In discussing body positivity or fat positivity, there is always the overarching concept that beauty standards and the power of beauty are something we need to devalue instead of marketing “everyone is beautiful.”
We are trained to believe that being beautiful will allow us access to happiness, love and respect. The definition of “beauty” being oppressive, exclusive and violent because it often only incorporates whiteness, thinness, able-bodied-ness, smaller features, etc. So if we devalue beauty, it gives us the opportunity to stop seeking validation from media, love interests, family, peers and the world around us. Seemingly, it’s simple: stop commending and revering beauty and we all get free, right?
But when you’re ugly as fuck — politically ugly, self-identified as ugly, unsubscribed to beauty standards and patriarchal affirmation — there is the deep-seated struggle that many of us have never been given the opportunity to feel beautiful. We can individually stop valuing beauty, but every magazine I’ve picked up my entire life will never let me forget that I wasn’t worthy because the only size 26 person was in a weight loss ad. The only bodies and beauty we see in media, in images that surround us everyday, are of thin, able bodied, white or light-skin people.
How can we ever divest from beauty when we have never had the opportunity to navigate the mental and psychological joys of being seen as worthy? We live in a world where beauty is a currency and if you’re ugly, you won’t make it out unscathed. Whether it be your internal perception of yourself, or how far you get navigating capitalism, it affects your experiences and trajectory.
If we stop valuing beauty, we also have to realize how valuing beauty has maimed the people who aren’t beautiful. Our pain doesn’t go away. Our internalization of beauty standards and expectations do not dissolve. Our wanting to look different, to feel different, to experience the benefits of having currency of love, praise, and visibility do not immediately diminish. They live within us. They permeate our relationships, our friendships, our decision-making, our willingness to walk out of the house looking a particular way. The yearning of wanting someone to see you as magical not just because you’re a great person but also because your aesthetic, your body, and existence look amazing.
It’s OK to want to look and feel amazing when the world tells you to hate yourself. We can devalue beauty — but give me a chance to bask in what it feels like to wake up and drown in the love I have for the way my body looks, because it took me my entire life to get here. We can critique the power in beauty and why we need to feel beautiful, but understand that when you’re told you’re ugly and worthless for your entire life, you deserve to feel beautiful a million times over and over again.
Give me the chance to seek validation from people I’m attracted to, because I never had it handed to me. I worked to create beauty in all the parts of myself that can’t be seen just to compete, just to feel special, just to feel somewhat whole. I’ve never been given compliments for my beauty during my adolescence unless they were given by grown men preying on the power in controlling me or destroying me, but never to value or uplift me.
My body would scream inconvenience all on its own, in silence and in motion. Let me fall victim to what beauty means when it’s used as currency to benefit and affirm you, because I’ve never felt the power behind feeling deserving, whether it be shallow or deep. I just want to have the chance to say no before I walk away from what it means to be beautiful.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer, artist, and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. Read more at Facebook.com/AshleighShackelford. Support my emotional and intellectual labor by donating to: PayPal.me/AshleightheLion.