Recently, I was going through some old photographs – me at 12, me at 16, me at 19, me at 23 – and my jaw dropped. Wow. I was drop-dead gorgeous. A competitive swimmer from the time I was eight until I was 22, I had broad shoulders, muscular arms, washboard abs, well-defined thighs and calves. But what I felt at the time sure as heck did not reflect reality. See, I felt HUGE. Enormous. Rotund. I hated my body. I was embarrassed by my curves, my breasts.
Much of what I saw in the magazines, on television and in the movies influenced my perception. Born 25 years too late. If only I had grown up in the 1940s and 50s, when Ava Gardner, Jane Russell and Sophia Loren graced the covers and silver screen. Instead, I looked to Twiggy, Susan Dey and Karen Carpenter. And sadly, they all suffered from disordered eating and body dysmorphic issues.
Ask any woman if there is something about her body she'd like to change and you'll get a laundry list of answers: “I’d like a smaller butt...bigger breasts...tighter abs...longer legs...a thinner waist....” But the biggest complaint you'll hear from women is that they "feel too fat.”
I kept myself out of yoga classes for years because, gulp, I didn't have "a yoga body." I had to slay a lot of demons and quell some very loud voices in my head before I finally mustered up the courage to just be on my mat in a room full of other people.
Hello? Curves ≠ Fat. And yet, every one of those beautiful women pictured above are considered "plus-size" models. Larger than a size 6 in the industry and you're plus size, whether you'd actually fit into the clothing or not.
My friend Char who's a midwife is quick to remind me that women’s bodies are soft and round for a reason. Hips widen to accommodate the weight of a new life. And what we call "the pooch" – the slight roundness of the belly – stores needed estrogen. Heck, we have the ability to create and grow life, for heaven's sake!
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that "skinny" girls don't have their own hang-ups about their bodies. It's just that, well, since changing my relationship with food, I've gone through quite a shapeshift the last 18 months – from being morbidly obese to shedding 140 pounds – and I'm just learning to feel comfortable in my own skin.
The inimitable Gala Darling has been running a series of articles on Radical Self Love and shining the spotlight on body image.
I thought I'd share some terrific tips from Ms. Darling on how to practice loving our bodies (at any size):
♥ Learn to use your body in a new way. Take a sex course or trapeze lessons. Wake yourself up to the myriad of ways in which you can surprise yourself.
♥ Take a life drawing class. You’ll develop an appreciation for different types of bodies, which might just make you love your own a little bit more.
♥ Throw away your scales. For real. Why do you need them? Baby, you don’t.
♥ Start to view food as fuel as opposed to some kind of enemy. Get educated about what you’re eating. Learn about additives and high-fructose corn syrup. Find out what you are really putting into your body. More importantly, learn what it does to your body – from the physical to the psychological effects. Knowledge is power.
♥ Drink more water! As well as being amazing for your skin and your insides, we often think we’re hungry when we’re actually really dehydrated. If you’re a compulsive snacker, making the switch to water can make a huge difference.
♥ Whenever you have a negative thought about your body, run these four questions through your mind:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
♥ Realize that wanting to look like a Hollywood starlet is a very narrow and Western ideal. Hollywood is not everything and that version of “beauty” isn’t beautiful to a lot of cultures. Don’t be afraid to be different. Breaking the mold is how you get things done.
♥ Learn to accept yourself as you are. Your nose, the crinkle in your forehead, the curve of your belly, your long toes, all of these things make up the person you are. They add to your juiciness and uniqueness. This is who you are. No amount of self-loathing, worry or doubt will change those things. Love the one you’re with!
♥ The world is so big. Big enough that we can have 30,000,000 different types of beauty and they are ALL cool, ALL valid and ALL fabulous.
So do I love my body today? Absolutely. Feeling at home in my own skin...that's gonna be an ongoing process...but, I sure do love and appreciate this skin – stretch marks and all.
Tell me: How do you embrace and celebrate your body?