“I’m so body positive right now I feel like my fat rolls look like cut abs,” Bron Bates on the phone to her friend one night.
What I told my friend probably says more about my bad eyesight than anything else, but I’m excited to be at a point in my life where I feel pretty good about my body.
Like many women, in high school and my early twenties I spent hours considering all the different parts of my body, scrutinising them at different angles, dressing them to their ‘best’ advantage and covering their ‘worst’ sides. I thought about how they could be changed to be perfect and imagined how great it would be if that magically happened.
Now I realise what a waste of time and energy that was. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of time and energy many of us are encouraged to waste as we’re brought up and socialised in a world that has very specific, narrow ideas about how a woman’s body should look. These expectations are hard to escape, but here are seven things that have actually changed how I feel about my body.
1. Kasey Edwards
Kasey’s letter to her mother articulated perfectly for me how my children are looking to me to see how to feel about themselves, especially my daughter. My daughter is subconsciously taking notes on how I regard my own body and internalising it for herself. So nowadays, I never put my body down in front of the kids. Every now and again, I’ll think about what I do like about it and I say that. After a while, I believe it (note belly comment at top).
2. Being in my late 30s
Do our brains change when we hit 35? I don’t know. But I definitely care way less about what others think of my body than I did in my twenties. Perhaps it’s because, being a woman over 35, my looks are no longer ‘relevant’ (a whole other problematic thing in itself), perhaps it’s because I’ve wised up to the outside pressures and am kicking back? Perhaps it’s because I have a supportive partner who always acts like my body is beautiful. Perhaps it’s all of the above. All I know is that I feel like I’m too old to be concerned with how other people judge my looks. It’s awesome.
3. Attending my friend’s birth
I was honoured when my friend asked me to be with her for her first birth. When I witnessed it, I was awed. Even though I’ve given birth three times myself, I thought I must’ve looked pretty gross and that my insides must have looked like they were all on my outsides. But while attending my friend’s birth, I saw that a woman’s birthing body doesn’t look gross at all. It looks freaking miraculous.
4. Lena Dunham
Lena is a lady who puts her body out there. She’s changed what kind of bodies we see on the screen. She runs her own show, writes her own work, and stands up for causes she believes in. On screen, she lounges about in a variety of positions (such as in underpants, eating a snack) and in life wears clothes of varying cuts, unrestricted by conventions of what is considered ‘ladylike’.
She’s bold and shameless, yet humble and imperfect. Seeing Lena says to me, ‘I have fat rolls. I have wobbly thighs. I am also valid and worthy of being seen.’
Having the freedom to decorate myself with ink is a liberating experience for me. It’s not just about the meaning of the tattoos or the aesthetic of them, it’s about having control of how my body looks and what I do with it, regardless of what anyone else thinks I should do, or what I was taught about conventional beauty when I was growing up. It’s a way to own my skin, and I love it.
6. Caitlin Moran
Through her books and interviews, Caitlin Moran beautifully calls out how our society requires women to have secrets. She articulates all these fundamental things about women – periods, fat, true eye-lash length, actual skin colour, body hair growth etc – that we’re expected to hide/change/remove in order to be acceptable. She points out that everything that’s specific to being a woman is the stuff we still spend so much energy covering up. If we don’t keep these secrets, it’s considered embarrassing at best, shameful at worst. Consider sanitary products. While there’s no shame in carrying a giant multi-pack of toilet paper down the street, imagine how embarrassing it would be if it were a giant multi-pack of tampons. Caitlin cemented for me how truly absurd all this is. Whose standards are these anyway? Not mine. Not anymore.
7. Having a daughter
When my daughter was born, I looked at her and thought: she’s perfect. In her first months of life, I considered how her tiny body, beautiful in every way, would grow bigger. Her smooth baby rolls and chubby wrists would turn into the angular limbs and bony joints of a child, then as she becomes a teenager, she’ll grow breasts and hips. A bigger bottom. Her belly and upper arms will become more round. Then one day she’ll be a woman and have wrinkles. Perhaps stretch marks. Maybe she’ll want to get tattoos. And still I’ll think she’s perfect. What’s beautiful about her body is that she’s in it. And that’s when I realised I felt the same way about myself, and my own body too.