While incredibly rewarding, the daily operations of the store have kept me increasingly busy—so much so that my pile of unread fashion magazines was growing to epic proportions and verging on becoming a fire hazard. Over the weekend, I nursed a persistent cold by snuggling up with my dogs, a warm blanket, and my backlog of glossies for some much needed rest and relaxation. As I perused the In Style Makeover edition, I was saddened by a piece that focused almost entirely on minimizing, narrowing, concealing, and enhancing various body parts. Women with large busts needed to make them less so while women with smaller busts were encouraged to find ways of making them seem more ample. Women with narrow hips were told to make them curvier while women with wider hips had to slim them down.
In that moment, I realized there is a constant emphasis on never being good enough. There is always some imaginary ideal against which we are judged, and somehow, we keep coming up short. Our skin is not smooth enough, our breasts are too big, are butts are too flat, our legs are too short, and our mid-sections are too soft. Furthermore, the proliferation of digitally modified images reaffirms that nothing you do will ever make you beautiful enough or your body perfect enough. If the most beautiful women in the world with access to expensive skin care products, personal trainers, and nutritionists still need Photoshop, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Sadly, instead of embracing positive or even neutral words and images, people commonly use emotionally-loaded, negative terminology when referring to the body, and as Sweets of Sweet Nothings said, “Words: They mean something.” Lately, that something seems to be negative. Logically, I know the fashion industry, the media, and many retailers purposefully make you feel inadequate so you will purchase the latest miracle product or wardrobe must-have in the hope that maybe, just maybe, you will be a smidge closer to the ideal you never seem to attain. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with the message: You’re not (fill in the blank) enough, so let’s just narrow/enhance/smooth, minimize/lengthen/etc. to get as close as your body will allow.
On some level, I know that we suffer from insecurities, and fashion enables us to minimize or mask them entirely. However, I know we also have aspects we love about our bodies that we want to learn how to play up. Rather than encouraging women to view their body as less than ideal, why not teach them to love what they have and how to show it off the best? We need more articles like Georgina of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust’s post on how fitted clothing maximizes her figure better than the shapeless tents fashion gurus keep throwing at her.
As a professional fitter, I’m in a unique position because I see women in a state of vulnerability. They stand in front of a mirror with poor lighting overhead and wearing only a bra, and in the entire 15 months we have been open, I have yet to hear a woman enter the fitting room and say: “Boy do I look gorgeous!” Without fail, women zero in on what makes them self-conscious—mommy tummy, stretch marks, loose skin, less than toned muscles, undone hair, no makeup, etc. It really breaks my heart. Far too many women are unable to focus on the positive to see that what makes them special and unique is sometimes the very flaws they despise. They can’t help but critique themselves, even going so far as to apologize for how they look, and I wonder if this continued pressure to be perfect doesn’t influence what they see in the mirror. We’re all so busy comparing ourselves to someone else or to the “perfect” image in our mind that we lose sight of our real beauty.
I say “we” because I know I am guilty as well. The mirror can quickly turn from an object that lets you admire your positive attributes to a hateful enemy which enables you to scrutinize every perceived flaw. Like any bad relationship, the way we feel about ourselves in the mirror can be isolating as though the feeling of dissatisfaction is unique to us alone. But, we’re not alone. We all give into feelings of inadequacies, but we can set goals to improve our perspective:
1) End Body Snark and Body Negative Language: Part of this goal involves changing the media, but another part can be as simple as thinking twice about what comments you post on Facebook or on blogs. Don’t repost those memes that pit different body types against each other or negatively critique women’s figures. Making a woman feel terrible about her body should not make you feel better about yours.
2) Encourage Body Love and Positive or Neutral Body Language: In addition to eliminating negative language, we need to encourage the use of more positive words as well as promote discussions of body and self image that do not degenerate into a “Whose body is best” catfight. When talking about the body, use neutral or positive language and avoid emotionally-loaded vocabulary. For example, if you are writing a piece on dressing for a certain body part, why not include options for both minimizing and making the most of the attribute. Regardless of whether the size of their breasts is small, medium, or large, a lot of women love them just as they are and appreciate advice on how to dress without needing to enhance or downplay their assets.
3) End the war with the mirror: While this will be a personal struggle for each of us, we need to stop using the mirror like a medieval torture device. Stop searching for something you hate and focus on what you love. The mirror should only be used for checking out how awesome we look (or whether a skirt is too short or a top too sheer or any number of practical problems) rather than for tearing us down for not living up to some perceived ideal.
4) Compliment others: Compliments feel emotionally uplifting to receive, and they are so easy to give. With so much negativity existing in the world, perhaps we need to add something positive.
5) Don’t compare yourself to other women: I know it’s tempting. After all, we’re told that if we do x, y, and z we could get a butt like Jessica Biel, abs like Beyonce, or skin like J. Lo, but it needs to stop. Measuring yourself against other women will not lead you to happiness because it centers your personal fulfillment on whether you meet someone else’s standards. Set goals for yourself and only yourself, and don’t try to live up to anyone’s standards but your own.
6) Don’t focus so much on the physical: With the increased emphasis on the superficial, it’s easy to spend so much time worrying about how you look or how many calories you just ate that you miss enjoying life. Moreover, fixating on the negative because you don’t look a certain way can overshadow some pretty amazing non-physical attributes, like intelligence, humor, kindness, loyalty, and courage. If you’re having a fat day or feel bad about your body, take a few moments to remember that our bodies aren’t the sum total of our being. We are so much more than what’s on the exterior.
I don’t have any delusions that the media may never embrace a positive way of thinking about women’s bodies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work a little bit each day to feel better about ourselves and to help other women along their own journey toward body acceptance. It’s time to look in the mirror and proudly proclaim: I am good enough.