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Body Image: Being Dull in a Shiny World

When I look through the blogger hashtag on Instagram, I don’t see myself. I see a lot of shiny people. But I don’t see my dull, average self anywhere. It’s an example of body image hell.

It’s hard to reconcile. If this is what a blogger looks like, what am I?

The lack of representation is jarring. It’s not surprising. I’m used to never seeing anyone who looks like me at the top of anything.

It’s jarring because I’ve learned about the negative impact of the media on body image for 30-plus years, yet one search takes me back to 1990s Cosmopolitan magazine covers. The only differences are hair length and the beige aesthetic.

I’ve never had “the look.” I never will, frankly. That has cost me money and opportunities.

In my teaching years, my boss prized aesthetic over everything. The campus was a beautiful, sleek, futuristic building. It was monochromatic throughout, but the first floor had a structure-tall yellow wall running the length of both wings.

In the halls, the boss had a collection of old computers in cases, as if they were a museum. He even had “curator” as part of his job title. The benches were minimalist black vinyl. Any new furniture in the commons had to get his approval. In fact, I tried to get a cabinet for our food pantry, and the boss’s primary concern was how it would look.

This wouldn’t seem like a big deal except this concern for aesthetic carried over into whom he hired. It was an open secret that he preferred to hire attractive women, meaning thin, white women. As a morbidly obese woman of color, he completely ignored me for my first six years there.

Some folks have asked me how I know my appearance affected my career. I remind them that fat discrimination in hiring practices is quite common, and only one state–Michigan–and a handful of cities protects fat folks looking for work.

Those same folks then say fatphobia is fake. In short, none of my experiences are to be believed simply because I am not shiny.

Even those who don’t hate fat people push the responsibility of weight stigma to the side by using so-called positive psychology. We’re told to turn to self-empowerment and self-acceptance. They ask, “Why do you need to meet their standards? You’re good exactly as you are!”

I can’t knock that. I participate in it. I encourage it. I believe in self-empowerment. The problem is how self-empowerment doesn’t translate into social or financial capital. It’s about emotional capital, which is handy but does not pay the bills or generate opportunities. The more I learn to accept myself, the more willing I am to put my face on social media. That hurts more than being passed up for jobs.

When I post Instagram Reels in which I show my face, I get rude comments regarding my perceived size. I could be talking about dry wall, and someone would still find a way to denigrate me by comparing me to the size of a house. It’s why I rarely post my face on my business account now, and when I do, I lock down the comments.

You’d think shifting into a life of writing would be ideal for me. It’s like accepting the old joke that I have “a face for radio.” Except I return you to the first image of my body opposite and I ask again: Is that what a blogger looks like?

Yet, you might ask, why does this matter? I don’t have to look like them to be a blogger. Those images are merely what Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes, and my worth is not determined by an algorithm either.

It matters because words are not shiny. My Instagram posts will never make it to the most popular posts. Simply put: Words can’t outrank beautiful bodies.

To be clear, I’m not self-hating. While I don’t love how I look, I don’t spend my days comparing myself to the people in that first pic. I’d never get out of bed if I did. I’m learning to respect and appreciate my body for what it does, and that’s enough. Nothing I have to offer is shiny. That’s just how I am, I guess.

That said, there’s still marketing to consider. Marketing is about shiny.

When your offerings aren’t shiny, you blend in. You become invisible. Physically, I’ve been body checked on sidewalks, skipped in lines, ignored in lobbies, looked over (literally) by people taller than my five-foot, wide-load frame. My words need more luster than my physicality because I’d fade away entirely otherwise.

In one sharp memory, I’d introduced a speaker at an event, and he talked for 40 minutes about being real with networking by being in the moment and showing true interest in other people. This same man wrote a whole book on this premise. I know because I edited it. After his session, we walked out together, chatting. I was mid-sentence when he said, “Ope, I just saw someone.” He walked away, leaving me in the hallway next to an old, curated computer with my mouth wide open in dumbfoundedness.

We–the invisible–say we’re used to it because it’s easier than taking the chance to cry on a shoulder that might get distracted by dry eyes and perfectly happy smiles. We aren’t just invisible because we can’t outshine the shiny; we’re invisible because we’ve learned to hide. Because when we do get noticed, it’s not good.

Recently, I saw a post that encouraged fat girls to stop hiding. I felt defensive after reading it. I’d stop hiding if people stopped discarding me like a slightly overripened banana. It shouldn’t be up to me to be courageous in the face of trolls. They should change, not me.

But I can’t control them. I can only control how I react.

I’m still good in this brown, lumpy body that isn’t banana shaped at all. The sun still shines on me. I’m still worthy. I’m still a goddamn gift. I might be wrapped in a brown, recycled paper bag. I might not have bows. I certainly don’t sparkle with glitter. But my brain and my words are still a gift.

I just wish society would appreciate me enough to unwrap me.

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