Featured Image by @celinanicoleart
It was after a conversation with my roommates about the “body positivity movement” that I realized something. Though I’m quick to celebrate women who fully and confidently embrace their bodies – bodies that don’t fit into narrow societal norms of what’s deemed “beautiful” – I don’t allow myself the same level of acceptance.
I’m quick to call out a friend out who questions ordering a cheesy pasta dish or crispy truffle fries because of the calorie content. “Eat what you want!” I’ll encourage her. Yet I feel a tinge of guilt and anxiety when I indulge in the like
After a day of happily consuming nothing put pizza, chicken wings and beer with friends, I make a mental note to sustain myself on nothing but roasted veggies and quinoa during the days that follow.
The representation of a wider range of bodies in mainstream media is something I’ve rallied around for years, and recently many (yet not nearly enough) brands have hopped on board to this idea. The hope being that women, and men, will see people who look like them on billboards, on TV, in music videos, in clothing ads, and they’ll feel more accepted in the bodies they’ve been born into.
So if I believe in this movement, if I see women of all shapes and sizes with perceived “flaws” as beautiful, if I admire the confidence they exude, it should make me feel more at home in my own skin, right?
Sometimes it does. But not always.
For so many years I’ve felt like a fraud, in a constant turmoil being stretched between two worlds.
In one world, the world I want to exist, I do what I want. I eat what I want, I don’t pay attention to how tight or loose my jeans feel. I celebrate the fact that I can quickly pack on ten extra “thick” pounds rather than seeing it as an issue. In this world there is no correct size, or weight, or calorie counting, or toning my butt to look good in one of those high-cut swimsuits. In this world I can just be. I don’t even really think about my body other than that it exists to keep me alive and help me participate in life. I like this world.
Then there’s the other world. The world that is my current reality. The world inside my own head. Where I’m listening to my inner dialogue and desires and figuring out what makes me, personally, happy in the actual world. I put myself before any standard or movement, no matter how positive or progressive it might be, and do what feels best for myself. It’s the world where I’m striving to feel most at home in my body and drown out opinions expressed by anyone else.
Truthfully, in this world I’m striving to be a little bit slimmer, to exercise almost daily, to eat well and be strong, and finally master a forearm stand – because that’s the body I feel I fit into. That’s the body I think I’ll feel most at home in.
But this is where things get tricky. It’s hard to recognize if that’s my personal view of what makes me feel good, or if it’s an ideal that has been set by ideals deeply embedded into our culture. Being a woman who grew up in a time with such narrow beauty standards, those two worlds are almost impossible to separate and have become so muddled that I don’t know what’s my own true inner dialogue and what is a construct of the world that I live in. But I guess what’s inside me is a result of the world around me anyways, right?
I just feel sometimes like I can’t win.
Now it’s hard to talk about women’s bodies without bringing feminism into the conversation – or at least it is for me. But if we want to get into it all, at the core of its meaning, feminism is the belief that women should have the ability and access to do whatever they choose with their lives and shouldn’t be judged for it. As Amy Poehler so eloquently put it, her feminist motto is, “Good for you, not for me”, when it comes to other women’s choices.
At the end of the day, if I want to eat healthy and workout and change the shape of my body, that is my choice. I shouldn’t feel ashamed and be shamed for wanting to take weight off of my body or add weight to it. And along with that, I cannot shame or tell another woman to do or think something about her own body.
We have to be careful to not move so deeply into a movement that shakes up the “status quo” that we don’t allow nuance. That we don’t go so far into counter-culture, that anyone who subscribes to the previous culture is wrong or ignorant. Maybe they want to be a part of it? Is that so terrible? Someone doing what they want?
The important thing to note is that people shouldn’t be subscribing to a narrow standard because they think it’s the only option. Or the “best” option because it’s the one that’s most popularized.
I believe the body positivity movement is not trying to tell people what to do with their bodies. It’s trying to thwart the narrow standards that made us feel like our uniquely-shaped bodies weren’t right in the first place. It’s a good thing in its most basic nature.
What it shouldn’t do is add yet another pressure onto your life. It shouldn’t make you feel worse about yourself as a woman or a feminist because it’s not “working” on you, or because you’re not applying its messages to your life every. single. day.
Some days, you might just loathe the way you look. You pick a fight with your thighs. You wish you could squeeze into your “skinny” jeans again. Guess what? You’re human. And those days will happen. You’re beating yourself up enough through those feelings – the last thing you need piled on top of that mess is to feel bad about feeling bad about yourself.
Truly, what excites me most about the movement, is that it’s creating a new future for girls to grow up in. And they might one day not have to deal with a murky inner dialogue of deciphering what’s personal and what’s the world’s view.
But I, like so many of my peers, are sadly not the product of the body positivity movement but the builders of it, and the ones so desperately trying to believe in its doctrine.
At the end of day, I think its most important to strive for personal happiness. To be kind to ourselves and give ourselves grace. To do what’s right for you. To sift through what the world is telling you – the good, the bad, the well intentioned, the misinterpreted – and try and somehow (I know, it’s literally impossible) make choices for you, and for no one else. And to celebrate and encourage each other for doing the same.