Not long ago, one of my good friends was preparing to marry the man of her dreams. She had searched for the perfect dress and in a moment of tearful triumph, pulled it from the rack. The bodice was lined with gems, which then morphed into a beautiful lace train. If my friend could have transformed herself into a dress, that would have been it. Every detail was perfectly her. So she happily claimed it as her own, then went to the seamstress for alterations.
The old woman took my friend’s measurements, carefully accommodating her curves and shape. She pinned places to take in, then marked other areas for further alterations. The little lady knelt on the ground, working with the bottom of the bodice, and looked up with honest eyes.
“You just need to lose a little weight right here,” the woman said, patting my friend’s hips.
I may have gasped when I heard that, I’m not entirely sure. But, knowing how horrible I am at controlling my face, I’m sure it was full of incredulous shock. How could a woman say that to another woman? If anyone should know the ever-lasting, never-fulfilling plight of striving for beauty, wouldn’t it be a fellow woman? Why on earth would we choose to place that weight on another lady?
But it happens. All the time.
My friend, the bride, answered perfectly. She said, “Even if I tried to lose weight, I couldn’t just lose it right there. It just doesn’t work that way.”
I’m pretty sure my friend didn’t take the seamstress up on the suggestion. Perhaps she simply requested that the tailor make alterations on her dress instead of her body. But one thing I know for sure: On her wedding day, my friend was the most beautiful bride I have ever seen.
My rockin’ friend also has more figured out than most women. She knows what beauty is and she knows it radiates from every pore of her being. Just because she is who she is and she loves other people like crazy. But if a seamstress said that to almost any other bride during those vulnerable months of trying to prepare for a wedding, I suspect some women might take that as a cue that they need to seriously consider changing their body.
For me, a group of girls brought my body to my attention in 5th grade. It wasn’t girly enough, they decided. I wasn’t normal. So, therefore, they could only construct two “logical” conclusions: either I was a gay girl or I wasn’t even a girl at all.
By the time I got to middle school, the abuse had become more wide-spread and severe. Sometimes even violent. One girl even tried to force her Adderall down my throat. (To this day, I’m still not sure what that would have accomplished, but I can thank my ‘manly’ strength for her not succeeding.)
I switched schools in 9th grade to avoid my persecutors and get a fresh start. I grew up, filled out, and put on some womanly weight, but due to the previous four years, I was still very aware that my body was not like most others. That it was worse, somehow, because it was different. One of my friend’s moms even voiced my concern for me.
“You look more natural in a jersey than a dress,” she said, echoing the sentiments of my former elementary and middle-school classmates. It was official. I was manly. Got it.
When I went to college on a basketball scholarship, I was met with similar responses from my teammates. Most claimed that because of the way I looked, I must be this, that, or the other thing. It was like going back to middle school.
By my second year in college, I wanted to prove I was ME instead of anything else people wanted to label me. And, the only solution I could find was that my body needed to change. So, I didn’t eat very much (and then justified that as being ‘healthy’). And when I wasn’t playing Division 1 basketball, I ran excessively (again, justifying to myself that an active lifestyle was ‘healthy’). The pounds started shedding, first from my cheeks, then my hands, and finally from my torso. The pounds continued to shed until I reduced myself to the weight I had been in middle school. I reveled in the fact that I could see my hipbones protruding outward. I was proud that my hands were sleek enough to see bone, instead of being puffy and stout. My muscles, which had garnered so much negative attention over the years, were starting to stretch and fade.
My body was changing – dwindling, really – and lots of people complimented me on my thinness. Those kind words fueled me further. Then I spent time with one woman whom I had respected for a long time, and she told me something that rocked my world. She had only seen me sporadically throughout my transformation process, and I thought she’d be pleased with my results. But during this particular get together, she looked me up-and-down then said:
“Your legs are too skinny now.”
That’s when I realized beauty, as we like to call it, is a nothing but a lie. Dieting, losing weight, even eating disorders. They’re all a mirage, shimmering with the hope of rescue and refuge. But when you get there, they leave you empty, still thirsting in the desert. We tell ourselves that by controlling what we eat (or don’t eat), and controlling our exercise (sometimes excessively), we can control how that affects our bodies. And the more we do those things, the more we can make ourselves more beautiful.
But, as my beautiful friend pointed out, that’s just not how it works. By trying to prove who I was to others, I lost myself. I became a maniac, addicted to thoughts of food, then plagued by the guilt of eating.
And that’s also when I realized that we women are the ones who are perpetuating this devastating cycle. From middle schoolers to middle-aged women, the ones who pointed out the differences in my stature were always female. And we do it, too. We engage in hate crimes toward other women with every opinion and judgment cast. With each thought that says someone else (or ourselves) doesn’t quite measure up.
But what are we measuring ourselves up to, exactly?
Models? Actresses? Other women around us who are trying to look like models and actresses?
Who says that a woman has to look like a runway model to be beautiful? Why do we believe it’s realistic for ourselves and others to be comparable to flawless women we see photo shopped in magazines?
Why would we even want to compare ourselves to them?
As the saying goes, “We can’t compare our insides to someone else’s outsides.” And that’s true. But because that is true, it also means we cannot compare our outsides to someone else’s outsides.
That skinny, beautiful runway model you find to be the definition of beauty? What if her stomach is eating itself painfully because she hasn’t put food into it in a week? Or that actress in the magazine? What if she becomes the next O.D. casualty due to the loneliness of Hollywood life? Is that something you really want to covet?
Be careful, ladies. And be courteous. Find something that you appreciate in someone else today. Or, as Ingrid Michaelson puts it in a recent tweet:
With the way we approach ourselves and others, it’s no wonder that 80% of all 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, and 42% of all 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner. It shouldn’t be surprising that by the time young women enter college, nearly all of them will have attempted to lose weight. It should be no shock that on this journey towards beauty, 24 million Americans will suffer with an eating disorder each year.
But there can be no guilt, no shame, and no embarrassment where there is true, genuine love. And it all starts with you. It starts with the way you view others. It continues with the words you say to them. And it goes even further when that sort of true, genuine love is returned to you.
For me, finding self-love stemmed from seeing beauty in others. My judgment-riddled brain slowly started churning out compliments for others, and eventually, for myself as well. I realized there was a direct correlation in the judgmental ways I viewed others and my fear of what people thought of me: The more I judged others in my own mind, the more my mind thought they were judging me, too. But, the more I saw the good in others, the more I got used to seeing the good in myself.
Now I don’t really mind my short, chubby hands that my high school friends nicknamed Stubs. I don’t mind the small bulge in my belly, especially when it points to the fact that I carried life inside it for 9 months. I don’t mind my biceps or my calves as they help me keep up with that little nugget that I gave birth to.
All those things mean I have lived and that I am living. They show that I am real. But most importantly, they show that I am me. And I don’t even have to work to prove it anymore.