Friday, July 5, 2013

Candid Thoughts on Body Image

I don't know if any of you read the Princess Diaries books when you were younger. I did. Mia spends the first few books trying to find "self actualization," aka trying to realize her full potential and find self love. Mia does eventually realize herself - she stands up to her psycho grandmother (these books are much less emotionally satisfying than the movies), falls in love, and, with the help of a team of stylists, conquers the dreaded triangle hair and realizes that she is in fact pretty.

One of these things is great! The other two, eh, not so much. She uses a boyfriend and her looks to find actualization as opposed to self discovery through her heart. And lucky for Mia, she is naturally blessed with long legs, blonde hair, a fast metabolism, and a perfect weight. The only things that make her awkward are bad hair and poor wardrobe choices.

In the musical, Hairspray, Tracy Turnblad, plus sized wonder girl, finds actualization through her dancing, singing, a boy, and realizing that her truly unhealthy weight is beautiful all the same. And this is totally true - I'm not saying she isn't beautiful - and this wonderful for all big girls out there to realize.


What about the normal girls? The ones that are 5 or 10 overweight and average height, average weight, average everything?  The ones that don't have romance just waiting around the corner or a TV show conveniently needing a dancer? No one cares about them enough to write a book or a movie about them. There's no glamour in average or in losing the last 10 pounds.

And that's bullshit. Sorry, but it is. Most of us do not have supermodel bodies or plus sized bodies. Most of us are normal. And no one sticks up for us.

I saw a meme this morning of three friends walking together, all of them wearing leggings as pants. You can't see any of their faces in the picture. One of them was a BIG girl, and honestly, she looked awful. The caption was "LEGGINGS: NOT FOR EVERYONE." And the comments section was in an uproar about how beautiful she was and how she can wear what ever she wanted to as long as she felt sexy. And then there were some comments about how only the super skinny girl in the middle was worth looking at. And then there were more comments about how people needed to leave the big girl alone and she can wear whatever she wants.

And she can. Fine. That's fine with me.

But writing this post is a girl who has struggled with her weight and body image her whole life. From a girl who encouraged not to wear her Bad-Sandy pants in a revival of Grease in high school because she had gained 5 pounds. And who gets cast as hookers because she just has "more curves" than the other girls.

What about girls like me? No one really cares about how we feel because we're not too skinny or too big. So we must just be fine. And it obviously won't hurt us when comments like "Oh, well, they only hire hot waitresses there," referring to a restaurant that did not hire them, get thrown around. Or those "motivational" e-cards that say things like, "Do not reward yourself with food, you are not a dog" or the infamous "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Lies. Nutella exists. And ice cream. And bacon. And a whole lot of things taste real good.

We don't have a right to say "Curvy and proud" and we don't get called skinny either. It's not breaking the social restrictions or brave for us to wear bikinis - I just agonize having to put the thing on and I force myself to do it to try to conquer this raging critic inside. And people still cast judgement on our not perfectly flat stomachs and the little protective pooch that won't go away no matter how many crunches we do.

We're the middle ground - the ones that people say would be "so pretty if we lost a couple pounds." I'm the one at the gym, every day, working my tail off, and still feeling like if I could just work harder, I would feel better and feel more confident.

Looks ARE NOT everything. That is not what I am trying to say in this post. What really matters is your heart and your capacity to love. But let's not pretend that looks are not a huge part of our culture. That little girls are not raised to want to look a certain way. That body image is volatile and can affect your very ability to love and be loved. Body image is what causes things like eating disorders and poor body image comes from everything. Something - an ad, a flippant remark, a movie - finds the chink in your armor. So this is important stuff to think about and to talk about.

I touched on the fact that I have body image issue maybe once or twice before, but most people don't know that it is really bad. I look in the mirror and analyze the flaws. I weight myself as much at 3 times a day and obsess over the number and the mere tenths of a pound I might gain or lose over a given day. I count calories. I work out. I tried to Purge once, but I couldn't do it.

And I know that I am not the only young woman to struggle with this. Society puts incredible pressure on young woman to be thin, but if you're not thin, it's okay if you're fat! Society will still come to bat for you most of the time. Big girls are supposed to be "Big and proud of it!" Even in fashion magazines from Seventeen to Cosmopolitan, it goes straight from thin to "curvy," and by curvy they really mean plus sized. There is not even fashion advice for me in our culture.

And I've been stewing about it and struggling with it for so long that here comes this blog post. I wouldn't be writing this or posting these pictures if it weren't something important to me. I'm finally saying that that is wrong.

We are all beautiful, but the normal, struggling, unhappy girl is too. And maybe she deserves some credit for all the gym hours and dieting that she does so she can make herself happier and healthier. Everyone deserves some recognition for trying to be as healthy as they can.

We have a new wave of celebrities, like Jennifer Lawrence, who aren't afraid of their shape. J. Law talks openly about loving food, and loving all the "bad foods" and the fact that she has been called obese by Hollywood standards. She is fit and healthy and a normal girl shape and she has maintained that without starving herself and still eating the food that she loves. She deserves huge props for that - I'm not even a star and I fight the urge to skip meals and cut calories because I am so discouraged. I love J. Law and I cannot wait to see what else she does. I don't think Hollywood quite knows what to do with her and I love it.

How do we find actualization when the world makes us feel like we are not quite up to muster? Well, we can have an f-you attitude and be ourselves so loudly that people have to take notice. But that just sounds exhausting.

Are we destined to unhappy and discontented? Wondering if every time we wear shorts if people are looking because they like our legs or because we jiggle a little bit? Are we just supposed to train harder and longer than everybody else?

I am generally in favor of just existing and loving ourselves the best we can. But it's not always easy. most of the time it is challenge, at least for me. And that's normal too, I think. Self doubt is a part of human nature and as soon as I figure out how to get rid of it, I will let you all know!!

But here we are, the host of normal girls. And let's take a little bit of our world back.