Keira Knightley's breasts have been in the news -- as women's breasts (and bodies) often seem to be. There she was, small breasts and all, as if to say, "Here I am, take it or leave it, but don't retouch them." And somehow, in between the talk of Christmas lists and birthday parties and what we were going to wear to school the next day, this became fodder for an important conversation in our family.
It's for Keira Knightley to decide what images of her body she does and doesn't want the public to see, and that's what her decision to not have larger breasts added to her photo says. She told The Times: "I think women's bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame. Our society is so photographic now, it becomes more difficult to see all of those different varieties of shape."
I think her anti-Photoshopping statement, coming from someone more commonly referred to as "too skinny" than "too large," means as much for the future body image of my girls as it does from someone preaching the same message because they're seen as "too fat." A woman's body is a woman's body, no matter the shape, size or color. It does not exist for men or women to stare it, it does not exist for men or women to call sexy or ugly. What I find attractive, you may not, and what I find attractive should be of no concern to anyone but me. Nobody needs to conform to what I like.
That there is no perfect body type is also an issue for people struggling with being skinny. There's no exclusivity agreement on body image issues. Women don't necessarily see their body type in a Victoria's Secret ad and think, well I've got this body thing in the bag, confidence levels are now at 100 percent. How people suffer can be different, but that they suffer isn't up for debate.
Body image issues aren't limited to how big your stomach is or how your jeans don't fit over your butt the way the ad in the fashion magazine says they should.
Curvy people don't necessarily feel confident in the looks they're matched up with in the "Looks for Curvy People" fashion spreads. The tall and thin people don't exude the same confidence they're supposed to when they see pictures of people the same height and weight as them walking down a catwalk.
My girls are 2 and 4 right now, so who knows what body type they'll develop? I know I've struggled with weight and I know my partner has. But whatever turns their bodies take, that type shouldn't be shamed. I hope they won't grow up hearing they "have too many muscles," or that they "need to get off the couch and stop getting so fat." I hope they aren't told they have chests that "look like a boy's," and most importantly, I hope they won't be told that anyone else's opinion of their body type has any relevance. I don't want them to be skinny or overweight, to have feelings of inadequacy and to feel like they're wrong for feeling uncomfortable insecure.
Ideally, there's none of this and by the time my girls start growing into their adults bodies, there will be less pressure on them to look like anything other that exactly as they do.
They can look in a mirror first thing in the morning and think "perfect, let's head out for the day," instead of, "my shoulders are still too slouchy this morning."
They can look at photos of themselves and remember how much fun they had instead of how big their stomach looks at that angle.
But honestly, what I like about Keira Knightley coming out and asking people not to change the way she looks is that it gives me, a man, confidence to look the way I look too. For years, I've struggled with my own body issues in a strange kind of cycle. I'd hate the way I looked, then I'd hate that I hated the way I looked. I'm a man, after all; there aren't as many pressures on me to look a certain way.
But still, I'd look at myself and not like what was looking back at me.
When I was 50 pounds heavier than I am now, I felt terrible about how big by chest looked, worried about the button of my pants popping off while I was at work and not having a belt to hold them up. I know that minus the 50 pounds, I've replaced those fears with other ones. Now my teeth are too spread apart, one of my eyelids droops a little more than the other. My once too big chest still feels too big for me.
I'm six feet tall, I weight 175 pounds. I just ran a marathon less than a month ago. I should feel good about my body. But I rarely do. I see so many faults because I don't look like Ryan Gosling, I don't look like David Beckham, I don't even look like a ridiculously good-looking guy.
But I don't experience fat-shaming, I don't suffer societal setbacks based on how I look. I get that I have it pretty good being a relatively young white man who sometimes still gets carded when buying alcohol. At worst, I go completely unnoticed in the hallways. Nobody stops to tell me I must be lazy, nobody points be in the direction of the doughnut shop and nobody tells me I'm going to die early if I don't change my lifestyle. Fat-shaming is utterly indefensible and for those who don't like the appearance of another person, there a simple bit of good news: You don't have to look at that person. You also don't have the right to degrade them because of it.
But even with all those things on my side, I still find myself trying to find the angle in the mirror that makes me look more attractive. Seeing someone like Keira Knightley come out and say "f*ck it, this is who I am," makes it easier for me to say, "f*ck it, this is who I am." She's not a hero for this, but her actions put me at ease with my own thought on body image.
Which makes it OK to show off my body too and say who the hell cares that I don't have a chiseled chest or arms that double as mountains?
Because my body has done some pretty cool things, too. It's never grown a baby, but it's carried a couple of kids plenty of miles over the last four years. It's helped me get through marathons, it's helped me move to and prepare our house for our wonderful family. It helps me type stories, it helps me read to my kids at night, it helps me jump through sprinklers as my kids cheer me on and helps me hold my partner at night. My body, with its flaws, is an amazing thing.