Photo courtesy of "Suez92," www.flickr.com
I live in New York City. I can’t walk down a street without seeing images of perfect-looking women; magazine and store ads with beautiful, waifish women glisten on taxis, buses and billboards. When you are faced with that kind of pressure to fit into an ideal, it can be impossible to love the body God gave you, let alone accept it. As women, we constantly aim to please with our looks. Why do you think Victoria’s Secret was created? We wear our jeans tighter, our heels higher, our shirts more low-cut; anything to be found desirable by those around us.
The need to appear perfect is inherent in women, but the capability to understand that perfection is impossible is not as easy for us to accept. When we see, for example, Gisele’s pouty lips and long hair flowing around her lingerie-perfect body, we will stop at nothing to look like a runway model. But for many of us, it just won’t happen.
The staff of Glamour magazine started a revolution when they posted a nude picture of plus-size model Lizzie Miller. When I saw it, I thought, “Well, it’s about time!” The time has come for women to begin realizing that they are beautiful, no matter WHAT they look like.
In honor of Love Your Body Day, I spoke to a few female friends who have finally come to accept the beautiful bodies they were born with. When I asked what having a positive body image meant to them, each answer was strikingly different. My friend Rachel thinks that self-confidence, culture and environment play a role in body image, while my friends Tia and Sandy think it’s more introspective.
Sandy says, “Having a positive body image is about supporting yourself emotionally and physically. By that, I mean don’t stand in front of the mirror and pick yourself apart by noticing all of your flaws. Everyone wants to change something about themselves, but you can’t dwell on what you want to change. Love what you have and work on making those attributes stand out—the rest will fall into place.”
Tia believes, “Positive body image is accepting your own body. All of it. All the parts you love about it and even the parts you perceive as being flawed. And if you want to work on your the parts you believe are flawed, do that in a way that won’t cause harm to your body.”
When asked about their least positive experiences with their body, my friends responded differently. For Sandy it was in junior high.
“I was teased and harassed for my weight and the way I dressed,” she said. “Back then, it was incredibly difficult to find plus sizes, especially for a 13-year-old. Shopping was something I dreaded and I always settled for clothes my mother picked out that I really didn’t like just because I didn’t think anything else would fit. My style looked somewhere in between five-years-old to 80; it seemed to skip right over the teen trends all together.”
Rachel’s body image, on the other hand, was affected by a very specific incident. “When I first injured my knee, I was in an awkward leg brace. It was conspicuous and ungainly.”
But everyone has a turning point where acceptance begins to overturn negativity. For Tia, it came in the form of other people. “The turning point for me was definitely in an acting class I took,” she said. “One day, we sat around and had to say a positive thing about other people in the class and something positive about ourselves. I raved about my classmates but had nothing to say about myself. They all had such great things to say about me, but it was overwhelming. For a second I thought they might have been lying. But that day, I decided to try to find the positive in everything about myself. Especially my body.”
Sandy found strength in her creativity to help her overcome her negativity. “The more I was passionate about things I enjoyed like writing and music, the more I shined on the outside. I faced the world unafraid because despite what judgments might be made on my appearance, I knew I was beautiful all around.”
Rachel’s inspiration came from someone very special to her. Yet she admits it’s still an adjustment. “When I re-met my (now) fiancée, it took me a long time to accept [that he really sees me as beautiful]. I accept his acceptance, but sometimes I still have doubts.”
After the turning point, all of my friends are in much happier and more accepting places. Here’s their advice to you:
Tia: “Learn to look at the positive about yourself, love your body because you only get one. You can work at the things you want to change but accept those things that you can’t. We spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to each other when we should embrace the fact that we are all unique and different.”
Sandy: “Say one good thing about your body every day. When you look in the mirror, don’t pinch your stomach and frown. Smile when you look at yourself. It makes you prettier. If you really don’t like something about yourself and you can work on it, do so, but don’t obsess and put yourself down over it.”
Now, I’m not exempt from the conversation, either. My own personal battle with positive body image is something that I started fighting at a young age. I was mercilessly teased for being so thin and tall; called everything from “stretch” to “scarecrow” to “beanpole.” It wasn’t easy for me to hear, let alone feel secure enough to look in a mirror without hearing those words in the back of my mind. By fifth grade, I was the second tallest girl in my class, with glasses and braces. Eventually the braces came off, but I was still getting taller. Junior high was like hell. I was taller than almost all of my friends (except for one other girl who was as tall and as thin as I was.) It crushed me to hear that the boy I liked didn’t like me back because I was “too tall.”
In high school, boys started to notice me, but mainly because I started wearing short skirts in the summer and shirts that stopped slightly below my belly button—about an inch above the start of my tight jeans. Dressing more provocatively didn’t get me any dates either—just more looks as I walked down the street. It wasn’t until college that I really began to accept and love my body. I gained a few pounds, filled out in a few places and finally started going out with guys.
One night when I stood in front of a guy, completely naked with the lights on, he called me sexy. I had never believed it before, but something started to change in me. Soon after that, I didn’t mind having sex with the lights on! Now, I accept that being thin and tall is who I am. Even though most people see my body type as an ideal to strive for, I can tell you it’s still annoying. It’s hard to find jeans that fit legs with a thirty-five inch inseam. But when my boyfriend runs his hands over my curves and tells me I’m beautiful, I believe him.