Shara Trott | goldthelabel.com
I recently went on a short trip for New Year’s Eve and whenever I travel I always stop at the first newsstand I see to stock up on magazines. Trashy reality television and salacious celebrity gossip are my weaknesses (and I will not apologize for that). Standing in front of the huge monument-like wall, plastered with every major female-centric publication, I noticed something quite alarming but sadly not at all unusual.
Every single magazine displayed on the huge wall in front of me had at least one article about how to lose weight quick and fast in the New Year. Which honestly would not be a bad thing at all if we were talking strictly from a health and wellness perspective. But when the incentive to lose those unsightly pounds is to “look good for your man” or to “WOW guests at that New Year’s Eve party” or to “make your co-workers jealous,” it becomes increasingly clear to female readers, that losing weight and maintaining a “trim” figure are not only paramount in a woman’s life, but can determine whether or not you’re able to attract a suitor or can even determine your social status.
I suppose before I delve deep into my feelings regarding society’s demand that women maintain a certain weight in order to be considered beautiful, I should give you a little background on my personal experience with the issue of body image and why I am so passionate about this topic. I cannot remember a time when I did not struggle with body image, as my earliest memory of feeling insecure about my body dates back to elementary school. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was a pre-teen. I sought professional help with this issue when I was sixteen years old and have been in and out of treatment/ therapy for this issue, and a plethora of others, since then. With the tools at my disposal from years of therapy and maturity I have been fortunate enough to have my symptoms and behaviours dwindle considerably over the last few years. However, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t relapsed in a moment of weakness.
I realize this may come as a surprise to most reading this, mainly because with one quick browse of any of my social media pages, you can see that I am a body-positive feminist activist who is particularly vocal on the topic of policing women’s bodies. I hope there is no misconception that because I champion the cause of body and self-love that I have it all figured out in that regard. I hate to shatter the illusion but I do not have it all figured out. Not even close. I fight so hard for women to love their bodies, because I, like so many women I know, know what it’s like to be insecure about my body. I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and feel disgusted looking in the mirror. I know what it’s like to have to cancel plans simply because going out in public feeling fat and gross seems like a particularly daunting task. And I know that I am not alone. If you’re reading this feeling or having felt any of those things, I want you to know that you are not alone either. The “one size fits all” school of thought as it applies to beauty is shoved down our throats at every turn. We are bombarded with blatant and subliminal messages about the ideal female body in every commercial, television show, movie, and magazine. It is a wonder how any woman is able to maintain a healthy body image.
I remember being in university getting ready with a friend at her apartment for a night out. I had brought over several different outfit options. And obviously, with us being girls, we had to try on every single option I had brought over in addition to every single item of clothing she had in her closet before we settled on our looks for the evening. Now, this particular friend was not only stunning but she had, what I deemed, the perfect body. I remember feeling a tiny bit sheepish and insecure even changing next to her because I could never look the way she did in a dress. I remember looking at her in admiration and a tiny bit of jealously as she examined herself in the mirror and before I could open my mouth to tell her how amazing she looked and that that dress was definitely the winner for the night I heard her say, “Ugh I’m so fat nothing is working for me tonight.” I thought she was kidding and waited for her to laugh but she did not. On her face in place of a jovial expression was a facial expression I knew all too well. I’d seen it on my own face many times as well as on the faces of many other women I knew who struggled with body image. That was the first time I realized that happiness with my body would not come once I reached a specific weight goal. There in front of me was a woman who I had deemed physically perfect, who couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds soaking wet, who was also unhappy with her body. We compare ourselves to the women we see on television and even to the women we see every day in real life, who we think have “better” bodies than us, when this idea of the ideal female body is none other than an illusion and an unattainable goal that is dangled in front of us by society and the media to make us feel less than beautiful. Losing weight and being healthy should be about strengthening our bodies to make us feel good. Loving your body means taking care of yourself, not starving yourself. Eating well and exercising to stay healthy, focusing on a feeling and not so much on an “ideal” weight. These are things I have to remind myself of from time to time. I’ve learned that the journey to self-love is not a linear journey and there are no road maps to download. Every day is different and the key is to take one step at a time and to try to not let the bad days outweigh the good. Try not to compare your body or your journey to anyone else’s because your experiences are uniquely yours. I encourage you to share your experiences if the opportunity should present itself. It may be hard at first to talk about such personal issues but there is safety in numbers and it may help to know that you’re not alone in this.