I didn’t really have much sex or biology education. I didn’t really know that the little pooch I’d been hating on and trying to get rid of since I was 6 years old was actually my uterus and was supposed to be there. I didn’t know that having different sized breasts than the rest of the girls my age was pretty normal. I just didn’t know. I’ve spent my whole life hating the body I was born in and thinking that I wasn’t enough; I’ve spent too much time thinking I was too chunky, had too short of a waist, my thighs were too fat, my head was an ugly shape, my cheeks were too chubby, and that if I could just *fix* all the little things, that I could have a chance at being happy.
I’d been told by the strong, beautiful women in my life that they believed they were fat, old, and ugly, but that I was young, skinny, and beautiful. I never believed them about either statement. I was told from a young age that God created my body perfectly and without any flaws one minute, but the next minute would be looked up and down and told I needed to lose a bit of weight, or that I needed to suck my lips in a bit because they were too big, or that I wasn’t allowed to show skin anywhere because it would cause men to stumble, or that the outfit I was wearing made me look like a prostitute (I was informed what prostitutes were at the ripe age of 7 because of the leopard-print shirt I wanted to get at Walmart).
After graduating high-school, I started gaining weight in my hips, belly, and face, and could not see myself as “normal”. I saw my best friends going off to college and looking the same as they did in high school and got jealous. Why did I have to be the ugly duckling? As I neared my early 20’s, I was convinced that I was predestined to be a nasty, fat, worthless “woman”. I didn’t meet western society’s projected beauty standards, and I tried telling myself that I didn’t care anymore. Deep down, I still very much did care and was incredibly self-conscious. After 23 years of walking the earth (some of it was rolling and crawling), I’ve finally learned that I have a woman’s body now. Shocking, isn’t it? I stopped being a teenager when I turned 20, and I stopped having a teenager’s body a little bit before that.
As women, we’ve been conditioned to think that women’s bodies are unacceptable, that they’re unprofessional and unattractive. We’ve been systemically taught that we shouldn’t focus too much on our appearance, but if we don’t focus on it just enough, we won’t amount to anything or be successful. We’ve been pressured to think that expensive and “high-quality” beauty products, fashion items, and treatments are signs of authority and value, and that the budget alternatives make us “trashy” and “cheap”. Society then turns on us and chastises us for being irresponsible with our money by using it to “try to impress men”. Our worth has been correlated with our weight, hair, makeup, nails, and sense of style. If a woman doesn’t have the body of a teenager, the hair and makeup of a supermodel, and the fashion sense of a 30, flirty, and thriving, chances are likely that they won’t be respected.
When did this start though? Surely, women having women’s bodies has to have been mainstream at some point. We look back to media icons in the 1950’s like Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor who weren’t toned and completely slim. They had a belly, they had cheeks, they had undefined jawlines. They were okay with it. The world was okay with it. In fact, actresses such as Audrey Hepburn were criticized for being slim and toned.
While every world culture has had vastly different ideas of what “beautiful” was, every world culture has had a strived-for and evolving aesthetic since the beginning of time. Whether the sought-after look had something to do with someone’s fertility or social status, appearance has always been a key pillar to every culture. Western culture seems to be a defining and trend-setting culture for much of the world, so when western culture decided that minors’ bodies were attractive, businesses globally capitalized on the insecurities of normal women.
Women have been sold the lie that their bodies are too hairy, have too much cellulite, and cannot have belly fat, and if any such unsightly traits are present, they need to pay to get it fixed. Women have been constantly bombarded with photoshopped and retouched images of other women who professionally starve themselves and exercise for their career. By seeing these images, normal women subconsciously get the idea that they need to go on a diet and follow specific workout routines in order to get a body that looks like someone else’s… that isn’t even real. They try to find a way to fit this regimen into their busy lives of work, school, family, and social obligations. They end up disappointed.
In pre-marital counseling, my husband and I took an assessment to calculate where our strong and weak points in marriage would be. It turns out, one of my most toxic traits was having an incredibly negative self-image. Despite having an incredible boyfriend (turned fiancé) tell me daily that I was beautiful and loved for nine months, I still couldn’t see it for myself. I saw myself as my insecurities. Though we don’t fight often, we had a serious discussion about how neither of us wanted my toxic insecurities to be passed on to our children if we ever had them. I had inherited my mother’s habit of negative self talk and her utter hatred of how she looked in photos. Instead of seeing a perfectly formed healthy woman’s body, I saw the girl who was insecure and ashamed about not having her high school body anymore. I thought it was all of the chicken nuggets I ate when I was younger punishing me for not eating a salad instead.
The media I grew up seeing represented was unrealistically skinny cartoons of white princesses and working women. Though the intended moral of the story was generally to be kind and you’ll get a handsome prince to fall in lasting love with you, the moral that myself and many others learned was that you needed to be perfect and beautiful in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. The damage these kinds of ideals inflicts is astronomical. It has created generations of individuals who suffer from body dysmorphia, depression, and anxiety. It has created a $532 billion worldwide beauty industry (https://dealsonhealth.net/blog/beauty-industry-statistics/) and a $72 billion diet and weight loss industry (https://apnews.com/press-release/pr-businesswire/ec35f3315f9a4816985615391f41815a). Both industries are profitable and exploitable.
Ok, ok… So culture is exploiting women’s insecurities for profit and has convinced both men and women of certain standards necessary in order to be “attractive.” We know that’s harmful and in need of change, right? So how would we go about making systemic change? Representation. Representation is absolutely crucial to reforming decades of deep-seated insecurity, misogyny, and double standards. It took 23 years for me to see normal, healthy, beautiful women who were built like me be confidently represented on any media platform. It took 23 years to not feel ashamed of eating, the way my body jiggles when I walk, or having body hair. It took me 23 years to wear the clothes I had always wanted to wear, but thought I wasn’t able to because of my body type.
Several of my friends and acquaintances told me their stories of the journey to accepting their bodies. Whether it was growing a life and breastfeeding to sustain that life, whether it was going through natural stages of puberty and adulthood and accepting the curves they were given, many mentioned how hard it was to accept that they were not truthfully unhealthy or abnormal. I am so encouraged to see a generation realizing that their bodies are lovely, wonderful, and not a curse or something to be fixed. The confidence exuded and realized by women is a powerful force to be reckoned with. We spend our money on what is important to us, and corporations notice. When women realize that their faces don’t need to be “fixed” by makeup anymore, they notice. When women realize that they don’t need to torture themselves on fad diets anymore, they notice. When women realize that there is nothing wrong with their natural skin tone, they notice. When women realize that they are enough, they notice.
The power is yours. Your woman’s body is normal, healthy, gorgeous, and it belongs to you. You are wonderfully and beautifully made.
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