and only one of those was a positive.
This idea was again cemented aged fourteen by my first personal interaction with the world of fashion. Prepubescent, I was scouted by a leading model agency at a festival in east London. I had never before this moment considered myself to be remotely attractive, and didn’t think that anybody viewed me in this way. This interaction was terrifying and but I was intrigued. I went with my mum to the agency the next week, where they told me I have strong potential but just needed to “keep an eye on” my weight. I went back a year later and was told that my body was not the right shape. I asked what they meant and was told, “Your thighs are a bit on the large side.” This comment caused me to diet, but of course I didn’t lose any weight. My beauty preventing thighs were entirely muscle. You cannot lose muscle by starving yourself.
Now the fashion world is more accepting. Now the fashion world mediates the idea that perfection comes in two sizes. There’s the widely accepted skinny perfection in the form of Karlie, Kendall and Cara, and the new addition of the tentatively curvy such as Rosie Huntington Whitely and Lara Stone. The desirability of women with curves has increased hugely in the past few years with celebrities presenting a ‘plus size’ type of woman to the world in the form of Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. The ‘plus size’ concept is one that I find very problematic anyway, as there is still exclusivity within the term that is misrepresentative of any women who doesn’t have the desired hourglass figure, or fall into the smaller range of the category. Yet for me, I’ve struggled to find an easily accessible role model for my body type. Being classed as skinny by my friends, but being unable to get a pair of size 8 jeans over my calves was incredibly upsetting. Being told to lose weight by professionals whilst always knowing it was impossible was extremely frustrating. I was unhappy with my body for so long, wishing I hadn’t built up all this muscle as all it seemed to do was prevent me from doing things. I’m not skinny and I’m not curvy; I’m slim and athletic. But this has never been a category and I’ve never had anyone to look up to. The idea of beauty has a long way to go before it becomes non exclusive.
It wasn’t until I started intensive dance training that I found other girls with bodies similar to mine. It wasn’t until then that I realized my thigh muscles were what I had to show for years and years of dedication, discipline and determination; my rock hard thighs, arms and stomach are something to be proud of, not something to be stunted by. Yet there was still no one in the media that I could compare myself to. The athletic figure is completely disregarded when it comes to beauty in women, and remains to be something only desirable in men.
It’s damaging to project the idea that beauty only comes in two forms when dealing with the female body. In the same way that the concept of plus size needs to expand its inclusivity to women who aren’t just hourglass figured, it is wrong to assume that athleticism can be represented by the skinny or curvy categories when strength and muscles are disregarded in both. The problem lays in the exclusive nature of the idea that beauty is confined to certain body types. We need a more inclusive attitude towards figure that can regard what is currently the ‘other’ as beautiful. Athleticism should be regarded as much more than simply fit and efficient. In the same way that shaming body types is oppressive, disregarding a body type completely is deeply harmful. To destroy the exclusivity of beauty we need to break down the idea of separate body paradigms entirely. Allowing everyone to find beauty and happiness when concerning their own bodies, without this ever-present discourse dictating how a person should and should not look.
Words by Laura Durechova