This has been in draft state for a while but with recent comments about Lady Gaga’s body I thought it was time to dust this off, polish it up, and publish it out to the world.
Recently I saw the film “Embrace: one woman’s journey to inspire everyBODY” and I came away with a realization: I am still on this journey and probably always will be. I know I preach the ideas of “be at peace with the body you have now,” “dress your current body,” “love yourself” and so many more but I haven’t done a lot of soul searching to understand why these revolutionary thoughts mean so much to me. I kind of skipped a step in the healing process and this film has made me want to go back and explore that a little more.
Of the MANY images shown in the movie of how the media portrays the “ideal woman” there was a shot of Kate Moss and reference to “the waif” look of the 1990s that really gave me a gut punch. This was prime time for me developmentally and I certainly didn’t have that “waif” look – once puberty hit I got ALL the curves and that hour glass shape was in direct contrast to the “ideal beauty” of the day. To make matters worse for me (this is not meant to be a slight or anything) both of my sisters were (and still are) taller and thinner than me – one was even literally a princesshaving come in second in the local beauty contest (she did it for the scholarship money, but she was still a princess).
Me? I was (and am) of average height and larger than most of the people around me. Plus, curves and a chest for days. Totally NOT the ideal. I hid myself fairly well in baggy clothes – thank GOD grunge and the waif thing were happening at the same time! Baggy flannel covering EVERYTHING suited me just fine. I judged myself harshly against others, covering up what I saw as my flaws and failures based on what society was telling me was acceptable. For years I hid myself in oversized clothes and a smile.
But why? Why would I let my happiness and acceptance of myself be dictated by the nameless, faceless masses? Probably because I’m a normal person and not above the images that were bombarding me daily. Ugh. Growing up being different didn’t feel like an asset. It felt like all eyes were on me, judging me against impossible standards. I didn’t know then that my differences were my strengths.
How did I break through my own thoughts and preconceived notions? I’m really not sure. Maybe age, maybe relationships. Definitely by finding my tribes.
Let’s start with relationships, always a good place to start. I met my husband when I was 20 – young, impressionable, naïve (oh so naïve). One of the best things about him was his total acceptance of me as I was – something I hadn’t been able to do for myself. It was great having someone outside my immediate family love me for who I was but it wasn’t a total break through. I still felt like I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t conform to society’s “ideal.” I was thick and strong when the world (or at least the world I was exposed to) was looking for small and delicate.
As I grew older I knew I was missing something but I didn’t know what. I was smart and successful and had the things society told me I needed – a husband, a career, a house, a nice car. But I wasn’t whole. I was still trying to live up to what others expected or what I perceived that others expected of me. Until I found two things: a reality TV show and a gym.
Now you may be scratching your head about that reality tv show thing but I’ve got to tell you that “What Not to Wear” helped me in no small way to realize that you didn’t have to be a waif-thin model to dress to kill. Stacy London and Clinton Kelly taught me to dress the body I have and to wear what makes me feel good. They were my first therapists and my cable bill was worth every penny. They accepted everyone and really tried to keep the makeovers true to the person. And I loved it.
Next was the gym. The first gym I found that encouraged me to be who I was – a thick, strong woman – was a crossfit gym. I was able to move heavy weights and my body responded positively – building muscles and strength like it was going out of style even as I was learning what my style was. There was a strong community, tribe even, of like minded women (and men) who helped me on that initial part of my journey.
And then my world was rocked by injury and depression. I quit the gym, kind of quit life and sat on my couch for a year trying to figure out what was next. My self doubt was so very strong and the voices of convention were gnawing at my heels. I let those voices into my head and they kept telling me I wasn’t enough, I wasn’t doing it right, I wasn’t good at anything and couldn’t move myself forward.
Until one day I did. I had had enough of the voices and I found a new gym. One focused on training the mind as well as the body. And slowly, class after class, month after month I realized I had found my new community and my new tribe. The focus wasn’t on comparing yourself to others it was on being better everyday. And being better meant being better at anything that mattered to you. And what mattered to me was improving my self love and remembering that I’m the best at being me.
I have learned to accept myself – most days. I love my current incarnation and am working hard to strengthen myself inside and out. But I can still be derailed by a comment or sideways glance. The difference now? I can stop myself before I spiral into old habits and thoughts. Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.
So, what did I think of the film? I think it should be in everyone’s list of must-see documentaries. The media and pop culture are starting to get it but we still have a long way to go when children see themselves as fat and in need of dieting. Children need to be loved and taught they have value, not that they need to look or behave a certain way.
I’m going to continue to be a voice for acceptance of who you are and being proud of YOUR accomplishments. No matter what you do I will be there cheering you on, cheering on your better every day. And I’m going to encourage you to brag about your accomplishments because dammit, you deserve it. You can hear me brag on the Women Inspired podcast, hosted by April Seifert.
And here, for your viewing pleasure, are some of my favorite photos – of me being me.