Bikini Revolution Part 2: The Pressure to be Thin
It's finally time for part 2 of our bikini revolution series! In part 1 we talked all about those inner body shaming voices that constantly jump out, take the reigns and put us down in an effort to make us small. We talked about the stories we tell ourselves when it comes to our self worth as it relates to our bodies, and how to change them. I also shared the four resources that helped me change my relationship with food and eating, the way I talked to myself and the way I saw my body. It's still a work in progress, but I'm working on it, every single day. It's still a work in progress because we live in an imperfect, weight obsessed, patriarchal society that insists on pushing us down when our little heads start coming up to the surface.
You know that not only do I want to help people get back in their kitchens creating yummy food, but I'm on a mission to make food and eating normal again, I'm on a mission to help you improve your relationship with food and with your body. All of these things are linked, and we can change the way we see them and see ourselves. I wish I could tell you I was on a mission to change society's views on these issues, and sure, I'm on that mission a bit too, but I always love starting small.
It's why I take my time answering all the emails you send me with your stories and questions, it's why I advocate for animals and start with you. Where you're at, and how I can help you make this transition simple. I start small because small can grow, exponentially. I know that one person becomes two, and that two become three.
Whenever I open up the topic of body image, it can feel daunting to find where to start shifting the paradigm for future generations of girls (and boys too! A little reminder to all my guys out there, substitute the word bikini -as in bikini revolution- for your favorite pair of palm tree printed swim trunks because this series is also for you!). When I see the way the media, social media, and even the conversations I hear people having regarding beauty and self worth, I sometimes feel it's impossible. We'll get there, but it's going to take a while. What we can do, and can start right now, is change our own perspective, change the way we feel about our bodies and talk about ourselves and others, We can start shifting our own place in this world, taking it from one of inadequacy, imperfection (and the endless pursuit of perfection), to one of acceptance, self love and most of all empowerment.
I love the word power. I love teaching people how they alone have the power to change their experience in this world. I know love is often used when it comes to body positive articles, but I want you to feel empowered first, and then let the inevitable love that follows wash over you.
Empowerment means we become warriors and stand feet apart in full wonder woman (or superman) pose.
I want you to be a superhero.
I want you to wear a red cape.
Love is awesome and cool, but when you're empowered, you become the truest version of yourself, your voice becomes loud and your stance is unshakable. Sadly, with the way things are nowadays when it comes to body image and the pursuit of weight loss and body perfection, we're in desperate need of some body image rockstars that crowd surf. We need superhero women (and men) because things are dire, and I don't want to ever see a young girl suffer with the reflection in the mirror, as much as my generation has. Today (and in the rest of this series) I'm going to help you put on that superhero cape.
Today we're going to talk about the pressure to be thin. We're going to talk about the things that we can start doing to shift our own perception, and the changes we can start making when we talk about these issues, to start becoming activists for other women and men who are struggling and so we can start living a full life, free of body judgements ourselves.
This is an important topic for me because for years, I struggled with my relationship with food, was caught in a dieting/restricting/overeating cycle I could not get out of, and with every passing diet, and with every new social media platform that popped up, I found myself doubting my -up until then- positive body image.
The good news is we're not the first to blaze these trails, there are so many that have come before us and who have helped me wear my body positive cape proudly. We don't have to take the first scary steps, but we do have to make sure ours aren't the last.
Is thin really in?
Well, yes, and no. Yes because the pursuit and admiration of thinness arrived in the 70s, made a nest in the 80s, started taking steroids in the 90s and well... we all know what happened after that. In a way, the answer is also no, because not only are we admiring and valuing thinness, now it's thinness plus a big booty, thinness plus a big booty without cellulite, thinness plus a C, D or higher cup size, thinness and chiselled abs, thinness and full-bodied hair, thinness and perfectly straight or Victoria Secret wavy hair, thinness and being athletic and "strong", thinness and perfection. We are, without a doubt in my opinion, in the worst era of body image. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, and as I mentioned with some of the statistics in part 1, eating disorders are also on the rise and are the number one killer out of all mental health disorders.
That should tell us something.
Girls and women are being bombarded with messages of what their bodies should look like, both by the idolization of certain body types and by the judgement and shame portrayed whenever someone doesn't fit those standards, and men are no exception. For us it's a tiny waist, for them it's a six pack. Powerful women are only talked about in terms of the outfits they wear, their body size, their femininity or lack thereof, and we hear and see images that are dangerously unhealthy being shown as "the dream".
What's even worse is we've entered the decade of the health nut obsession, and sadly, messages that are entirely weight biased, obsessive and shaming are being disguised as the search for strength and health:
"Strong is the new healthy",
"Work out. Eat well. Your body will reward you",
"Goals. You're not tired, you're uninspired",
"Sweat now, shine later",
"Be a badass with a good ass",
"Work until your idols become your rivals",
"Once you see results it becomes an addiction",
"No pain, no gain. Shut up and train",
"Don't stop when it hurts, stop when you're done".
All courtesy of your local Pinterest fitspiration boards.
Then you have some good quotes about love and body acceptance, but with the text on top of a photo of a woman with an unrealistic body for most of us mortals. The message is lost. We read acceptance but we see and feel inadequacy.
These messages, of thinness and perfection disguised and strength and health, are everywhere. We've internalized so many of them, thinking it's normal, natural, and that we're just taking care of ourselves.
Health is not synonymous to a certain body type. Health includes your mental and emotional well-being as well, and this includes self love and self care. I want to make it clear, that by writing this post the only two options are not to either fall into the beauty/thinness trap or to be someone who doesn't care about being well and feeling their best. These are not the only two options we have as men and women. We can practice self care, we can exercise to feel good and lift our mood and energy, we can eat in a way that focuses on both pleasure and enjoyment and getting the nutrients we need, but none of this means thin, perfect or chiselled.
Lessons from a dog
Last night I watched what is probably going to turn into my new favorite TV show, Downward Dog, a story told from the perspective of a dog and how he sees the human mama that chose him at the pound. It's witty, hysterically funny and if you have a dog, it will make you do several double takes per episode while you look at your pooch and wonder if that's what's been going on inside his or her head.
It was cool, but then it got better.
Right there in the pilot, with a main character that our current society would qualify as plus-sized, I got one of the best body image aha moments I think I've ever had, as well as the quickest, most effective body positive exercises ever! After all her efforts to get body positive messages through her work out into the world were brutally rejected, and as she started to cave in creating yet another airbrushed, ultra thin and unattainable image of women to get her boss' approval, something happens and she realizes that what women need, is to look at themselves the way their dog sees them. With those eyes that look like they've just seen the most wonderful creature on this planet, like size doesn't matter, like the way a piece of clothing looks on you doesn't matter, like your worth is always there, because you're you and it just is.
Not a dog person? I remember staring at my mom while she did her makeup as a kid and thinking she was the most magnificent creature I had ever seen. I wondered when she was going to teach me her secrets, when she was going to lend me her makeup brushes, or her earrings, or her hippy style. Here's the twist.. are you ready? My mom had a disability, she couldn't walk properly, she had scars all over her body due to the endless surgeries she had had, her fingers had begun to close into almost a fist and she had a very hard time opening them, and her stomach always looked like she was 7 months pregnant because of the prednisone she was on for her illness. Still she was beautiful, and to me, she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
These examples of dogs and children are the perfect way to clear all the noise when it comes to body image. I love these examples because they show you that our idea of the perfect body is not a truth, it's only a cultural veil that has quietly been placed over our eyes. That's the power of images and messages in the media and society. When our dogs see us they see their loving human, when our kids see us they see protection and love and stare in wonder. We are superheroes, and neither of them is even thinking of the size of our hips.
So where can we start changing things for ourselves and the next generations?
It all starts with shifting our perception and learning a new way to practice self care
One of my favorite body image rockstars
Iskra Lawrence is a plus-sized model advocating for women of all shapes and sizes, but as if that weren't enough, she is fighting tooth and nail to make self-care part of the agenda, defying the new public perception that body positive advocates are just lazy slobs that are looking for excuses. Nothing could be further from the truth. For her, and for me as well, it's all about health and self care, and that has nothing to do with your body size.
In the video I'm about to share with you, and one of my favorite TED talks on body image, she says the following:
"We do have a problem, and that is, the most important relationship we have in our lives is the one we have with ourselves and we're not taught about it."
Iskra is on a mission to teach self-care, and by self-care she isn't talking about weight or calories, or sessions on that treadmill or the spin bike as payback for what you ate. She means learning to look after our mental well-being as well as our physical well-being, to learn how to respect and love our bodies where they're at, and reach our full potential regardless of what society's current beauty rules are.
Being body positive and practicing this type of self-care doesn't mean you can't be girly, or wear clothes that make you feel pretty. It doesn't mean you don't have to look after yourself. It just means that you have profound compassion for yourself and your body where it is now, that you acknowledge that the current beauty standards are not sustainable or your life's ultimate goal. That you were put on this Earth for far greater things than just that. That no matter how many messages you hear around you, you are worthy and valuable just as you are.
To me the most important part of self care is self respect, and that doesn't include the negative conversations most of us have when we look at ourselves in the mirror, or when we're in front of our plates, or lace up those trainers.
When it comes to our bikini revolution, self care also doesn't mean that you are unworthy or not ready for bathing suit season because your body isn't "perfect". The bikini body alteration needs to happen in the mind, not in the body.
What can we do?
- We can start talking to ourselves like our dogs or kiddos would, with respect, love and admiration. The drooling kind!
- We can see the imperfections in the mirror and see the amazing life experiences that put those imperfections there.
- We can reject the diet mentality and culture.
- We can stop talking for hours on end about the things we don't like about our bodies and how we want to change them.
- We can stop commenting or judging others for their appearance.
- We can stop the fat shaming.
- We can try to (and this one is hard for me because I love giving compliments to people) avoid complimenting people on their appearance and instead compliment their accomplishments, or the fact that they look happy. This may seem odd and against all the body love messaging I've been giving you in this post, but by making all our compliments about the way someone looks, we send the message that that's all we see in others, that it's something really important. If by chance and unknowingly we say this to someone engaging in very restrictive or disordered behaviors, we only give those behaviors more power, and a reason to continue.
- We can change what we look at. As I mentioned in part 1, "you can't be what you can't see". You can't be body positive and proud of your body if all you look at in your Instagram feed are images of "perfect" bodies of people who still feel and talk about how there's more work to do. Change who you follow and see in your social media feeds, delete your fitspiration boards and turn them into body empowering boards, follow people who are all about being real, who accept their bodies when these bodies aren't the perfect standard of beauty.
- We can question what we see. When those "perfect body" images do pop up, question them. Look at them and question them. Ask yourself why that is considered more beautiful than something else. Who decides that? Who decides that that is more acceptable than what you have? Who says there should be one way to have an ideal body and one alone? Question whether that image is real, airbrushed, photoshopped, prepped, and whether that photo actually represents the happiness and self-worth of the woman or man in the photo. More often than not, it doesn't.
- We can treat ourselves how we would treat a friend, or a young girl or boy who we hear trashing the image they see in the mirror. We can start looking at ourselves through the eyes of that dog or the way that as children, we saw the people we admired, before cultural standards set up house.
- We can challenge our friends when they start speaking about someone else's body.
- We can challenge our family members when we hear them say bad things about themselves.
- We can start sharing body positive articles and videos and skip the perfect body propaganda train.
- We can start showing people what a real life is like, imperfect and messy.
We owe it to the young girls and boys growing up in this new era, when from the moment you're a child, you enter this new age of social media. It's the first generation where this has happened, and we need to make sure that what they see there, will make them love and accept themselves more, not less.
I have a little homework that will make people wonder why you're smiling in the subway
For a while now, I've been doing this one little thing whenever I'm in the subway, or waiting in line somewhere. It makes me smile and it has changed so much of my self talk. I glance around, looking at each person, and finding the one thing I find beautiful about them, no matter what they look like. It could be that they have a nice smile, or that they look wise, that they're smiling because they're thinking of something that made them happy. It can be that they have a great outfit on, or that they have a unique sense of style and seem like they don't care what other people think. It can be that they're standing tall and seem confident. That they look like someone who has led a long and interesting life. Do this exercise for every person you see. You'll be surprised at how quickly you have a smile plastered all over your face, and the huge shifts that start occurring when you start seeing others how you would like others to see you.