Yesterday a friend posted on facebook about an experience she had shopping with her 2 year-old daughter.
She was trying on clothes and her daughter said to her, “Mommy, you look great! You look tiny!”
My friend said her heart broke, and she wondered how a 2-year old could have possibly learned that looking great means looking tiny. She immediately sat down next to her and said, “Sweetie, Mommy doesn’t look tiny. Mommy looks just right.” And her daughter smiled and said, “Okay Mommy, you look just right; and so do I!”
That story touched me and got me thinking. I think she did an amazing job of addressing the “tiny = beautiful” issue right there, in the moment, in a natural and honest way.*
You know what, though?
I don’t know if I would have caught it.
And I’m ashamed to admit that.
As passionate as I am about women (and men, but I’m going to be focusing on women today) accepting themselves exactly they way they are, I still struggle with it myself. And I don’t know if my child calling me tiny in an effort to praise me would have set off the alarm bells that it probably should.
I started thinking about my own body image “journey” (please, someone supply me with a less cliché word), and I realized that as far as I’ve come, I still haven’t been able to let go of that desire to be “tiny”.
Why is that? What is so appealing to me (us?) about being small and skinny? When I look at other women, I don’t mentally whittle them down to a size 00. I absolutely love curvy women, and I think there is nothing sexier than seeing a woman who is obviously comfortable with herself, and has chosen to embrace her body, rather than trying to hide or mask it.
And yet I look at myself sideways in every mirror I pass, assessing the size of my stomach.
And yet I often wear sports bras and looser shirts, trying to flatten and hide my breasts so that I lose all semblance of curves and look thinner and straighter.
And yet I long to be smaller, thinner, wondering what it would be like to be able to fold myself up into practically nothing when I sit on a chair, or to not have to tuck my stomach back into my pants when I sit down, or to be able to wear clothes and know they are going to hang just right on my frame.
I was talking to another friend about this, trying to get to the root of the issue. I couldn’t figure out why thinness wasn’t a body type I idealized in or expected from other women, but somehow, after everything, it was a standard I kept holding myself up to.
She said something that I’d never been able to pull into conscious thought before.
“It’s about not wanting to take up space.”
I recognized the sentiment as soon as the words left her mouth.
It’s about not wanting to take up space.
I am uncomfortable in my own skin. I feel I don’t deserve the space I take up, or maybe I want to hide sometimes. I want to be smaller, ever smaller, so that I can choose when to disappear and when to be noticed. I don’t want to take up space.
But guess what? I am 5’8″. Even if I lost 20 pounds, I would still be 5’8″–just more gaunt, and definitely saggier. (Sorry, boobs.) No matter how much weight I lose, I will not be able to erase my body.
And I don’t need to.
As women, we are constantly apologizing. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and we go out of our way–sometimes shoving ourselves out of the way–to make sure that we don’t. We are constantly apologizing for our feelings and for our thoughts and sometimes, for ourselves.
But we are entitled to our thoughts, no matter how different they are. We are entitled to our feelings, no matter how “unacceptable” they are. Binge eating is tied into this–when you think your feelings aren’t acceptable, or you’ve never learned how to deal with them, you numb them. Hide them. Shove them away.
It is okay to feel and to exist, and to take up as much space as you want to. You are a human being, a person created by God. You have a right to be.
Accept the space you take up, and own that space. Fill it however you want to.
You are allowed to take up space.
*I just feel I should point out, there is nothing wrong with being thin or tiny if that’s how your body is. I know naturally small women sometimes get left out in all the anti-media “real women have curves!” hype.
The thing is, some real women have curves. And some real women don’t have curves. Our definition of what constitutes a “real woman” shouldn’t hinge on her appearance.
What does body acceptance (or self-acceptance) mean to you personally?