I generally consider myself a confident person. But I had a really weird body image day a few days ago. Some of my closest friends uploaded pictures of our amazing reunion in Chicago. I wore a makeshift crop top because it was hot as hell, and my friends encouraged me to do what is now trendy. While most of the pictures were great, I could not get over the huge belly I had after eating a large lunch. I also couldn’t get over the fact it was enhanced by the huge milkshake I was drinking. I felt like the biggest fatass on the face of the Earth. I bet if you hadn’t known me, you would’ve asked me when the due date was. I know my friends didn’t think much of it until I drew attention to it, but it was something that stuck with me for the days after.
Often when I talk to men about women and their issues with body image, I tend to hear the same consensus in responses, “Okay, come on, you can’t seriously be telling me that adult women somehow think that magazine people actually look like this in real life? Everyone knows it’s ‘shopped. The real issue is with children. Children may think it’s real. But come one, everyone knows they’re fake. If you want to turn yourself into that, you’re either dumb, or crazy, or both.”
And so, once I got over the hurdle of adolescence being only partially self-loathing, I thought to myself, “I made it! I made it past that age when stupid teenaged girls do stupid things for beauty and love!”
Except I didn’t.
In fact, I didn’t even hit the age when I’d be so heavily assaulted by horrible body image standards. I never read magazines outside of Dog Fancy, Scientific American, or Time (yeah,I know… I was a weird kid) so I never had to deal with the constant barrage of half naked, tanned, airbrushed, and hairless women.
I went to college, then started working, and in that period of time, started reading Cosmopolitan and Fitness (don’t even go there), and started shopping at Victoria’s Secret for my bras because I am a fully grown adult and need to feel it inside and out. I started staring at various athletic apparel ads and looking at every possible athletic brand because I wanted to be strong and capable. I desperately wanted to be “in” with the fit and capable community (and still do to be honest.)
But it all started a downward spiral. That’s the funny thing about marketing. You don’t have a demand until you make a gaping, ugly, can’t-stand-to-look-at-it need in your customer. Picture after picture after picture of tall, glistening, tan blonde extremely thin and “athletic” women became my steady fuel of media imagery as I shopped for clothes and perused for ways to be more fit, more sexy. And not even for other people, just for myself.
I attempted to motivate myself with fitspiration or fitspo, for short hand. pinned on Pinterest, bought a FitBit, got back into CrossFit. Nothing really “worked” for me though. These women in pictures got steadily skinnier and skinnier and before I knew it, they were just really skinny women in sports apparel, and not actually “fit” by the definitions I work with. Not that they were bad or evil or should be criticized. They’re model’s for God’s sake! But their body type was not mine, and it hurt to realize that no amount of running or lifting or eating right would make me tall, blonde, and beautiful.
They say if you work hard enough, anything is possible. But this is a problem when you’re 5’2″ with wide-set hips and a flat chest, and you’re trying to be 5’10” with tiny hips and size C cups. That is something I will never be, no matter what I will myself to do. Overall, I got more fit. In fact, I surpassed my goals far beyond what I set, numerically. But I wasn’t happy. I still felt weak. I still felt short and thick. I still felt pale, dark haired, pimply, and hairy. If I could best sum up how I felt on my worst days in two words, I would say “Troll doll.”
They say that we need to encourage girls to feel better, and raise them up rather than put them down. And I think that’s true. But the biggest victims of these horrible eating disorders and depression and any unhealthy habit is women in their adolescent and young adult years. They’re not dumb women. They’re not crazy women. They’re old enough to know the difference between real people and photoshopped models. They’re normal, every day women, and they do shit like I do every single day, sometimes even more intensely.
This picture was taken by my friend Sandra. She thought it was a great picture, despite me looking down at the water. The first thing I thought when I looked at it was “Man look how huge my butt looks. My posture is terrible. My back looks ugly and rippled. But at least it’s not a picture of my flabby belly.” In my insecurity, I failed to see that this is photo evidence of a woman being loved and adored by her friends from afar.
All of this has been a lesson in self-worth, and appreciating the human form for what it does rather than what it looks like on its on or off days. My body looks the way it does because I have a generations of wider-set hips and the legacy of those strong ladies lives on in me. My back can lift things; it gets sore, but it gets work done, and hard work never looks attractive. And hell, I’m not consistent with my habits, but if I am in the future, I can count on my body deciding to grow and wane however it wants to so I can best do my job as a strong, short human. And chances are I won’t agree with it.
It is no easy task, at all. Simply directing women to “Love yourselves!” will not result in better self-esteem. But I will agree that comparison is the devil of all happiness. It’s going to be a challenge for me, and for everyone else in my boat, but trying to focus on what I can do for the world will make me a far more useful human (and enjoyable to be around).
So drop your Fitness magazine, it’s filled with lies (really, don’t even bother with 2000 calorie diets, it’s arbitrary and you’ll hate yourself). Drop your Cosmopolitan, because life isn’t all about sex, money, and beauty. Pick up a Real Simple (shameless brand promotion and I’m not even being paid for it) and learn some wisdom from real, on-this-earth, not-actually-famous, women. Work out, or don’t work out. You are most beautiful (in the truest sense of the word) when you are happy and doing the things you love with the people you love.