My dream to heal with photography faces it’s biggest challenge when working past the blocks many of us put up when we choose to see our own bodies as flawed. So many of us struggle with being ashamed of so called “flaws” we miss our blessings.
Many consider these flaws are fact. I’m here to present a different perspective.
When I’m talking with a woman and hear her say disparaging things, my heart hurts.
I want to get close and say with authority “you are beautiful”. If I had a super power, it would be to make women see and believe that they are more beautiful than they realize. I’d say these words with so much power she accepts it as fact.
I want her to believe that fact has more importance than the fear of not being good enough.
So that in the moments where she might question herself she believes that beauty is more than the sum of her flaws minus her best features.
Belief is a powerful thing. It’s choosing to give great worth to an idea that hasn’t been proven yet.
Why is it so important we change our perspective?
Eating and body dysmorphic disorders are on the rise. Children as young as first grade are so body shamed they are developing eating disorders. One in ten will be male, but he will be far less likely to seek treatment as the disorders come across as a “women’s disease.”
Half of everyone plagued with eating and body disorders will have depression. I lived with depression. It sucked. Getting past it was hard but I’ll never go back.
One young man attempted suicide because he couldn’t take a satisfying selfie.
It’s been reported as a trend of selfie addiction, but he’s now been diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder as I thought he might. (I personally think selfies can be empowering.)
Our definition of beauty has to change.
Beauty is so much more than what we look like at any given moment. Beauty is an ever evolving action, not a destination.
Beauty is how you love your family. It’s the way you know your bestie needs a girls’ night in with vino and kvetching. Beauty isn’t flawless. Beauty is grace in action in a world of flawed people. Who decided what physical “flaws” are? If we all woke up tomorrow with no memory of our lives and no ads to be seen, would we suddenly look at our new-to-us bodies and be ashamed?
Or have we LEARNED to be ashamed?
Imagine if you’d grown up without bullying. The earliest forms of bullying attack our appearances. A young girl who had been attacked by a pit bull was asked to leave a KFC restaurant because she scared the clientele. If you are a parent you’ve likely encountered this awful social practice with your own children. The only way to eradicate it is to remove the mindset that “different” and “flawed” are inherently bad.
If you’re the mother of a daughter, how do you want her to think about her body?
You’re her greatest example You HAVE to learn to see yourself with love.
Every disparaging remark you make about your body will be recorded by her impressionable mind and will live in her heart.
The exact same goes for fathers and sons. Whether it’s your weight, or your body type or the blemishes that temporarily change your skin, they are watching and learning how to feel about their bodies.
“Blemishes” are problems supposedly fixable by makeup and skin care ads.
But in reality, they’re a complex problem based on hormones and body chemistry. MANY people (including myself) can’t control their blemishes despite spending inordinate amounts of time and money trying.
Why can’t we do our best and be at peace that our body is working on it?
Here’s my makeup free selfie. I often share fairly polished pictures and want to balance that out. Blemishes and all.
“Muffin tops” has long plagued me as a shameful term.
Little is said about the rise of pants creeping ever lower. “Muffin tops” happen when imperfect bodies that are made to move try to fit into perfect trends of stiff unforgiving fabric based on sketches of rare body types rather than living breathing humans.
Living breathing people trying to be good spouses, good workers, worrying about how their kids are doing at school. Do your coveted chinos care about all that? Pants don’t give. (Jeggings give! I’ll be eighty years old wearing jeggings and leggings. Or perhaps in my old age I’ll finally be pants-less. FYI. You’ve been warned.)
Skin gives. It grows and shrinks in incredible ways. Our skin was made to move and flex and change with us as we age.
But as with all things in nature, time and use naturally (it’s a natural process) change what it looks like. The brilliant and appreciated color changing leaves of fall are most vibrant just before they die. Our pursuit for flawless taut bodies dishonors this beautiful progress.
Why are we ashamed of things that are no less than miracles our bodies were made to do?
Not even metals, which are universally considered strong, could bend and fold that much without breaking. Should we say “Shame on you metal,” or do we accept that perpetually bending will eventually break the once strong metal? The fact that we wear our skin until we die is incredible. No designer dress (including my super power imbued BCBG little black dress) could tout that long of a fashion coup.
Stretch marks are also “problems.”
They’re touted as ugly and fade-able by cream ads. But in reality they’re a marker of skin growing and stretching by incredible bounds. They might come from a growth spurt and supported you into a new phase of life (a hormonal and complex part of the remarkable growth of the human body) or they came from creating and carrying a life.
Birth is the greatest miracle. We dishonor pregnancy, birth, and the lives created when we seek to remove any trace of it. I never ever want my son to hear me disparage my softer tummy and stretch marks. I never want him to think I resent what carrying him did to my body. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat just to hear him laugh.
Given how much skin bends and folds, it’s ludicrous to think it would look the same year after year.
Paper ages. Leather ages. Metal ages. We accept that as fact and then rain down poisonous obscenities on our own more fragile and yet even more miraculous bodies.
Wrinkles are beauty.
They tell intricate stories of soul changing births, heart holding friendships, the endless-seeming pain of loss, raucous laughter lifting your burdens, prayers seeking strength, tears trying to ease heartache… Wrinkles on our skin are matched to physical grooves etched into our hearts recording all we’ve seen and experienced.
Why do you want to erase that? Why do you want to forget?
Does anyone else ever stop and question our endless and unrealistic quest for the bodies of a younger person with a vastly different body type? Or am I the crazy cat lady muttering on a
subway blog? Don’t for one second assume I’m immune to these concerns.
I caught myself disparaging my body after a day of unhealthy eating.
But I bring myself back to these thoughts and try to appreciate my body at this moment. In reality, if you told me I could have my thin and blemish free teenage body I’d be tempted. But it would come with a catch: I’d have to be sixteen again.
I’ve come too far from that naive girl who had no idea how to love herself.
The girl that let a boy make her hide driving away from school so he wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen dating her. She was stupid. She still loved him after that. The girl that other girls teased and taunted because boys she wasn’t interested in had crushes on her. She was stupid and stayed friends with some of the teasers. She hadn’t yet learned her value.
I would never in a million years give up the painful lessons that taught me to love myself. This includes the so called flaws I’ve gained through each trial and heartbreak.
What flaws are you holding on to?
What lessons would you keep in exchange for the natural and beautiful aging of your body? What imperfections would you be at peace with if you valued them as much as the experiences that have made you who you are? Have you lost weight? Do you give your body credit or do you disparage it for showing signs of the gain and loss? I’ve lost a hundred pounds. I don’t look like I did when I was twenty.
But I’m convinced I can still see beauty, however imperfect.
I’m convinced I can see more than the number of pounds. Because my body is proof that I’ve overcome an immune disorder. My body and I have overcome postpartum depression. We’ve overcome physical and emotional abuse. We have scars to remind us how strong we can be when we seek self-love.
A scar is not a blemish to be erased.
Scars are physical reminders of the strength we didn’t know we were capable of. Would you give up your child to have stretch mark free skin? If the answer is no, then you need to look at those marks through a different lens. Beauty is, thankfully, so much more than perfection. It’s in the eye of the beholder.
How do you behold yourself?