I’ve learned in the past few years not to hate my body. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made by God — so I can’t hate it. But that does not mean I’ve loved it.
In the past two months I’ve talked more about my body (with strangers and friends and strangers who’ve become friends) than I have in my entire life. I’ve wept with people who understand body image issues, I’ve spoken with men who resonate with my struggle, and I’ve been challenged by those who read deep insecurity and lingering pain in my words.
But I’m not alone in this fight. 90% of women say they hate their bodies. 90%. In case you’re not good with percentages, that means 9 out of 10. An overwhelming majority. Women aren’t alone in hating their bodies of course; some studies even suggest that men are actually just as dissatisfied with their appearance as women are. And I think it’s time to stop all that mess.
There are questions I’m still wrestling with though. Like, how would my life change if I believed other people, specifically men, believed my body was beautiful just as it is — not disgusting or acceptable or fixable but actually beautiful? And, even more so, how would my life change if I believed my body was beautiful?
In order to begin tackling these questions, I have to confront others: What does it mean to view your body as beautiful? Why does it feel so important for someone else to think my body is beautiful? And what is the difference between embracing your body and showing it off?
I think Aristotle, self-help guru that he was, gives us a pretty useful tool in the discussion of bodies and beauty. He’s credited with originating of the golden, or virtuous, mean, which essentially says that in between two trenches (or less desirable options) there is this lovely middle ground. Courage acts as the golden mean between cowardice and recklessness.
In the same way, I think I’ve been lying to myself and living my life in one of two trenches: 1) Choosing to dress in an almost a-sexual fashion by covering up neck, navel, and knees in an effort to remain modest (this is also necessary if you’re a bigger woman like me and feel uncomfortable with any amount of spandex or lycra in a clothing item — my whole wardrobe acts as a blurring tool to my curves, trying to soften and reduce the amount of space they take up). 2) Or, when that inevitably becomes exhausting and I have a Friday night on the town, I lean into my sexuality. Frumpy frocks don’t make for great party wear, so I foolhardily jump from the matronly ship to the temptation one as I embrace the only role my body can play — luring in men.
But, despite this series of misconceptions, these aren’t my only options. There is a virtuous mean: I can simply choose to believe and dress like my body, as it currently is, is beautiful. I don’t have to try to constantly make it smaller through three pairs of Spanx, a loose sweater and a strategically placed belt. I don’t have to wear dark colors that divert attention, hoping someone’s eye will skip right over me because I mistakenly believe that big bodies already draw enough attention to themselves and shouldn’t demand more. And, on the other hand, I don’t have to wear low-cut shirts and short shorts in an effort to give my body value by making it an object on display.
Living in the Mean
“How would you dress if you believed that your body was beautiful and other people thought so too?”
That question was asked of me, and it’s changed my life, or at least my wardrobe. If I believed my body was beautiful, my deciding factor with each piece of clothing wouldn’t be “How small does this make me look?”
If I believed my body was beautiful, I would take pride in wearing clothes that fit well, pieces that highlight and accentuate instead of diminish and camouflage.
If I believed my body was beautiful, I’d wear that red dress that I’ve had hanging in my closet for six months, put on every week or so, and never make it out of the apartment in.
If I believed my body was beautiful, I would stop assuming you didn’t.
If I believed my body was beautiful, I wouldn’t feel like patterns that draw attention are traffic cones indicating an “under construction” site.
If I believed my body was beautiful, I’d worry a little less about punishing it for not conforming and a little more about rewarding it for being strong and healthy and fully functioning.
If I believed my body was beautiful, I could look at other imperfect bodies and see them as beautiful as well.
I’m coming to believe we only experience as much shame over our bodies as we’re internalizing standards other people have for us. But that’s fixable, you know? I’ll keep working on my body and doing my thing and striving towards health, but body wise, I think the best thing I can do isn’t to push myself harder to conform but to root out those expectations that make me feel so bad about myself.
As a caveat, beauty does not come at the cost of decency. I can dress as a woman, embracing this body God has given me in a way that is tasteful and appropriate. Is it a little more difficult than retreating to the dark-colored potato sacks I normally throw on out of convenience and fear? Yes. But it’s worth it.
With your scars and stretchmarks, love handles and lanky arms, you are beautiful. I say that, and I’m finally starting to believe it. And it’s liberating. So if you’re still in that place where you think I’m crazy and that objective standards of attractiveness should actually be adhered to, I challenge you for a week to dress like you think the body you have right now is beautiful and worthy of love. And while seven days might not change your life, hopefully it’ll change the way you see yourself, it’ll make you rethink the need for that cover-up and it’ll spur you to find someone who views your body as beautiful too.
And today? I’m wearing that red dress. And I’m rockin’ it, y’all.