Today is the National Organization of Women’s Love Your Body Day, and this post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival.
I’ve written quite a lot about body image recently, including a piece on Real Beauty andEndangered Species Women, as well as the Just As You Are page, which has been on this site for a number of years. I also recently wrote another post about Love Your Body Day in which I discussed how advertisers portray women, and how this affects us, as well as our daughters and sons. I am passionate about empowering women to love their bodies, mainly because low self image is something I have struggled with for most of my life.
I was not a slim child, but I grew up believing I was fat, even when I was actually a healthy weight for my height. Early puberty meant that my body began to become quite womanly while I was still a child, and I went on my first diet with my Mom when I was about nine to try to thwart this. (My mother suffered with issues around her body image as well, and I am sure she was anorexic, and possibly also bulimic for much of her adult life.)
Virtually constant dieting, and feeling that I was just too big all round, led me to become anorexic when I was 16. My struggle with the disease went on for quite a while and was probably not helped by the fact that I decided to try my hand at modelling. Luckily, I found my way through, and by the time I was twenty three, I was a healthy weight and on my way to making a new life for myself.
My self image at that time was still very fragile, and it was only due to the wonderful support of the man who would become my husband that I began to see the beauty in myself. But even now, more years later than I would care to admit, I am more critical of my own body than of anyone else’s.
So how can women, especially those who may not have a supportive person in their life, come to love their bodies? Here are some of the things I have learned:
Your body is a miracle. I know that may sound twee, but it is absolutely and utterly true. The way our muscles and organs function is incredible, and this vessel we carry ourselves round in deserves the utmost respect.
There is no one ‘perfect’ body type. We are not meant to be identical copies of the tall waifs we see portrayed in the media and on runways. It’s not possible. We are glorious in our imperfection, and beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. What one person finds incredibly attractive, another may find less so. Trying to fit into a mould that is perceived to be the perfect body type is futile, not to mention soul destroying.
Virtually every image you see in print advertising has been digitally altered or enhanced. You would be hard pressed to find a single advertisement that has not been altered in some way. If a model has one eye that is somehow better shaped than another, they will even remove the other eye and put the ‘good’ one on her face twice. Seriously! Waists are thinned to a size that even the strongest whalebone corset could not obtain, legs are lengthened, lips are plumped or thinned, skin colour is altered and eyelashes are ‘enhanced in post production’. No one actually looks like those images, not even the models who are in them.
The purpose of advertising is to make you feel you need what they are selling, whatever the cost. Most advertising aimed at women and young girls is designed to make us feel unhappy about our bodies in order to sell us the products we ‘need’ to ‘fix’ ourselves. Most advertisers do not care how they do this. They are like the nasty kids in the playground who tease to the point of tears. Then, when they have knocked you down, they offer you help you up, but only if you will pay the price.
Confidence is the key to beauty. How you feel totally affects how you look. Many confident women are not conventionally beautiful, but their air of confidence and the style and aplomb it gives them makes them look wonderful. You are the only person like you in the whole world – never compare your appearance to anyone else’s. Regardless of what you look like, how tall or short you are, what your weight is, how big your nose is or whether you have nice legs is truly not important. Being the best you that you can be is not something you can achieve by trying to look like someone else.
Consider this. The girl in the photograph at the top of this post didn’t feel beautiful. She felt desperately insecure, too short, too fat and that her nose was too big. She was terrified she would not look good enough in the photographs from that shoot. How do I know?
That’s me, a little over twenty years ago.
On this Love Your Body Day, the message I would most want to leave you with is this. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the most of yourself, enhancing your appearance or dressing well, but only if it makes you feel good about yourself, not if you are trying to live up to an unrealistic image of perfection. From now on, let’s confound the advertisers and those in the media who assail us with those images by refusing to be intimidated by them any more. We are all wonderful, amazing, special and yes, beautiful, just as we are right now.
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