10 Stories on Women and Body Image
Words by Sarah Hartley, Editor in Chief
As a woman, it’s often been built into my way of thinking that I need to look a certain way. I can remember being aware of what my body looked like from the time I was in grade school. I wanted my clothes to fit a certain way so that I’d look cute and attractive to the boys in my class. I knew that I had the mentality to take these thoughts too far, so as I’ve gotten older, I’ve refused to keep a scale in the house. I knew that if I did, I’d start to obsess and that it could easily spiral out of control, and to a dangerous place.
When I was pregnant with my son, I had a very hard time seeing the beauty in my new body. I was in awe that I was physically growing another human being, but aside from that, I just felt ugly and out of shape. But after having him, something in my mindset shifted. I no longer felt the urge to get back into my size 4 jeans. I wanted to be healthy enough to chase after him, but the size of my pants no longer mattered.
But this issue isn’t unique to just me. Women across the world have been made to believe that we’re supposed to fit into a specific mold. But through these featured stories, you’ll see women of all sizes and shapes and they all have one thing in common - they’re beautiful exactly the way they are.
10 Stories on Women and Body Image
It is my job as a mama and a yoga teacher to not only empower my daughter but to empower anyone who walks through my studio door, to live their life the way THEY want to. Not how some square photo on Instagram tells them to. To not think negatively because they aren't built like a Victoria's Secret model, but to be proud of how they ARE built and made. They are beautiful just the way they are.
I would like to think that if I have a daughter I can raise her in a world where the media isn’t purely dominated by unobtainable body shapes, and I think we are getting there. Famous women seem to be standing up to a certain element of realness, and their passion and power is overriding the media’s choice to put a more aesthetically pleasing body on the cover of their magazine. We still have a long way to go, though.
I always wanted to be considered one of the pretty girls. I knew I wasn’t – I had frizzy hair and a gap in my teeth and I was taller than my pants were long. I didn’t have any breasts and I hadn’t gotten my period yet. I stuffed my bra with socks and smeared lipstick in my panties, hoping no one would discover my secret that I was not yet a woman. These were the things I eagerly awaited because my mom told me that was the point things would change.
But it didn’t.
After the surrogacy, I tried to lose more weight than what I had gained for that pregnancy. I tried getting rid of the stretch marks. I tried the spandex slimming waist control top shorts. I tried the breast lifting bras. I gave up pop. I did a lot of walking. Nothing seemed to help me regain what I thought a decent body looked like. I fell into a mild depression over this.
In a world where every ad we see is altered, re-touching software is readily available at our fingertips, and society puts the ideal of “perfection” on a pedestal, it is imperative that we know what beauty is to us. We have to define it for ourselves. How do you define beauty?
Look. I know I've been hating on the rolls around my middle and the way that fat has pooled in my torso. I know that I've been cruel about my thighs and how no part of my body fits anymore into clothes I've had for at least 10 years. I want you to understand how hard it is to get used to this new body after having the same body for most of my life... but I also know I need to be kinder.
It never occurred to me that I handed over control of my self-image to everyone around me. And they all had an opinion. If I let the unsolicited feedback affect me positively and carried myself with confidence I often received a clear message from my contemporaries that I was vain, conceited, self-absorbed, or worse. If I dared to complain about a perceived flaw I was met with chuckles and eye rolling; “What do you have to be self-conscious about?”. I was not allowed to feel good or bad about myself.
We can be so cruel to our bodies. From what we say to ourselves, to what we eat, drink, and think, to the ways that we harm ourselves and the company we keep. We can take our abilities for granted until something limits or restricts an ability we are so used to on a daily basis.
I have flaws and insecurities, sure. I have a bump in my nose that makes people ask if it's ever been broken, my curly hair is never defined and smooth like those shampoo commercials would make you believe, and I have stretch marks in places I didn't know could stretch (side note: EVERYTHING can stretch).
The truth of the matter is that happiness doesn’t start in a fitting room with a shirt or a pair of jeans. It doesn’t start on a scale in the morning or by picking your way through a salad when your stomach is begging for a burger. It doesn’t start with collarbones or tiny waists or six months of starving yourself.
If happiness starts within us, then it stays within us.
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