Body “Positive” or Body “Pretty Sure?”

As a follow-up to Madi’s post about body acceptance , the Aunt-bassadors, our advisory group of more then 50 fierce, fearless women, weigh in with their own perspective on body image. It’s something we all still deal with in our own way. Sometimes, when it’s too hard to be body “positive”, the best we can hope for is body “pretty sure.”

Mary E:
I don’t compare myself to other women anymore. “Comparison is the thief of joy” not that I’m overjoyed with my body right now, but rather than remaining in the dumps about it, I make simple diet and exercise changes. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. I know there will always be someone slimmer, fitter, and have less flab than me, but I’m still beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the 80’s (when feelings weren’t as validated as they are now) but sometimes negative self-talk is strangely motivating to me. Maybe I just hear my mom’s voice. Realistically though I desperately want to model healthy behavior for Morgan and show her that healthy doesn’t mean hating your body. Quite the opposite. I don’t work out to punish my body (anymore) but to nurture it. I eat healthy as an act of self-care. And I no longer want a boob job. My mom’s self-esteem was so wrapped up in the number on the scale, she literally couldn’t leave the house sometimes. I never want anyone to feel like that.

Jenny A.:
I have the world’s greatest cleaner who helps me out before people come to rent my place when I’m out of town. Her name is Angeline and we have become good buddies over the last few years. She’s from South Africa originally. And a few days ago, she asked me, “Is your mother white?” I, kind of confused, said, “yes.” She followed with “And your father? He’s also a white guy?” I said “Yep. Why?” And she goes, “Because, my dear, you have a black ass. It is big and bubbly and it looks like the butt of black woman on a tiny white girl.” I know a few years ago, I would have had a horrible inner reaction to that. But we both busted out laughing and I hugged her and said thank you, because I knew it was a compliment and it genuinely made me feel very sexy. So many wonderful thoughts and realizations came out of that conversation – besides us both crying laughing. For one, it reminded me that I’m now in a place in my 30s where i love my curves. For the first time ever. I’m working to make them more muscular, but I don’t want them gone. Secondly, it reminded me that i’ve always admired communities of women in cultures that don’t shy from curves and fat and jiggle, but embrace it. We had a chat about the whole thing. I still suffer a lot of body images like everyone else, but that moment made me realize I’ve matured past some of them. No one ever wrote a rap song called “Look at that tiny ass.”

Jennifer King, author of Fat Girl Power You know that I’m a huge body positive advocate, but I still have some hangups from the time I was brought up, too. I still struggle with the number on the scale meaning more than I know it does, and I still wonder if people are judging me mostly by my weight and not by my attitude or accomplishments or how I treat others. It’s an ongoing struggle; as I say in my book, it’s a battle I fight every day. But now that I’m aware of it, and I have more positive role models to learn from, it feels more empowering than defeating. I still care about my fitness and health and to me, that’s all part of being body positive — taking care of yourself. But I’m trying to do if from a place of love for myself rather than a “punishment.”

Nicole D.:
This is a very loaded issue for me to this day. I think I’m a little less harsh with myself than I used to be, but it’s still something I deal with daily. I have almost never been happy with my body, which I know is an enormous waste of time and energy, and really sad. I trace my obsession with my weight back to puberty, when I suddenly sprouted big breasts (I had always had a bubble booty, even as a skinny kid). Well, my mother never once said anything about my weight or my body–it was my stepdad. I think he was projecting onto me from his own body issues and the weight problems his family struggled with. He told me very early on that I had the propensity to get fat and that I had to watch it. (I look back at myself as a teen and I’m shocked at how fat I felt at the time, when all I see in photos is a beautiful, thin (with a 34C bust), healthy girl. I remember I was 118-120. For a 5’5″ frame, in no w
ay was I fat! But in my mind I sure was. This developed into an obsession with the number on the scale. I tried a million diets. I went to the gym 5 days a week. I even tried to pick up cigarette smoking because I thought it would help me lose weight! It was ridiculous. My weight yo-yo’d. I would eat and eat and eat and then starve and starve myself. I didn’t know what it was like to eat a normal meal–I was either overeating or under-eating. I would weigh myself 6 times a day. I would eat 600 calories a day. I thought it was fantastic if I could make it through the day on 350 calories. I was so weary of constantly being obsessed with the scale but I couldn’t seem to stop. Even when I went from my high weight of 182 to my lowest weight of 111, I still looked in the mirror as a size 0 and felt like I was disgusting because I had saddlebags on the back of my thighs. So this is definitely a mental thing and not dependent on weight. I’ve had a few negative experiences with men (strangers as well as people in my life) that reinforced the notion that I was only lovable if I was thin, so I get where it’s coming from. I’m more relaxed about it now and I think I can eat normally most of the time now. But my weight is still an issue for me. A year and a half ago I weighed 20-25 pounds less, and I felt great about my body for the first time in a very long time. I’d like to get back down there, but can’t seem to make it happen yet. I’m dating this new guy I’m totally into and yet there are plenty of times when he grabs me in bed and I think, “don’t touch my tummy! it’s mushy and gross!” or “oh no please don’t be looking at my back fat right now” which is just horrible. I feel such compassion for myself when I hear myself saying those things. I guess I’m getting better at ignoring that voice, but the doubts about my desirability hit me often. I don’t look at other women the way I look at myself–I find everyone so beautiful, just as they are. I would never judge another woman for her size, so why do I do it with such meanness to myself? I am definitely a work in progress on this issue!

Susan E.:
I’ve always been on the thin side, and growing up, I was super skinny and developed very late compared to my friends. I got teased a lot for having no breasts, and girls sometimes touched my thin wrists and asked me if I was anorexic (like, who asks that?!). I spent most of my adolescence wishing I could gain weight. Because I’m thin, however, I’ve basically been told that I can’t speak on the subject of weight. I see where that reaction comes from, but I think people of all shapes, sizes, and colors all experience some kind of body insecurities, and I‘m no exception. Even so, because of those reactions, I’ve always felt like weight/body conversations kind of weren’t my “territory” and that my talking about it bothered others who faced opposite struggles.

Overall, I feel most positive about my body when I’m taking good care of it by eating well and exercising regularly. Even if my body doesn’t look exactly the way I want it to, it does feel better overall when I make time for self-care, physically and mentally.

Side note: This American Life has a great body episode called “Tell Me I’m Fat” that I highly recommend.

Heather N.:
I’m on my period today, so this is all just fine…. But seriously, it takes a remarkably strong woman to reject the images we see, literally, thousands of times a day, and somehow find acceptance for who we are as an individual. We are ripped apart, from Red Carpet sightings, to photo-shopping (God damn the photo-shopping), to celebrity news sparking pregnancy rumors when someone has a pooch belly, to celebrating what ‘they’ deem SUCCESS when someone like a Khloe Kardashian looks more like her “prettier sisters”… We hear and see it… All. The. Time. And in order to find acceptance, we must resist that barrage of information. If we can internalize that it’s all a bunch of bull shit, orchestrated from a small ivory media castle, then we (or me, as an individual) can begin to accept ourselves. (I recognize family and even mental health play a huge role in this too, but comments on this post shouldn’t be a tirade from a crampy gal today…)

Also, and perhaps a secondary question, where does it stop? Why do we shave our legs? Why do we wear mascara? Why do we obsessively watch videos of countouring to learn how to make our noses appear smaller, or our cheeks more prominent? It’s more than just cellulite, small boobs, or a flat ass… it’s everything.

I’m emotional. Where’s the chocolate

Clair E.:My parents, especially my mom, only occasionally complimented physical things growing up. I’ve always been tall and slender (and bony and gangly and goofy). My dad taught me how to lift weights because it felt good. I’ve always been skinny, but when I was 14 I could fit my hands around my waist. I, too, got teased about being anorexic, but I took it as a compliment and then tried diets on the sly to try to lose weight.

I think a lot of it was the desire to take up less space, to be less noticeable, to be less tall. Though I’m at peace (mostly) with my weight and eat for health, I still slump my shoulders to be shorter and less obtrusive.

I’m absolutely a work in progress when it comes to loving my body. It’s easy to compare it to others, but it carries me through. It is strong enough to hit target weightlifting goals and have to set new ones. It is attractive enough as it is. It is enough. And if it’s not for someone, fuck ’em.

Audrey A.:
My first husband had worked in Hollywood with celebrity photographers. When we were dating, I would look at pictures of movie stars and say “oh, I wish I looked like her…” even though I was thin and blond and reasonably fit. One day when I was looking at a photo spread of Meg Ryan (yes, I just totally dated myself) and said “I sure wish I looked like that” and he turned to me and said “She does too!!” After that, I was so aware of how retouching and styling gives us such an unrealistic model to follow, I was more conscious of not comparing myself to what are essentially paintings of an ideal and not photos. I still look at magazines and wish…but now I’m older and more realistic, and I realize that I wish I was as “fat” now as I thought I was then (some 50 pounds ago).

Kristie D.:
I have never been okay with my body sad to say. It seems the more I age I realize I should have appreciated my appearance from years earlier. Ha! Sigh.
When I was younger I thought I was too thin and it was very IN to have boobs and curves and I had none. I got a little older and my flat boobs were in but so were thin thighs and I have never had thin thighs. Sigh again. Then I aged some more and started to very briefly accept my body because I was glad I could eat almost anything and not gain weigh but then I had my daughter at the age of 41 and my body changed completely. I no longer have a flat chest. Oh how I miss my small boobs! I’m trying so hard to accept this aging thing but it’s exhausting! I’m having to make myself like to exercise because the family I grew up in does not exercise so this is not coming naturally to me. I have to say though the real reason I know I need to exercise and eat right is not just because I want to look descent it’s because I want to be and feel healthy. So I know I will never look perfect but maybe I can feel perfect!

Want to read more? Check out Melissa’s blog post on gaining weight. (Guess what? She doesn’t give a shit.) What about you? Are you just body positive or body “pretty sure?” 

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