Melanie looks stylish and friendly as she smoothly reads the weather on national French television. She has a lovely smile and makes me smile. By her very presence on national television, Melanie is eloquently spitting in the face of perfection. Perfect smiles, perfect bodies, and perfect fashion become a little nauseating after a while because it’s not reality. What about being perfectly ourselves; in all shapes, sizes and abilities? Melanie has Down syndrome and with a rare opportunity to present the weather to millions of viewers; she is claiming the space for diversity. All power to her!
French woman Melanie reads the weather
American activist for the rights of children, Marian Wright Edelman, coined the term: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Making reference to the way children’s books have historically portrayed mostly ‘white’ families, Edelman advocated for books to reflect true diversity, in order for children of all colour to embrace themselves fully (childrensdefense.org). As much as this principle applies to children, it is also of relevance to adults. When bombarded by images of perfection in the media, representations of average looking people are simply not seen. Instead, an unrealistic standard of perfection becomes the default for normal, to which none of us compare. Subsequently, when we don’t see people with real bodies and average looks, it’s becomes a challenge to accept who we are.
Perfection isn't even good enough
A friend of mine recently told me about a highly successful photo air-brusher she knows, who provides a photo airbrushing/retouching service. Guess who the service is for? Professional models! So, if you are lucky enough to be graced with the looks of a model, it turns out that your looks still aren’t up to scratch. Stray hairs, cellulite, spots and wrinkly lines don’t turn over a high profit in the fashion industry and so a fake standard of beauty permeates our selfie-obsessed culture.
It’s no wonder panelists of the British show Loose Women, decided to ‘stick two fingers up’ at air-brushing (see main photo above) by stripping down to their swim wear in a photo shoot to show off their real bodies without touch ups (metro.co.uk). In a bid to boost body confidence, Loose Women started a conversation about their bodies- celebrating all aspects, including their flaws. They shared intimately how their life experiences have shaped their unique relationship with their bodies. One woman relayed her painful encounters of sexual abuse, which had a lasting detrimental impact upon her body image. I admire these women for their honesty and for their courage to make a stand, declaring that their bodies are beautiful.
Memories that scar
Thanks to the women’s honest disclosures, I found myself connecting with their stories. I thought about my own physical body and my battle with self-image stemming back to my teenage years. When I was fourteen I was taunted at school about my appearance, in particular my face. As I recall these memories now, my heart rate quickens, reminding me how deeply this memory has scarred my heart. There were four boys in my class who harassed me in the following way:
…As I walked into my science class I could hear their textbooks slam heavily upon their desks and laughter erupt. I felt fear and insecurity as the room darkened around me. This happened lesson after lesson and filled me with confusion. Why didn’t my teacher stop them? What were they sneering at? Why were they banging their textbooks down so heavily when I arrived? Why were they staring?? Each time their books slammed, I jolted with panic and the boys smirked. Eventually I was told that my faced looked like it had been hit by a truck. The slamming of the textbooks was the sound of the truck hitting my face. Their taunts continued at the swimming carnival as I stood vulnerably in my bikinis on the starter blocks for a race. I could see them watching and laughing. They sneered: “Great body, shame about the face!” Herein began a lifelong battle with my own low self-image, always thinking that although I may have a nice body I had an ugly face….
This narrative has run rampant in my brain for three decades and is truly difficult to disconnect from. I have to practice not buying into these self-defeating thoughts but it’s not easy to do. Yet, just like the Loose Women, I really need to stick up my two fingers to the ‘ugly’ thoughts that enter my brain. It’s a choice to embrace my beauty and love myself.
Our battles with our bodies reveal personal stories; we all have them: “fat thighs, too old, freckly skin, too short, lined face, lanky legs.” It’s time we changed our frame of reference and somehow learn to embrace our flaws. Our flaws tell a story of whom we are, where we have come from and remind us that we are human! Let’s be kind to ourselves and simply allow our flaws to be…touch up free!!
I’m thankful for Melanie’s opportunity to be a weather broadcaster and it is my desire to see greater diversity in advertising and media. Melanie’s appearance as a weather women conveys this message: “You can be because you can see!” This is especially relevant to the millions of families, including my own, who cares for a family member with a disability. If we see people of all abilities, sizes and shapes in the public eye, then it’s easier to be because we can see!
Main Photo: Loose Women Body Stories shot by Bryan Adams c/ itv.com
Beautiful Natalie is passionate about human rights issues, matters of the mind and interfaith insights. When not in deep thought, Natalie loves to travel, drink good coffee and keep fit where she resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
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