I got to 200 the other day. 200 gym sessions this year. I train for lots of reasons.
I need the stress release of boxing.
I like to talk to my trainer who is both my friend and therapist.
I like getting up to go to a place I want to be in the mornings.
And then there’s the real reason, that I sometimes admit to myself.
Because I want to be beautiful, I secretly whisper to myself.
Then I have to follow it up with empowering feminist phrases like ‘beauty is strength’ and ‘healthy is beautiful’.
But I released when I counted to 200, I’m not chasing beautiful at all. I’ve been chasing normal these 200 sessions or so. In fact, normalized beauty is probably what I’ve been chasing since my early teens.
So much comfort is found when you can establish your identity within the spectrum of normal. Society doesn’t push uncomfortably on any of your sharp edges that way. Nothing feels like a mis-fit if you can find a spot in the middle of everything.
Normal is not even about being a certain weight or shape. It’s about fitting in. Fitting into clothes, fitting into expectations, fitting into.. normal. Fitting in substitutes for having a sense of belonging, but belonging to what?
Normalized beauty is a set of homogenized templates. Haircuts, fashion cuts, brow styling. Slightly deeper we get to athletic versus curvy and I’ve already talked about the fashionable butt trend. I was just reflecting on the waif trend of the early 2000s. Normalized beauty changes to reflect societal trends. Normalized beauty is formed by comparisons and averages.
So that changes something for me, because actually I’m not humble enough to aspire to normal. I want to be beautiful. I want to be extraordinary. I want to be captivating – and I want to be all of that beyond a normalized beauty template.
At my age, the internet and Facebook is full of pithy sayings and blog posts from women who mean well. They write about becoming comfortable in their own skin, loving their stretchmarks and how their partners are truly attracted to them when they are full of confidence. I want to rally against that, because it feels like just another form of normalization.
I do want to be beautiful in ways that are more than just my body, my shape and my skin. I want to be seen as beautiful in all the ways that only I can be seen. I want to be incomparable, therefore nothing about my beauty can be normalized. I think we all do, men and women alike.
I think I am idealistic. At my age, I’ve pursued this game before. But perhaps it’s not a game. Perhaps all I’m chasing at the gym each morning is strength. Perhaps it is confidence that makes you beautiful, once you know who you are. Perhaps it’s having confidence that there is beauty within you, instead of being concerned with how I average out on the scale of ‘normal’.
Normalization is a creeping vine that has the power to choke us. It pushes us to keep up with the ‘human experience timeline’ – marry at a certain age, buy a house, have kids, change careers, travel overseas, buy that beach house… and so on. Normalization starts on the inside though, in how we see ourselves, then how we see others, how we relate or compare ourselves to others and then how we compare against the timeline.
It comes back to identity. Who am I? What am I about? Where and how do I find meaning for myself. What am I going to do about it?
I’m going to get up in the morning and hit the gym for session #201. I’m going to look in the mirror and see what I see, instead of what I’ve been looking for. Instead of chasing normalized beauty, I’m just going to chase uncovering, discovering me.