Lets just take a moment to talk about body image… Because it’s something that resonates with everyone… Even if it’s not something that you personally struggle with, you probably know someone who does… These days there are movements and initiatives, foundations and the works all about building self-esteem in young girls and empowering the next generation. There is constant controversy about how the media is portraying beauty ideals and promoting a warped view to young girls… And whether we went through a chubby stage in middle school (check), gained the freshman 15 (check), or have watched our bodies change with age (check) its a topic that dances in and out of conversation, and has lingering effects. Full disclosure, I gained about 12 pounds last year, and I could write several excuses about how I was working in a restaurant, how a broken toe f’ed up my running routine, how I have no self control when it comes to things like Chantilly cream and full fat dairy, but the truth of the matter is, I made the choices that I made, and I’m in the body that I’m in, and I’m totally ok with that. Was I more comfortable in my body 12 pounds ago? Probably. Am I spending countless moments throughout my day fretting about my size and how my clothes fit and how I look? No. Because 12 pounds isn’t worth the negativity. I simply think “this is where I am today, and I’m going to make choices accordingly.” When I look in the mirror every morning I see myself, just the way I am, and sure, I have those fleeting thoughts of “I should go for a run” or “I need to move my person a little bit more” because everyone has those thoughts from time to time, but I think the important thing is to recognize them without dwelling on them.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that having a positive body image is something that I’ve struggled with for years and years, because really, I haven’t. I’ve always been comfortable with who I am, and how I look… and yes I have fat days, and bad hair days just like everyone else. I have days where I wish I had less cellulite and better abs. I have moments of being unhappy with my body, but they are just that, moments. They aren’t something that hinder my self-esteem, they don’t affect how I live my life, how I see myself… and I realize that I am incredibly lucky in this regard. ( I have other hang ups, its ok).
I DID go through a pudgy phase when I was younger… (didn’t everyone?) I don’t remember ever feeling like a fat kid, though I do remember my mother encouraging me to go outside more and maybe jump on the trampoline… And I vividly remember a few years later when my pediatrician came up to my mom and said “wow, Tayler was so beautiful in the recital! I remember her being kind of chunky!” I of course also gained some weight when I went to college, and have this somewhat horrific memory of coming home for Christmas and one of my “friends” actually pinched my cheeks and loudly announced “Look at these! I’m so glad you are getting fat like the rest of us!” Can I just say that sometimes girls are the worst? I mean the worst. And the older I’m getting the more I’m realizing that there seem to be two types of insecure women… the type that put others down because they are insecure, or the type that put themselves down. And really, both make me so sad. Now that I’m in my late 20’s I can look back on adolescence and of course recognize the mean girl mentality, the bullies who were constantly spewing negativity about other people because they were struggling to feel good about themselves… But when you are in the thick of it, when the negativity is coming your way, and you are 14 its almost impossible to be objective and say “well really, she is just insecure, so she is trying to make me feel bad.”
But, what I have discovered recently, is that women of a certain age are almost as bad as middle-schoolers, only they take all that negativity and insecurity and turn it right back on themselves. I can’t even tell you how many women I come across who are a size 4 and have hangups about their arms, or think they look too fat in something and then turn to me and say “you don’t have these problems, you are tiny.” and I’m thinking “Well thank you, but I’m actually 3 sizes larger than you, and my arms are like 6 of yours put together…” And then you have the mothers who are looking in the mirror who are verbally berating themselves, saying how fat they look, how they hate their legs or whatever, as their daughters sit there observing their behavior. And it’s interesting because it seems like these days there are so many movement about building self esteem in young girls, programs that are trying to teach you that uniqueness is beautiful, that individuality should be celebrated, that curves are ok, and I think that these programs are great, but there is a part of me that wonders if maybe we also need these types of programs for our Mother’s generation. Maybe we need to be helping the women who have been dealing with years and years of negative body image see themselves in a different light.
So now I have to tell a story that is going to horrify my mother… (its ok, she has been warned… Also, she is my mom, and we love each other, so there is that. ) Last week she was in shopping at the boutique and one of my bosses was there, as was my best friend. My mom was asking an opinion about a shirt she was trying on, and we started to tell her how we had just been talking about body image, and how we really thought that women should be celebrating their curves and dressing the bodies that they have, and not the bodies that they wish they had, or the bodies that they think they have… working in a clothing boutique this is something that we see everyday… and my mom was like “Really?” and we told her “Well, we want you to be wearing something that you feel good in, and that also looks good on you, so if it’s something that just doesn’t work, we will tell you.” And then we were talking about curves and body shapes and dressing them, and I said in passing “yes, I have curves, and I’m not self-conscious about them, I kind of have a belly and its fine! ” and then I stuck out my stomach for full emphasis… and without missing a beat my mother was like “Yeah I KNOW you do, I see it all over the place.” … OK MOM!
The moment was a little shocking, my boss was totally taken aback, and my mom did follow up with something about how I think she doesn’t have a filter… (case in point… I’m at a fairly new job, and she just made a comment about my belly fat in front of my boss and my best friend while I’m working… yeah, there is NO filter) And the thing is, I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t mad, I wasn’t embarrassed… I was sad. Not because of the offhanded comment, but because I was sitting there witnessing my mother subconsciously succumb to the mean girl mentality. I could feel her trying on this top and not feeling 100% great in her body and there was a group of us, and without meaning to and without being aware of it she took all that insecurity and directed it at me. She put me down around my peers. We talked about it later and I totally called her out on it, and we had a good conversation, she felt terrible, she wasn’t trying to be mean, and legitimately we are fine… I’m not telling this story to embarrass my mom, or to make her out to be a bad mother, she isn’t. She is human, and she has her hang ups just like everyone else. And though it would be nice if those hang-ups didn’t manifest at my place of work, I did also realize that, as a mother, she was feeling insecure and in an back-handed way she was trying to be helpful. Like when she corrects my posture… because she wants me to learn from her mistakes… She sees things in herself that she doesn’t like, and so she points them out in me, not to be hurtful or a pain in the ass, but because she wants what is best for me. She wants me to happy and healthy… and sometimes it comes out completely wrong. Sometimes it drives me absolutely crazy, but I do know that it comes from a place of love… And at the end of the day, I’m very familiar with intentions being lost in translation…
If anything, the whole situation made me appreciate my mom, and my upbringing. I can only imagine how her life was 60 years ago.. growing up I was told I could be whatever I wanted to be (ok, ok I was told once that I probably shouldn’t be an artist… in retrospect, that was probably very good advice.) I was allowed to do activities that I liked, I was allowed to develop my own interests, I was uplifted and supported and loved… not to say that my mother wasn’t, but our upbringings were VERY different. Being in Generation Y my entire childhood was pretty much a self-esteem building exercise, I was allowed to make my own choices, make my own mistakes, and become my own person without any preconceived notions. And as a result, I don’t seem to have any of my mother’s hang-ups (as I said, I have plenty of my own!)
I guess in a way, this blog post is a Thank You to my Mom. She has her moments, for sure, but overall, I think I turned out the way that I did because of her, and not despite of her… Thank you for raising me to be comfortable in my own skin. Thank you for not passing along any of your hang ups, and for wanting what is best for me always, and Thank you for putting up with me and letting me tell stories about you on my blog.
And to all you ladies out there who ARE struggling with body image, I hope you can take a moment to just settle into your own skin, even if it’s just a moment. Celebrate your curves (or lack of them) appreciate where you are right now, and give yourself permission to not dwell on your flaws.