I have worked with a handful of women who truly, honestly do not feel angst or worry about their bodies. And these women are a wonderfully diverse, if tiny, group: A former stripper, a petite plus mom of four, an octogenarian artist, a high school gym teacher, to name a few. I know that they truly, honestly do not feel angst or worry about their bodies because I asked them. When I begin a consult, I start by asking what my client loves about her body and would like to highlight, but I also ask if there are any features she’d like to downplay. And these amazing women responded to the latter by saying, “Nothing, really. I like it all.”
And every time, I’ve told them how miraculous they are and how happy I am to hear of their genuine body contentment. And every time, I’ve wanted to ask how they did it. How they learned to weather the hurricane of forces – both internal and external – that batters at most women’s confidence and self-esteem. And every time, I’ve wanted to somehow distill their essence and distribute it to all of the women who still struggle.
Because I still struggle. I write and think about body image on a near-daily basis, and I still struggle. I’ve come a long way since the dismal, crash-dieting, mirror-avoiding, post-college years, but I still struggle. I cannot remember a single day from the past 20 years that was entirely free of negative self-talk, during which I felt completely and uninterruptedly good about my body. And I can’t quite imagine how that would feel. Not just because I’ve never been there myself, but also because 99% of the women I’ve met struggle to feel good about their bodies.
And that doesn’t make the rest of us failures, we who still struggle. One of my favorite lines from Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is this: “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.” If you’ve spent most of your life hating your body, it’s completely unreasonable to expect to transform hate into neutrality or love in a few months. Or years. And some of us will never totally mute the hurtful chatter or reach an emotional resting place of total body solace. We’ll learn and grow and feel worlds better than we once did, and that can certainly be enough.
But this handful of women? They give me hope that genuine body confidence and a life without worry is possible, and that people who don’t fit neatly into our current beauty paradigm can live that life. I still wish they could offer some hints or outline a five-step plan for the rest of us, but I know it’s not that simple. In fact, many of these women have been body-based worry-free essentially forever, so it’s not what they’ve learned, it’s just how they’re wired. And even though I may never be like them, I can truly, honestly say that I’m glad they’re here and I’m grateful to have met them. They are bright beacons, lighting the way.
Image courtesy Llima Orosa