I do that because I have both of those things, and have had them since I was a much younger woman, in what seems now like a completely different life. For years, I was the “pretty face” or the best-friend-not-girlfriend, stuck in a body I didn’t recognize after a childhood of being rather… average-sized. Maybe even small.
I know now this happened was because I experienced extremely early-onset menopause at 17 or 18, and autoimmune problems that changed the way my hormones and metabolism did and do their jobs. These same issues rendered me infertile, and have made it challenging for me to take weight off ever since.
I can write about these things in a very matter-of-fact way — though I may not feel matter-of-fact about them — because there’s no hiding from them. When you meet me, you know it: I am not a delicate flower. I’m not happy with that reality, but I accept that it’s true, and I work around it and in spite of it, as best I can.
It helps that I am in a relationship with someone who loves me not in spite of my weight, but because of who I am. I say “helps” because love is not a magic wand that makes all my scars disappear. What it does is make me more eager to get past the things I struggle with, and to see myself and my possibilities through his eyes.
Part of that eagerness also bubbles up in wanting to help other women — whether they are just like me, or utterly unlike me — see themselves as beautiful and full of value.
Because we’re not good at that.
Those of us struggle with our weight aren’t. Those of us who can’t put weight on aren’t. Those of us who seem perfectly in tune with their bodies aren’t. Anorexics aren’t. Bulimics aren’t. EDNOS sufferers aren’t. Those of us struggling with health concerns aren’t.
So much so that appearance-content women seem almost like unicorns.
But they shouldn’t be. Self-acceptance is something that should be hard-wired into each one of us, regardless of the things we’d like to do to feel more comfortable or healthy or confident. It should be the baseline, because how we look is just one facet of who we are.
But it also happens to be the only one everyone else can see — and judge.
I want so badly for women to be kind in how they speak about themselves and others. I want us to expand our idea of what beautiful is… or at least to try.
That’s why I have five things.
Five things any one of us can do.
Five things to make all women more beautiful. Not all overweight women. Not all underweight women. Not all curvy women. Not all slender women. Not all tall women. Not all short women. Not all healthy women. Not all health-struggling women. Not all confident women. Not all insecure women.
I don’t know if you’ll end up wanting to try any of them… but I believe that many more of us deserve to see ourselves clearly and kindly.
1. Abandon your assumptions. There are many reasons women are larger, smaller, and all the stops in between. By assuming that an overweight person is lazy and prone to binging, or that a thinner person starves themselves and exercises pathologically, you’re choosing to believe that life is only as complicated as your eyes tell you it is. Many women that would be described as “fat” exercise twice as much as women that would be commonly identified as “skinny”. Many women who are skinny consume multiple meals a day to keep up with a hyper-charged metabolism, while some fat women starve themselves without “success.” And some women who seem utterly average and completely healthy aren’t… not inside. We all make assumptions based on how others look. Work on that, and you give people the freedom to tell their own story — or not.
2. Figure out your filters. Maybe you grew up with overweight parents, or with a mother who pinched your waist if she thought you had gained an inch. Maybe you belonged to a community where appearances were everything… or where they didn’t matter at all. Maybe you were always expected to look a certain way, and maybe no one ever noticed how you looked, for better or for worse.
Regardless, we all have ways of looking at the world, at one another, and at ourselves that are colored by our experience. If you can figure out the filters you’ve collected and where you collected them, you’ll begin to see why and how you judge others, why and how you might be unforgiving of your own body, and why and how you’ve developed a particular standard for beauty.
As GI Joe said, knowing is half the battle.
In this case, though, it’s part of finding peace.
3. Let go of the lectures. I have friends who are South Beach enthusiasts, Weight Watchers enthusiasts, Jenny Craig enthusiasts, Paleo enthusiasts, vegan enthusiasts, foodie enthusiasts, Crossfit enthusiasts, P90X enthusiasts, running enthusiasts, gym enthusiasts, yoga enthusiasts, crash diet enthusiasts… and friends who despise each of those things to the point of enthusiasm. What they all have in common is the fervency with which they share their passions. Do they have a right to be passionate about their interests? Totally. Do they have a right to know what works for them? Yes. Is there anything wrong with having deep convictions about lifestyle? Certainly not.
Well… not unless you push that conviction onto others. Here’s the thing: the answers you’ve found to your questions and concerns are just that… yours. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people who insisted they could “fix” me (or all of society!) in some way… and a good portion of the time, I’d never actually said I was broken. You can share your life and your excitement — without insisting it’s the only way.
Even if you think so.
4. Stop the (self) sabotage. We can incredibly blunt and careless when we talk about public figures and one another — and even more so when we talk about ourselves. And though we may do it out of insecurity or frustration, it’s toxic, it’s uncomfortable for those around us, it’s unnecessary, and it creates hurts we might not be aware of in others.
I have trashed my appearance so people would know I wasn’t delusional about my “flaws”. I thought that made me seem self-aware, or that it would help me dodge their judgment.
Except they weren’t thinking about it until I mentioned it.
5. Believe in all the bodies. Imagine if we all thought our bodies had value. Imagine if we had even a little bit of reverence about what we’d been given to work with, however flawed we might feel it is at times. Imagine if we found things to praise and encourage in others, instead of things to fuel their insecurity… and ours. Imagine if we had faith in people to change and grow more healthy… without tying it to their appearance?
It seems like we could do everything good we needed to do for ourselves and for others if that were the case — minus all the fuel we get from self-loathing.
Yes, it can light a fire under us, that fuel, and make us do things we feel like we need to do.
But it can also reduce us to ashes.
I’m still thinking about them.
I’m going to try to do them.
Maybe you will, too.