Why A Healthy Body Image Comes From Within, Not From The Norm Set By Society
I wasn’t taught to compare myself to anyone or to confine myself to a certain standard.
My mother definitely didn't teach me this; she dressed me in gender-neutral clothes, and I had to negotiate having Barbie Dolls because they supported an unrealistic idea of how a woman should look. I didn't worry about that kind of stuff and didn't draw comparisons.
This is probably why it took me until middle school to realize that we all have bodies.
I can remember the first time I became aware of what I looked like and how it didn’t fit the accepted “ideal.” It was either the fifth or sixth grade when I realized I wasn’t the “right” weight and I didn’t have the “right” hair.
This happened in the midst of an awkward stage when I also became suddenly aware of all the bodies walking around me.
I became aware of how my friends' bodies were better than mine; how she had perfect curves even though she was heavier (thick by the chosen ideal’s standards) than I was; and how that girl over there had breasts that were much bigger and rounder than mine, and her skin was olive and mine was fair and broken out.
Based on these comparisons, I felt that my tits were too small, my legs were too skinny, my skin was too crater-infested and my stomach still carried too much baby fat. I was ugly.
The fact that I would sit with my girlfriends, looking at Victoria’s Secret magazines, picking out which bodies we wish we had and which model was the prettiest probably didn’t help, either.
All I knew at the time was that I wasn’t good enough, given that women like Gisele were real and among us. They were the height of what a woman should be and I was so far from that.
I grew defeated and simultaneously determined to do something about the way I looked. Then, of course, the guys liked my friends, all of whom were more attractive than I was. I was left there, alone, looking down at myself and wanting to be in any body but my own.
That is where it started.
I never had an eating disorder, but I was always painfully aware of my weight and my appearance; it started when I was around 12 or 13 years old.
I can’t say that any one thing caused this. Did magazines give me plenty of ammo for comparison? Sure, but the point is, I came up with the idea that I was imperfect all by myself. The magazine didn’t tell me that with photos.
Maybe this is normal for a young teenage girl; it was for me, at least. However, I am not a teenage girl anymore.
I am 25 years old, and while my insecurity isn't at the low level it was when I was a teenage girl, I still find myself doing the whole comparison thing, often. To women like me, I say the following to you:
Challenge your beliefs and your expectations for yourself.
The entire time I've lived in this body, I've wanted to get out of it or mold it into something better. It was never good enough.
I thought it had to do with me not looking like the girls in the magazines, but the truth is, it had to do with what I believed about myself. It had to do with the standards I had created.
So, I pose these questions to myself and to every woman: What is good enough? What is pretty enough? Where do we set the limits? Who defined it said limits?
When I get thin, my face breaks out. If my skin is perfect, my body is flawed. If my skin and body are okay, my teeth might be crooked or my hair might be the wrong color.
My butt is too saggy, my boobs aren't big enough, my waist isn't tiny enough and on and on and on.
It is tiring to think about. There was always something wrong with me.
Marilyn Monroe And The Root Of The Problem
It's common knowledge that Marilyn Monroe had measurements that would qualify her to be plus-size by today's standards.
There's a photo floating around the Internet that says, “When did this become sexy?” and it's a picture of Monroe next to a contemporary model.
Honestly, this is a large part of the problem, but the problem isn’t society; the problem is the constant comparison that women make to other women.
We shouldn't need external validation from another woman’s body, just like we shouldn't feel bad after noticing another woman's body.
If instead of comparing yourself to a runway model, you compare yourself to Marilyn Monroe, it's still not helpful because you are trying to fit into some pre-determined standard of beauty rather than your own.
What I am doing differently and you should, too
Stop looking at supposed “flawed” women for reassurance. In fact, stop looking at other people altogether; look within yourself.
As soon as you say, “Marilyn Monroe doesn’t fit the chosen ideal, but was still beautiful,” you reinforce the idea that there is a chosen ideal of what you should look like and that she was or wasn’t it.
As soon as we say, “When did sexy become a size two?” we create a negative reinforcement. Even when we are trying to be positive about our bodies, we end up creating comparisons. We need to just stop.
Look at your own body. See yourself and your beauty. Stop looking outside and begin to look inward.
Grab the extra fat on your tummy, or your boobs, which you think are too big or too small, and realize that you are made of the same flesh as everyone else.
Smile and notice the wrinkles next to your eyes, how your upper lip thins out. See the creases in your neck, lift your arms and notice the tightness or looseness under your arms. Notice your scars.
Notice your muscles. Notice the tone and shape of your body. Notice the roundness of your butt. Notice the shape of your thighs. Notice it as a whole body, not singular parts.
Then, notice what makes you perfect — the “imperfections” — and realize that those make you beautiful. Notice how your entire body comes together to create a beautiful image that merely started out as love, which you may or may not hate.
Be who you are — gap-toothed, size 12, size two, double D or A cup — and realize that your beauty doesn’t radiate from skin and bone, but from what goes on in your soul.
You are beautiful, and I don’t need to tell you that. All the love and positivity you need is already within — you just need to tap into it.
Forget Marilyn Monroe and even forget me. Go get your own beauty on.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock