Will everyone with body image issues please stand up? It doesn’t have to be extreme or life-altering, just some general disappointment in the way you look. Don’t worry, I’m standing with you. Okay, we can all sit down now. Wasn’t that nice? Fingers crossed we burned some calories.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about body positivity. I think people who can successfully admire their own bodies, no matter the shape and size, are modern marvels--especially in the face of societal beauty standards, popularized fad diets, and pretty much anything else in the modern media landscape. Those who like their looks, or just don't give it much thought, are out there fighting the good fight. Sometimes I wonder if that type of person even exists at all. Regardless, one day I aspire to be among them, not worrying about what parts of me jiggle when I go over speed bumps and whether I or not can still bend my knees in my smallest jeans, which I more or less keep around for the sole purpose of monitoring the size of my thighs. Eventually I might get rid of them, and on that fine day, maybe it’ll mean I finally understand the concept of self-love. For my physical self, that is. I actually do have a level of self-respect when it comes to my brain and personality. This is not a cry for help, I promise.
What this is is a work in progress. I’m proud to say I’m moving forward, as slowly as that may be. Hello everyone, my name is Julia, and I’ve gone a month and a half without weighing myself, about 45 minutes without my calorie-counting app. Plus, I’ve been trying to compliment myself in an attempt to follow what all my Instagram and podcast and Ted Talk gurus espouse: positive self-talk. It feels as dumb as it sounds. The way it usually goes for me is that I’m standing in front of the mirror, grimacing and pinching at my skin, all the while trying to think, you look great, Julia! What a nice, cute little belly you have. Very normal sized and attractive to many people. Good for you, Julia, and so on. Truly, a monologue fit for Shakespeare. Apparently, as a part of this process, you also have to remove your negative vocabulary while you sub in the positive thoughts, so you may notice I never refer to “problem areas” (because your body should never be seen as a problem!), or say “I’m fat” (because I’m not! and also it’s not a bad thing to be fat!), or “I’m so bad for eating that whole pie” (because food is food and shouldn’t be assigned a moral weight!), etc. I’m not sure if I’m more body-positive yet, but I’m definitely better at pretending to be.
It’s been this way been long enough now that I can immediately spot a fellow member of the self-conscious club from across the room. We have certain habits when it comes to strategically covering our bodies. One classic move is to sit, slightly bent forward, with our arms crossed tight over our midsections, which distracts from where our lower bellies spill over our waistbands. Granted, some of us have bellies that are flat and don’t spill over our waistbands at all, while others are large, with bodies that move and shake all over. It doesn’t take a specific ‘type’ to dislike one's body. We’re in it together, with the same common enemy: our own flesh. We may also sit with our feet elevated, so our thighs don’t sploosh out over our seats, or hold pillows in our laps. Then there’s my favorite: big baggy sweaters and flannels even in the summer, or shirts that we pull away from our bellies when we sit. Of course, there’s the tactic of wearing an oversized tee-shirt to the pool, which I employ using a dress-like swimsuit cover instead, as this both hides my body as well as the fact that I’m conscious of it. This way, it seems more like a simple fashion choice, and I can go on pretending to be confident. Still, when I see these signs in other people, I feel an immediate connection. Big or small, conventionally attractive or an acquired taste, there they all are, welcoming me in with their shaky smiles. We’re brothers in arms, bony arms, or hairy legs, or frizzy hair, or oily skin, or whatever it is about our bodies that we just find so hard to love. We’ll get there one day, y’all, just keep plugging away with the silly self-affirmations and wait for them to finally sink in.
Ultimately, I know, I’m very lucky. I can’t speak definitively for anybody else, but as for me, I have a body that gets me where I need to go and does what I need it to do. I could do without the scoliosis and irritable bowels, but otherwise it’s a good little girl, just a'truckin’ right along. It helps, too, that I don’t have the kind of body that makes strangers feel entitled to make unsolicited comments on it out of a false concern for my ‘health,’ and I’ve never really been picked on for my looks, either. I’m just your basic, midsize, dependable white woman who can create and feed her insecurities all by herself, thank you very much. It does feel like a betrayal to my feminist values to fall short of loving and celebrating my body whenever possible, but, you, know, I'm working on it. We all are, just pretending until we believe the act. Congratulations to those who truly aren't pretending, if you actually exist beyond the cheerful Instagram posts.
At the very least, I've always thought I have a nice collarbone.