There’s a dark place in my mind that I sometimes visit. It’s filled with frustration. Anger. Hurt. Rejection. Loneliness. Resentment. Longing. Desire. Misinformation. And a twisted sense of reality.
You see, I try to live by different words. Words of positive body image that speak to me. Worthy. Fierce. Sexy. Capable. Curvy. Supple. Bold. And above all, beautiful — both inside and out.
A few weeks ago, I traveled back to a place I’ve mostly moved on from. It’s a place I try to keep myself — and other women — from entering. A place where plus-size body image falls to the wayside.
In my 20’s, I suffered from exercise bulimia and binge eating disorder and entered treatment not once, but twice. The first bout of intensive therapy didn’t hit home. I wasn’t ready. Though my eyes started to open, the game continued. I was keeping a mental scorecard of comparisons, focused on the numbers on the scale.
Three years later, I landed back at square one, obsessed with a type of body that wasn’t mine. This time, I ventured to a smaller treatment center in California, an amazing facility filled with other struggling souls, just like me.
At first, I fought it, still determined to play the game no woman can win.
Halfway through my experience, a young woman with anorexia suffered from a seizure. It happened faster than I could process. Her body twitched and pulsated as we stared in fear, terrified for her life.
We were quickly ushered into a small room we’d never been in, where I saw something I’ll never forget. In a small corner of the room, there was a large white poster board propped up on a table that bore a long list of names. I’m 99 percent sure each of those names represented a young soul who had lost the battle, though I never had the opportunity to ask. At that moment, I realized this was no game of numbers. It was a fight for life.
For me, it was also a fight for sanity. Health. Happiness. Humility. Spirituality. Surrender. And above all, love of self.
That very encounter with mortality changed everything inside of me. It was as if a bright light flipped on. I made an instantaneous vow to celebrate my body for what it is: a gift. A vessel that allows me to work, move, breathe, and most importantly … to live.
No matter what size it is.
It’s been more than 15 years since that experience. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds. In truth, I’m a different person. I’m no longer obsessed with outer appearances or things I can’t be. I’m a person on a mission to reach the highest state of self-love, no matter what stage of life I’m in.
But that doesn’t mean that once every few years the struggle doesn’t return.
A few weeks ago, I ran into one of those stumbling blocks. The pain resurfaced, all because of a few comments that I allowed (note that I say ALLOWED) myself to internalize. This pain started because a dear male friend made three comments about curvy women on three separate occasions.
Yes, I remember all of them.
The first frustration occurred when I suggested that a friend of his go out with a friend of mine, and he asked, “Is she fat?” The second was about a hook up he had many years ago … with a larger woman. And the third was about another single woman, again with the question: “Is she big?”
You see, some men are so hard on women. Especially my dear friend … as much as I adore him. He would never mean to hurt me. (In fact, when I told him how hurt I was, he felt horrible. I know he’ll never joke about it again.)
I felt like my spirit was crushed. That time of wishing, longing and wanting to be something else returned. I faced a renewed, deep desire to be naturally thin … which, may I add, I’ll never be. It’s not in my genetic make-up.
Along with this, a decades-old anger arose toward men who expect too much out of women. Not only are they criticizing me, they’re criticizing my soul sisters. These strong, amazing, beautiful women with hearts of gold shouldn’t be criticized for not fitting into a mold someone else wants them to conform to.
At times like these, I initially coil up into a ball — ready to strike. But I soon realize that the best way I can fight back is to share important facts and tips to help other women who have broken hearts over poor body image.
Women. Like. Me.
So this is my small attempt to change the world and again heal my heart. Yes, in the big picture it’s minuscule. But I’m hoping that it just might plant a seed that someday grows into a tree.
And so we begin…
#1: Most women pick their bodies apart. Every single day.
My friend, you and I are anything but alone in our body image struggles. Most women size up their bodies and feel like they just can’t compare — including many of the women we think should be thrilled with their amazing figures.
How do I know this? (Get ready to gasp.) Body image statistics are changing at an alarming rate. A 1997 Psychology Today survey found that 56 percent of women weren’t happy with how they looked. Fast forward two decades and, as noted by Dosomething.org, 91 percent of us aren’t happy with our physique.
You see, all women struggle. We all have days when dissatisfaction with the jiggles, the middles, and the not-so-littles creeps into our self-esteem. It’s exhausting. So no, you’re not alone. You’re human.
#2: Most of us do not have the hourglass shape we’re obsessed with.
If you’re feeling singled out in the placement of your curves, you’re again part of a worldwide club of women. It’s no secret that the media portrays the hourglass shape as the female ideal. Even plus-size sites celebrate women with voluptuous hips and comparatively small waists.
You might be one of those lucky women. Kudos to you if you are. But you’re still awesomely sexy if you aren’t. Most of us don’t fit that mold. In fact, a 2014 British study found that less than a third of younger women had an hourglass shape. And just four percent of women possessed this body shape at an older age. Even more interestingly, the most common shape was the rectangle. Yes, square all around.
#3: Most folks aren’t like my friend.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article on women, sex and body image for a national website. Specifically, I delved into how body image affects our sex lives. In the process, I interviewed a number of folks I didn’t know. I also chatted with numerous male friends. And wow, did I ever learn a lot!
We are so wrong in our thinking. The majority of men (and women, spouses, partners, whatever your jam is) want us to be ourselves, not someone we think we should be. They love curves, no matter where they are. They love boobies, no matter how saggy, large or small. A couple of them even told me they think stretch marks are sexy. (I laughed at that one. It seemed like, well, a stretch to me.)
The overall picture I got is that they aren’t sizing us up the way we do. It’s our femininity that they love. Our spontaneous giggles. Our female intuition. Our ability to be exactly who we are, in any mood.
In other words, they’re not as critical as we think. And if they are, screw ’em. They’re not worth your time — or mine.
#4: Positive body image comes from you and you alone.
Even more importantly, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Are you hearing this? Many of us fall into a trap, basing body image on feedback from others. It happens to all of us.
Here’s the thing: If you do this, you’ll never be happy. You become what you think, right? So choose your thoughts wisely. Never base how you feel about yourself on what others say, do, or believe. Base it on finding the best version of yourself, no matter what size or shape you may be.
And that, my friends, is where positive body image begins. Do you have other tips to share? Post them below.