The Beautiful People Part 1 (The Story Behind “Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities”)

If you landed here at Grits and Bottle Rockets because of my Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities Pinterest Board, you’re probably confused.

Don't Compare Yourself to Celebrities on Pinterest

Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities on Pinterest

I don’t talk about celebrities on my blog. (Forgive me, regular readers, here’s the context. I have a popular board on Pinterest that teaches people to question the messages in advertising.) I don’t even own a television.

I started Grits and Bottle Rockets in 2010 so I could write about relationships, faith, art, politics, and reconciliation without the restrictions of traditional publishing. Two years ago, I didn’t give two craps what Angel was on the cover of The Lingerie Store’s catalog with diamonds on the soles of her shoes, or whether she’d had a digital ear-ectomy.

Then I got a Pinterest account.

My first boards? The basics. The recipes one, the hilarious one, the stunning photography one… and the thinspiration one.

I’ve always been skinny but nonathletic, and I’d just joined a gym. I needed something to remind me to log off at the end of my creative but sedentary workday and shake my moneymaker at Zumba. So, I found a few images of women with muscles and pinned them. One day, I spotted the hashtag “thinspiration.” I plugged that into the Pinterest search engine and stared in disbelief.

Pinterest, land that I love, has a very serious problem on its hands.

That search turned up thousands–and I mean thousands— of deeply tanned, bone-thin, balloon breasted, heavily airbrushed beings that supposedly represented perfection.

But they weren’t perfect.

They were digitally hatched frankenpeople with waist-length locks, radioactive glowing skin, hollowed out and sticklike thighs and legs (think bowlegged 8-year old boys), the fingers of ringwraiths, water balloon breasts or no breasts at all, and huge eyes with whites so white it looked like someone had glued little black tutu halves onto their lids instead of eyelashes.

I’ve been around many very pretty people, some of them famous. I’m around beautiful people every day, in fact: I’m related to them. I’m friends with them. I work for them. I write movies and books with them. There’s one in my mirror.

Despite that, I have never met anyone who looks like those images, even famous people. Not ever. Not in L.A., not in Nashville, not in NYC, not in my travels across this globe.

The  worst part was the horrible–and yes, I judge them as HORRIBLE– captions on these images:
“Do 100 jumping jacks, 100 mountain climbers, 100 push-ups, and 20 burpees for perfect abs”
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”
“I will have this dream body”
“Stop eating and the inches will fall away”
“I want him to feel my ribs when he picks me up”
“I want shoulder blades like angel wings”
“I will be so proud of myself when I am thin”
“To look like doll parts”
“To be skinny like Barbie”
“Shock them and make them jealous”
“So they will never laugh at me again”
“You know you want this body”
“To prove I can do this to everyone who has doubted me”
“My thighs cannot touch”
“So I will look good in every swimsuit I try on”
“Body type: skinny with no appetite”
“Hunger hurts, but starving works”
“Hip bones, collar bones. Hip bones, collar bones…”

And the one that keeps me awake at night: “Shut your mouth and work out.”

Shut your mouth and work out.

Okay, first off, every human being has something to offer this world–something to improve it. That thing you have to offer? Your looks don’t usually qualify you to use it.

Secondly, if a perfect you exists, you won’t become that by turning into someone else.

Poured out on these boards were the fears of thousands of Pinterest users who felt victimized by their looks, who believe that life would never improve until they finally looked like celebrities and models.

Y’all, I’ve been in publishing for 18 years, and I can tell you: celebrity and model images don’t deserve your trust. They’re messed-with, Photoshopped, heavily-staged images. Fakes. It’s like the difference between looking at the classic Windows desktop image (with the flawless grass and sky) and spending an actual spring day in the countryside with someone wonderful. There is no comparison. Human beings are too fearfully and wonderfully made.

Our celebrity- and looks-obsessed world subliminally (and sometimes actively) paints a hellacious picture of non-famous people in their natural state: ugly and inferior.  They should be treated, tanned, thinned, toned, plucked, waxed, exfoliated, moisturized, sculpted, contoured, masqued, Spanxed, color-coordinated, and completely made over so they don’t singe everyone’s retinas. To stand out and become happy and successful, people must become very attractive. Hot. Screwable.


You didn’t get that job, that scholarship, that irresistible guy? Clearly you failed to be the prettiest girl in the room. Look at your face without makeup. You feel ashamed for good reason. Anne V is always the prettiest girl in the room. She got that Maroon 5 guy. (What’s his name again?)

I enjoy mythbusting, so let me tell you from firsthand experience: being skinny? Being pretty? Being a model? None of that protects you from bad days, fails, pimples, stupidity, heartbreak, poverty, and other nasty little surprises from life.

Magazines, cosmetics companies, hair product manufacturers make money off of your shame. You must be convinced you’re broken because they’re selling your little fix right here, honey. If you became confident and turned your back on the mirror, they’d hemorrhage money.

Let me be clear: Marketing is never, ever done with you. The beauty industry creates a constantly-changing standard of attractiveness. They fabricate beauty “problems.” They tempt you with the mythical and otherworldly gorgeousness of the professional pretty people who set the beauty standards then issue the altar call at the nearest makeup counter or sale rack full of airbrushed images of models: “Fall to your knees! Send us your money, and your sins of unattractiveness will be washed away by this $38 toner!”

It doesn’t work that way in real life. Why? Because you have a looking glass. The models and actors? They have software.

After I saw those boards of frankenpeople, I hit “Delete” on my own thinspo board and clicked on “Create a new board.”

I suddenly had something to say.

This post is just the beginning of our conversation, but right now, I’m going all Ted Mosby on you.

Kids, to fully understand why I started mythbusting magazine images, you have to go back to December 2007, when I opened my Nikon D40, Elvis, on Christmas Eve.

To be continued. Update: Read part 2!



18 thoughts on “The Beautiful People Part 1 (The Story Behind “Don’t Compare Yourself to Celebrities”)

  1. Tracy W. says:

    Indy, I am one who found you through Pinterest, however, I subscribed because of the first post I read on your blog. It was so well written, poignant and truthful that I felt I needed to know more. I could not tell you which post I read first because I read them all in one sitting. Your voice sings off the page and I appreciate your artistry.

    • indyink says:

      Tracy, this is the first cross-post between the two, really. Pinners, meet readers. Readers, meet pinners. That is an incredible compliment, by the way, so thank you. You’re always welcome here.

  2. www.StarsWithoutMakeup.Org says:

    Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of
    the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.

    I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same results.

  3. theellisforce says:

    Indy, thanks so much for starting that board. It’s changed my self-perception. I’m looking forward to what follows Part 1 of this story. I am wondering if you could share your thoughts with me on a certain part of the issue.
    Simply put, I’m wondering if you think that advertising people and similar sometimes do this digital manipulation to unrealistic proportions on purpose? As in, do they realize that people are vulnerable about their appearance and so, to sell more product, they enhance photos so that people will buy more?
    There’s more to my question, but I’ll leave it at that. I tried to find a way to contact you directly, but was unsuccessful. If I missed something, and you’re willing to dialog more about this, please let me know how I can reach you. Thanks!

  4. Charity Stout says:

    Y’all, I’ve been in publishing for 18 years, and I can tell you: celebrity and model images don’t deserve your trust. They’re messed-with, Photoshopped , heavily-staged images. Fakes. It’s like the difference between looking at the classic Windows desktop image (with the flawless grass and sky) and spending an actual spring day in the countryside with someone wonderful. There is no comparison. Human beings are too fearfully and wonderfully made.

  5. Kathy says:


    Oprah is a Cabbage Rose
    Gwyneth is a lily
    Logic very clearly proves
    That dieting is silly.

    The Bassett’s built for comfort
    The Greyhound’s built for speed.
    They both possess a perfect shape
    On that we are agreed.

    The humming bird is made for flight
    The peacock for display
    Both beautiful, but really not
    The same in any way.

    The pony is a tiny horse
    The Clydesdale is immense
    And jealousy between them
    Would not make any sense.

    Don’t yearn to be a different breed
    There won’t be any prizes
    For Beauty is a fickle lass
    And comes in lots of sizes!
    -Kathy Lundy Derengowski

  6. www.StarsWithoutMakeup.Org says:

    We absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be
    just what I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to
    write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write concerning here.
    Again, awesome web log!

  7. Phen says:

    I’ve also read part two and I sincerely hope your message reaches a large audience. But sadly, I fear that if every woman read this and if every women ‘got it’, it still would not be enough. Advertisers are very clever and invest billions into cultivating self hatred. They are experts at creating, not just playing, on insecurities. I’ve work briefly in the periphery of the marketing industry, and they have some very clever people investing a lot of money into laser targeting how to make people feel insecure.

    I’ve lived a life outside of modern media for about 18 years, I don’t own a TV either and I am very grateful for that fact. I find traditional womens mags beyond tedious and haven’t bought one since I was a teenager. I’ve never felt the kind of insecurities my peers seem to suffer from, and I am FAR from this unobtainable, but never quantified ‘ideal’. I don’t hate my body or my looks, I like them, and would not change a single thing in terms of aesthetics. I value my self worth on far more important things.

    I have seen some people who buy right into the beauty industry – intelligent, rational women, and the self loathing they have is not a pleasant thing to watch. They take it all so seriously. I find it grotesque at best. If I ever have children they will be kept away from all media, I feel the long term physiological benefits will far outweigh the short term ‘p1ss taking’ they might receive from peers. Advertising is far too influential, insidious and pervasive.

    There is nothing beautiful about the beauty industry.

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