Throughout history in every corner of the Globe, humans have been using their bodies to show tribal belonging and status. Anything that can be pierced, stretched, or tattooed has been. Alas, Westerners haven’t had the same historical cultural traditions. But don’t misunderstand, we still use our bodies to show the who we are… but instead of adding shiny things to our bodies, we chose to shrink them instead. Boo.
Once white men claimed control over the Western world, it didn’t take long for women to get demoted. They went from having an equal role in hunting, gathering, and supporting the tribe, to just baby-makers. It’s OK though, to stop them getting all bored and in the mood for revolt, women were given one more job… chase the Feminine Beauty Ideal. Double boo.
This ideal has insidiously squirmed through our culture so deeply that we assume it’s always been there, and that it provides us truth as to how women should look. Which is why I thought I’d best explai exactly where is came from, so that you ca see there’s no truth about it. Women’s lives are being destroyed for the most ridiculous reasons, as you will soon see…
RELIGION: Disclaimer: even though I am an atheist, I have nothing against organised religion. If that’s your jam, enjoy. But I can’t not tell you the impact that religion, especially Christianity/Catholicism, has had on body image.
Early religious types were very clear that bodies didn’t matter. Life was about preparing your brain for heaven. And that meant no earthly pleasures. Even breakfast before morning mass was banned. A lovely bit of morning toast, apparently, clouded their minds to God’s voice or showed disrespect that they couldn’t even wait until they broke the nightly fast.
There was also the mortal sin thing. Gluttony was a big one that would block the path to heaven. And fatness was and still is associated with overeating. Therefore if a person was fat it showed that were a shitty Christian.
Religion still plays a huge role in the beliefs and laws culture still uses.
RACISM: Since the beginning of slavery, white Europeans attempted to justify their fucking awful behaviour over their fellow humans, to explain why it was OK that they stole people. Race science was one of the ways they did this.
Before the 18th century, white people assumed that they were the superior race based on the fact that they were Christians. And obviously only Christians were good enough to make it to heaven. In the 1700’s, they added more falsehood to this stupid as hell idea, and invented of Race Science: faux-science which was carried out to prove that black people were inferior.
White Europeans and Black Africans have naturally different body shapes. The White body shape is naturally leaner and with fewer curves than a Black body. Scientists seized upon this difference to announce that as Black people are inferior, then it’s obvious that having more body fat is also inferior.
NB: The Nazi’s used made up race science to attempt to prove their white supremacy too.
FAIRY TALES: They may seem trivial, but the stories we tell our children massively shape their beliefs about how the rules of the Culture Game are played. And the earliest rules given to kids from the 19th century onwards is that heroines are always white, good, (often) economically privileged, thin, and beautiful. People like them always got the man, the castle, and the singing animals.
The fat, haggard, old witches in the stories always got what people like them deserved. Thin and beautiful began to mean worthy and good. It got even more deeply entrenched into our brains when Disney added colour and a jaunty tune to the message.
MATHS & ASTRONOMY: Bizarre, I know, but trust me on this one and keep reading.
According to Todd Rose, who wrote the book, “The End of Averages”, “Our modern conception of the average person is not a mathematical truth, but a human invention, created half a century ago by two European scientists to solve the social problems of their era.”
Scientist #1 – Adolphe Quetelet: Averages were invented to figure out how far away space junk was from Earth. Every astronomer came up with a slightly different distance, so it made sense to take all of the answers and find the average – the least wrong number from a bunch of wrong numbers. But it wasn’t until, Quetelet (an astronomer himself), that anyone thought of using this equation for people.
His home country, Belgium was going through a bit of a revolution, and he decided he could help stabilise it again. He assumed it was that people were too unpredictable to be good citizens, and that finding a way to categorise them might help. And for that, he decided to use his trust old astronomy equation of finding an average.
The problem with doing that is, when an average is applied to people, it’s meaningless. There’s no such thing as the average person. It’s like using it to find the average board game, there isn’t one. Each game is just individual example of a wider category. Not to be deterred by logic, Adolphe, used the averages he calculated using the data he had and came up with a conclusion that would change history.
He said to imagine a sculptor made a statue of a Gladiator. Then imagine 1000 sculptors created their own copies. Each copy would inevitably have flaws that made it different from the original. But if you were to make one statue using the average of all the 1000 flawed copies, it would be identical again to the original… in theory.
According to Adolphe, we are all a flawed copy of an original cosmic template of perfection – The Average Man.
“Everything found dissimilar [to the average man], not only as regarded proportion or form, but as exceeding the observed limits would constitute a monstrosity.” – Adolphe Quetelet.
Governments loved all this work and they started working out averages for all their population data (rates of marriages, deaths, childbirths, crime, suicides, divorces, education… everything), to try and understand what made the average man.
Scientist #2 – Francis Galton: Don’t misunderstand Quetelet, he wasn’t using averages to say that one section of society was better than another. He simply said that we are all uniquely flawed versions of an original. Kind of sweet in a way. It wasn’t until Galton that averages became very much more judgemental.
In 1851, Britons at the World Science Fair put in a poor performance. Galton, a rich white scientist, decided that the British were falling behind because of poor people. Obviously! He discovered Quetelet’s work on averages and loved it. But unlike Quetelet, he didn’t agree that any above the line was just as uniquely flawed as those below the line. Instead he chose to believe that above, or higher than average meant better than average. And that clearly meant that being below the line was bad. It seems odd to us now, but up until that point no one thought that above meant better.
Galton picked a number of personality and societal traits that – if you were above average in – would demonstrate your status and good citizenship. And he obviously picked those that favour the elites… health, leanness of body, education, lifespan. He also said that results were likely correlated, so if you ranked highly in one trait you would likely rank high in another. For example if you were thin you were probably also clever, and beautiful, and rich.
What seems so natural to us now was literally made up by some rich British dude who wanted to dick swing with other elites. Higher than average is not better, it’s just different. The first time I really sat with this thought, it blew my mind. Averages dominate the Culture Game. We are continually judged against some standard or another. And the resultant ranks are essentially meaningless.
Todd says, “Every discipline that studies human beings relies on the same method of research: put a group of people into experimental condition, determine their average response to the condition, then use this average to form a conclusion about ALL people… We weigh out lives against a figure that doesn’t exist. We are no longer conscious of the fact that every judgment about another person always erases the individuality of the person being judged.”
We are not human beings any more, we are human units. But, no longer, my friend. You have left the Matrix. *Mic drops and walks out of the room*.