Today’s post is the first installment of a new collaboration with other bloggers, all moving towards the goal of honest dialogue about our bodies, and ultimately, greater body love and acceptance for all of us. This 12-part monthly series, entitled Unconditional Body Beautiful, hopefully will serve as body positive inspiration for you as well!!
I’ve been sick the past week, so I’m a little late with my post, but better late than never!! For this first post, we’re starting at the beginning, talking about our relationships with our bodies throughout our lives.
I’ve previously talked on the blog here about the journey I’ve taken through my life for self acceptance. This acceptance and love of self isn’t limited to my body, but poor body image has definitely been a struggle in my life.
I don’t want to rehash everything I already said on this previous post. Instead, I want to focus on some specific instances in my life.
Early Childhood – The Body as Non-Issue
In early childhood, as I am sure is the norm, my body’s appearance was not a priority. I loved staring at myself in the mirror and remember studying minute details of my appearance, but it was never with judgment. Even as I started attending school and interacting with other kids, the focus simply wasn’t my body.
My memories of myself before I started school are as a happy kid. I do not recall any confidence issues (though I do have some funny fashion-related memories). And, I knew how to rock a crop top!! ;-D
|Sassy side curls and matching crop top & shorts set!|
I started kindergarten at the age of four, and at the age of six, I started second grade in an accelerated educational program just started by the local public school district. This program put me in direct contact with children whose parents were of a higher socio-economic status than my family. My family was working poor; however, most of my classmates were middle class.
I had always been more of an introverted, shy kid. I was a kid who had a hard time speaking my own voice, but these issues probably became more pronounced at this time. During elementary school, a lot of my anxieties and poor confidence came from not feeling like I had the right clothes, the right toys, the right school lunches, etc. I didn’t have an acute understanding of social class at the time, but I often felt like I just didn’t feel like I fit in with my peers.
But none of my self-esteem issues were body-related.
Adolescence – The Concursion of Poverty, Nerdiness, and Fat
At some point in elementary school, this started to change. I was a cheerleader in fifth and sixth grade – there were no tryouts and every female in my class was one. Looking back, I wouldn’t even characterize my body as chubby at the time, but I remember getting measured for new uniforms between fifth and sixth grade. I was embarrassed when my measurements were spoken out loud and my waist size was bigger than many of the other girls. As someone who is so petite (I’m only 4’9″ now), I felt like I should be the smallest in every way. I felt big and awkward. I’ve never been a particularly athletic person, greatly lacking in hand-eye coordination. In cheerleading, the issue of building pyramids came up. Due to my small size, I was expected to be one of the people on top of the pyramids, but I was always too clutzy and lacked the upper body strength to climb on top of the pyramid. I could overhear girls on the cheerleading squad asking themselves, “What are we supposed to do with her?” I begged to be on the bottom of the pyramids, and I did develop a bit of confidence in my strong legs that were able to hold the weight of another.
|“Modeling” session with a friend in junior high…I have always LOVED fashion, but I remember thinking that I looked fat in these photos.
I also lost the glasses for the photo shoot – they weren’t “fashionable”
As I moved into junior high school, my body image took a nosedive. The focus on my body was increasingly elevated, and I felt FAT, FAT, FAT! Fat was a dirty word, like the worst thing someone could be…outside of being nerdy or poor, and of course, I was all three of these things (I was chubby at most, but bigger than most of the other girls). I did start to gain weight in junior high, and there was a period where I had very few clothes because my mother could not find any pants that fit me properly. I would desperately try to emulate the popular trends in fashion on a limited income. I wore my sister’s hand-me-down button down shirts, which were large and oversized on me, buttoned up to the neck and closed with brooches borrowed from my mother. I used my allowance to buy slouch socks from Wal-Mart, so that I could wear multiple pairs together as was the style at the time. I desperately tried to work with my body and my budget to get the looks I wanted, and in the process, I definitely learned some tricks in innovation!!
In 8th grade (1990), I wanted to go to my Homecoming Dance. I wanted a new dress and for some reason, I thought I needed a formal. My mom took me to a bridal shop to look at bridesmaid dresses, but she limited my budget to $30 because that is what she could afford. I ended up with this pink taffeta dress that I thought was way UNCOOL!! I remember being very unhappy about the dress and was probably a brat about it (sorry mom!),
|8th grade Homecoming Dance, around 12th birthday|
The relationship between my social class and my body was most directly tied to not having the “right” clothes to fit my body. I think because I didn’t feel like I had the cool clothes that this also affected my body image to some extent. As my body started to change, and I gained weight in my waist and other parts of my body, it became more difficult to find economical clothing that worked for my body. In turn, this made me feel worse about my body. I felt like there was something wrong with me rather than recognizing that most clothes are made for one specific body type. Factor in a couple of “mean girls,” and my body confidence was most certainly affected in a negative way.
This very negative period for my poor body image continued through ninth grade. By my senior year of high school, I had largely rejected the norms of “coolness,” and while I still felt like an outcast and definitely still felt fat (my weight had increased again at this point), I was no longer as focused on my body.
|First year of college, around 18th birthday – I had lost weight the summer before and a bit more after starting college, a familiar pattern of weight ups and downs|
The College Years – The Obsession with the Social Ideal
I gained a lot of weight during my sophomore year of college. I was really starting to find myself more and was at a point that I started really loving and accepting all aspects of myself. I was in a healthy relationship (with my first love and only boyfriend up to this point), and I was happy. I led a fairly active lifestyle, but my diet was horrible. I probably also gained some happy weight. My boyfriend and I often ordered pizza and went out to dinner frequently, and we both gained weight over our sophomore years.
I was in a really good place in life, but I felt a desire to lose weight. My weight loss initially started healthfully and, as is my nature, in a very logical and organized fashion. I charted my exercise routine, kept track of both my measurements and weight loss, and over the summer and following school year, I was down from about 132 pounds to 97, at my smallest.
But, as is also my nature, this sensible, logical weight loss because obsessive. As I got closer to what I considered the ideal weight and ideal body type, I became more and more focused on my body and more focused every minute “flaw” I now saw. I was an avid reader of fashion magazines, and I certainly judged my own body by the images of Kate Moss, Alek Wek, and Laetitia Costa I saw in my magazines. I judged my success by the number of ribs I could see on my upper chest, the number of vertebrae I could feel on my back. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had developed an eating disorder. The stringent restrictions required by this disorder (girl loves to eat!!) and the lack of results (I hit a plateau and never could get under 97 pounds) eventually led to a more normalized eating pattern. While 97 pounds was within healthy weight limits for my height, the extremes to which I was going to achieve and maintain this weight were not healthy at all.
|At my smallest, 97 pounds. I was still goofy/nerdy! 🙂
I promise that I was not strangling the cat! 😉
|1999 – college graduation, age 21, 103 pounds
(My bestie, brother, and then boyfriend)
I wore a satin dress, and I stressed over how “big” my belly looked in the dress and the six pound weight gain from the previous year
Adulthood – Grown Up, But Still Obsessed with the Impossible
For quite some time after that (all of my 20s and even much of my 30s), I struggled with my body image. My body wasn’t always in hyper-focus as it had been during my eating disorder, but my obsession with weight, outright hatred of fat, and general feelings of inadequacy never really went away.
|My bestie and me…What I now see as lovely curves, I then saw as fat|
|The two pictures on the left were both after recent weight gains. I remember always feeling fat. I thought my hips were too big, my stomach, etc.|
|This string bikini top pinched back fat. Quelle horreur!!
I remember feeling grotesque when I saw this photo, and I would never have worn a bikini outside of my yard
|I continued to gain weight during my 20s, but no matter my weight, I thought I was fat|
|spring 2005, age 27|
Pregnancy gave me momentary body confidence. During both of my pregnancies, I Ioved my body. My belly fat, which has always given me the most grief, disappeared with the burgeoning baby belly, and I felt beautiful, sexy, and confident.
|Left: 2003/2004 – pregnant with my first child
Right: early 2008 – pregnant with my second child
With both pregnancies, I lost weight after childbirth to the point that I was smaller than my pre-pregnancy weights, but then the pounds would come back, and they always brought some uninvited friends.
In January 2007, I met my fiance. I was at my then highest weight when we met (151 pounds), but I was in the process of a weight loss competition with several members of my family. Over the course of several months, I lost about 15 pounds, in just as organized of a fashion as before, but this time much more safely and healthfully. While I was feeling very healthy with my new diet and exercise regimen, I was still uncomfortable with my body to a large degree. I remember my fiance (while we were still just friends) asking why I always covered up with a jean jacket.
|June 2007, age 29
This was shortly after my fiance and I became a couple
In early 2009, I won a design/styling competition from The Limited and won an amazing shopping spree in Miami with Elliot Staples, the VP of Design. What should have been the most amazing of experiences was extremely clouded by my poor body image and feelings of inadequacy. I was still learning to dress for my body, at its largest ever since my second pregnancy. I’ve maintained this weight since the birth of my daughter almost seven years ago, but at the time, I needed a completely new wardrobe and I felt like nothing looked good on me.
I normally need an x-large in tops and jackets from The Limited, which I have tailored down in certain areas. Unfortunately, in store, the jackets only go up to a large. While a tailor was on hand to make alterations to my selections, I felt awkward, fat, and unfashionable. Elliot was awesome, but due to my own insecurities, I couldn’t trust that he was being genuine. I felt like I didn’t fit the mold for The Limited, that maybe they regretted choosing my design as the winner. I allowed my poor self esteem and body image to ruin my fun.
In the summer of 2011, I participated in a body positive fashion show. It was the first event of its kind, and most of the participants were aspiring models and thin early twenty-somethings. I was one of only a couple overweight models participating. I was beyond self-conscious. Aside from my nerves (what if I fall, can everyone see how badly I’m sweating, etc.), I just felt short and fat.
In retrospect, I am so proud that I decided to give myself this experience, and I hope that I inspired somebody in the audience that night.
|Photo c/o Missfits Photography|
The Tide Change
My fiance tells me every day how beautiful, sexy,
attractive, etc. I am. While I think that ultimately, true self love
and body acceptance comes from within, I do think that his unconditional
acceptance of me and my body has had a positive impact!!
Blogging has also helped my body image tremendously. I started blogging in July of 2012, and it’s through this experience that I have learned to see myself more the way others see me. Not everyone is going to love what they see when they look at me, and that’s okay. Heck, there are days I most certainly look in the mirror and don’t love what I see. But ultimately, I have reached a point in my life where my body and I have a very good relationship.
My body is becoming both less and more important in my life. My body has become less important to the extent that I have learned how much more I am than just my body. I have learned to give my body less focus in my life. I’m focused on my career, my passions, and my family. I don’t have time to sit around hating myself, and I never want my daughter and stepdaughters to see me degrading myself. My body has become more important to the extent that with fashion blogging, and using myself as the “model,” I am photographing my body several times a week. I’m staring at myself in pictures and in the mirror constantly. And while, I might sometimes cringe when I see photos that show my double chin, I am generally not scrutinizing my body the way I that I did in the past.
At 37, my body confidence is at its highest ever. I have learned that the size of my body has nothing to do with confidence. I love my body the most at its heaviest. I liked my body the least at its smallest. Body confidence comes from the realization that our bodies are only one small part of who we are. Body confidence comes with time. It comes with affirmations and self-work that focus on what you love about your body and not the perceived flaws. Body confidence comes from recognizing that you’re not perfect, and that there is true beauty in this.
Where are you in your relationship with your body?
Want to read more? Check out the other amazing bloggers participating in this series:
OLGA GONZALEZ RAMOS
AARTI OLIVIA DUBEY
JOSEPHINE JOSOFABULOUS LEE