I love my body. I love the curve of my belly, the dimpled skin beneath my butt and my tiny little feet. But I haven’t always felt this way; and that’s not because I grew up without positive reinforcement or because I’m an idiot. To the contrary, my parents always promoted a very healthy body image, as did my fortunate education. In short, I was well equipped from an early age to have a strong sense of self, independent from my appearance, as well as the mental tools to take pride in my appearance, no matter how it ‘subjectively’ appeared to anyone else.
Despite my predisposition to self-satisfaction, like many teenage girls I fell into that oft promoted void where everything around you seems to be screaming “you’re not pretty enough!” “you’re not thin enough!” “your nose is too big!” “you’re disgusting!” Not only were the external stimuli I was exposed to promoting an “ideal” body image, they were also promoting a sense that unless I fit that particular ideal, I should be morbidly dissatisfied. And I was; for no particular reason other than I felt some sort of social pressure to find ways to hate myself, which, needless to say, is absolutely fucking ridiculous.
Without descending into trite Aguileraisms, I’ve learned (the hard way) that I am beautiful; that everyone is beautiful. Here’s why:
What I look like naked
I am short at just over 5 feet. My legs are quite stumpy and my thighs are plump and round; they jiggle when I walk and rub together where they meet at my groin. My ankles are what some would call ‘cankles’, and my feet are unnaturally small and flat. There’s normally always stubble on my calves, and a light layer of downy hair on my thighs. My knees are undefined and chubby, and some blue veins are visible snaking from my calves to my thighs.
My butt is perky and round, with a few spidery stretch marks beneath it and around my hips. I have cellulite where my bottom meets my thighs, and a smattering of hair across my ass and on my lower back. Around the front there’s a tuft of hair, normally well groomed but always with a few ingrown hairs or red marks in the waxed area. A small “snail trail” of hair leads to my belly button, which is an ‘inny’ and sits in the middle of my almost perfectly round, protruding tummy. My hips are disproportionately wide considering my small stature.
My large breasts sit upright without a bra, although one is a little bit lopsided. My nipples are large but point in slightly different directions. There are sometimes a few small pimples on my chest and back. My shoulders are small and my arms are skinny and weak. My shoulder blades protrude when I stretch and move; they are angular and sharp.
My skin is incredibly soft but it’s an almost translucent white with only the slightest hint of the Mediterranean yellow that allows me to tan easily in summer. My hair is long and unruly with some fly aways and presently, many split ends. I get pimples on my face frequently, and my nose, in profile, is very large and inhabited by a generous number of blackheads. I have what my brother calls “John Howard” eyebrows, and very pretty, long lashes. I have chubby cheeks and dimples when I smile. My teeth have been corrected by braces as a teenager so are quite straight, but the front two are large, round and bunnyish. I also have a very small moustache on my upper lip.
Why I hated my body then
As a child, bodies didn’t register as something of importance in any emotional sense. Bodies were for climbing trees, playing soccer or cops and robbers in the school yard and for creating human pyramids. While I was allowed to play with Barbie, I was never allowed to read teen girl magazines, and my parents raised me on mantras of “you must love learning” and “just be healthy and happy.”
When I went to high school, however, I found myself exposed to a whole array of new and confusing feelings that began as simply as the other girls, at the small age of 12, complaining about the things they hated on their bodies. Cue Mean Girls montage. And so my intent focus began to harangue my imperfections. I wasn’t tall enough. I wasn’t blonde enough. I wasn’t tanned enough. And that was only scratching the surface. Mostly, I didn’t feel like I was thin enough, and this was reinforced by a steady stream of bullying and the celebrities I began to idolize.
My dysmorphic notions and my subsequent eating disorder were by no means severe, and I’m eternally grateful for that (because I have experienced, through friends and acquaintances, the harrowing ways in which ongoing disorders can tragically affect lives). I stopped eating in my final years of school and as I felt the weight dropping I experienced two very startling realities—that the people who made me feel inadequate continued to do so, despite my efforts at ridiculously minimizing my weight, going to the solarium and straightening my hair and that my health was declining, manifested through lethargy, constant illness and some average grades at school. I learned very quickly that in this dangerous game I was playing, too much would never be enough, and that there were more important things in my life than looking like the shell of an Olsen twin.
Why I love my body now
Because why not? Seriously. What is the value in being consumed in self loathing when I can focus my energies elsewhere—to eating delicious foods, drinking, having fun with friends, indulging in life, reading, learning, writing, adventuring, trying all the wonderful things life has to offer and having ample engery to do so. Don’t get me wrong—I believe in being healthy, and I don’t think a life of fast food and partying is any more fulfilling than a life of self-imposed restrictions. Balance is the key; for every Big Mac meal there will be a salad to follow, and even the occasional yoga class. But I also don’t believe in beating myself up if I don’t exercise for a week, or if I eat badly for a day. I simply don’t have the time.
Moreover—I have a family who loves me, wonderful friends, food to eat, a roof over my head and the occasional few dollars to indulge in shopping, travel, shows and whatnot. Why would I want to add completely unnecessary stress and discontentment to a life that, for all intents and purposes, is virtually perfect? I’ve had hard times, people have died, my heart has been broken by more than just romance, and I’ve found ways to get through these real hard times with a smile. Hating my body has, after only 26 years, become somewhat of and inconvenience and a frivolity I like to keep reserved to the self-indulgence of pubecence.
I sometimes have my days where I wish this was different or that was different. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t get pimples? Or gosh if I were taller I’d be able to reach those cookies on the top shelf. And these jeans would fit much better if I didn’t have this pot belly. But I’ve learned to keep such thoughts as they should be—fleeting. I can see them for what they are to me now, as a grown up—a fantasy. Like wishing for more money or magic powers, wishing for my body to be different is a momentary emotion, and I appreciate how unrealistic it is. Most importantly though, I’ve learned to focus on the things I love about my body—I love my round tooshie, my womanly hips and jelly legs, because these things are beautiful to me, even if they’re not supposed to be.
I’ve found a way to be really happy with what I have, and to embrace it, even the soft bits. Obviously the attitude I’ve developed doesn’t apply to all cases; it’s impossible to throw a blanket cure over an issue that comes in so many differing forms, that can range from being a surmountable matter of self-perception (as it was with me) or a true and crippling mental and physical illness. But it’s an undeniable fact that there’s a certain sense of all-consuming contentment that comes with feeling safe in one’s own skin. And if someone else doesn’t like it—that’s their problem. Because when push comes to shove, the people I want in my life aren’t going to want to be in my life because of the way I look naked (and if they do, kudos to them, because all my “weird” bits are actually really sexy).