When I was a little girl, I remember being told that I would be more beautiful if I lost a significant amount of weight. It should be well and duly noted that term used was “beautiful,” not healthy or fit, or a physical condition strong enough to fend off easily avoidable complications. The term used was “beautiful,” which had little to do with the functions of my body and whether or not it could do what it needed to do, take me where I needed to go, and keep me functioning without the need for medical support. The term used was “beautiful,” which meant that despite my bones being useful and my mind being sharp, that I was not shaped like other much smaller girls somehow made me less than.
The curious thing here is that I couldn’t bring myself to believe them. Even if it’s all I heard growing up, I couldn’t be made to believe that there was a single margin for attractiveness, and that there was no room for my larger frame to be considered pretty. I had seen beautiful women all my life, and there was no one distinct standard that they all fit into. Not all of them were extremely confident or bold or outspoken; not all of them wore makeup or were especially glamorous; and not all of them were bereft of so-called imperfections, like long necks or gaps between their teeth. And yet, all of them had characteristics that made them striking and memorable and gorgeous, and I refused to believe that the same couldn’t be true for me. (I had a stubbornly healthy self-esteem, so it seems.) What I eventually learned from trying to be forced into a mold was to be courageous and create my own, to try things “fat chicks” aren’t supposed to do: I tried bikinis and cropped tops, I wore short skirts and even shorter shorts, I shun Spanx in favor of breathing, and I developed a personal style. It was this style and resourcefulness in dressing myself despite limited options that would later afford me to work in the world of fashion; a world which favors the size double zero over girls like me.
Conversely, there is a woman I know who is literally one of the most beautiful women one may ever see in real life. She is quite talented, intelligent, kind, honest, and brave. She is also, however, a celebrity, and it makes for some trying times in terms of her own confidence. We’ve known each other for years, and I might say that at present, she is the most physically fit she’s ever been. She is strong, and her lean figure has a defining muscular tone to it, that to me looks wonderfully feminine. This strength has made her go up a size in certain garments, say from a two to a four—nothing particularly earth shattering. The cruel thing is that she’s had to deal with ignorant stylists who shame her for her body’s progress and say things like, “I had to get a size up because you got fat.” The infinitely more infuriating thing is that people come up to her constantly, telling her that she looks like a fatty on TV, and then expecting her to smile and take pictures with them.
It doesn’t matter if you’re born plus size or your frame is closer to Olive Oyl’s, neither does it matter if you’re inches away from being a Victoria’s Secret angel. It applies to each of us, that we live in a society that sets impossible standards for women, and we are given very little room for us to love ourselves. We’re told that we need to be thin but not too thin, to work out but not get too muscular, to tan when it’s summertime but not to get too dark, to take care of our skin but also make it shed every layer until it becomes pale and white. We’re told from a very early age that we can’t enjoy the summer without being “beach-ready,” that going out into salt water and sticking your toes in the sand while lapping up sunshine has a pre-requisite of rock-hard abs fueled by rabbit food and punishing long hours at the gym. We’re told that we cannot be held and desired and loved without fitting into a very narrow view of what’s sexy. We are raised on fairytales that tell us we need validation from everyone else: men, guardians, and even talking mice.
But here’s the tea, ladies, and don’t let anyone else let you believe otherwise: your body, as it is, is beautiful. You have the power to nurture life in your womb and release it into the world. The curve of your hips and the slope of your shoulders understand the tribal beat hidden in every piece of music. Your chest carries the thumping heart of a woman who loves, who feels, and who understands conviction. Your head is more than the smoothness of your hair or the perfection of your face, but rather encases the mind that controls the rest of the mechanism, the home of reason and empathy and depth. Your hands create, comfort, heal, and guide. Your thighs, your belly, your breasts, the nape of your neck, the protrusion of your collarbones or lack thereof—all of them create the landscape of a body worth exploring, worth appreciating, worth dressing, and worth more than being reduced to a word like “sexy.” Your body is compelling and powerful, it is wiser than we realize and protects itself in ways we may never understand, and it shouldn’t have to be afraid of what doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, like swimsuits or what strangers believe you should look like.
You are, as you are, enough. The sun, salt, sea, and sand don’t ask anything of you other than to treat them with respect, and so you should demand the same of yourself. Be kinder and gentler to yourself, love yourself into health and not perception, and show your body that you treasure her regardless of what stage she is in now. Accept her, set her free, and let her rock that proverbial eensy weensy teeny weeny yellow polka-dot bikini. She deserves it, and so do you.