August 30, 2010

Maybe It's Me: No Two Snowflakes, or, The Self-Image Revolution

When I lived in Spain, within seconds of my first day at the beach, I realized that everyone was staring at me. Not because my fair skin and freckles were out of the ordinary for that African-located part of Spain, but because I had my bathing suit on.

And nobody else did.

Young people and old people; size 0’s and size 22’s; family members, lovers, friends – everyone was uninhibitedly and distinctively comfortable in their own naked flesh around other naked bodies which they seemed to not notice at all.

It was shocking.

And it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.

What a revelation it was for me to see these people who were genuinely content with themselves, with their bodies. It didn’t matter the shape or size or color, everyone I was surrounded by were these approachable and accepting people totally unaffected, or maybe just unaware, of their unique physical differences.

I grew up in a household where size was never a topic of conversation. It wasn’t until I was in the seventh grade, when I was called “fat” for the very first time, that I realized I wasn’t pretty. Boys looked at me differently than they did the small girls. I became singularly focused on losing the weight so that I, too, could feel pretty.
‘Cause everyone knows that skinny equals pretty. At least that’s what the media tells us and has been telling us for years now (after all, most actresses and models are a size 2).

The average American woman is a size 14.

How did we become manipulated into believing that because we don’t fit some unattainable cookie-cutter image of the “perfect woman” the rich and famous dictated for us, we’re not beautiful? Who made the stupid rule of who gets to be pretty and who doesn’t? At what point did someone define beauty, creating a set guideline the rest of us are supposed to follow blindly?

When I realized I would never be a size 2 – genetics and bone structure were against me (we need to seriously stop discrediting those two factors when it comes to our physical make-up, too – my hips are not getting any smaller unless someone is shaving off layers of bone) – I refocused my attention on simply being “small enough” that I could wear a bikini at the beach. I felt like if I could do that then I would be seen as “skinny.” I went from being 170 lbs. (a size 16) at age seventeen to 135 lbs. (a size 8) at eighteen.

And yet despite quite literally cutting my size in half, I still felt inadequate.

I shouldn’t have. You know, we’re constantly impressed with and dumbfounded by the unexplainable, nonreplicatable beauty and unitary characteristics of each and every snowflake that falls from the sky.

Why do we short-change ourselves?

We, too, are unique creatures, individualistically designed. And we have so many more layers to us than a snowflake does! We’re not just physical beings; we have so many more dimensions including emotional, psychological, mental, and social. No two people have been, will be, or are alike, and yet it seems our society is more impressed by temporarily frozen water than by the complexity that is a human being.

I truly believe that insecurities, self-doubt, and the feeling of inadequacy can result in not having pride that comes with a sense of self. We’re too busy being conned into believing whatever the media, that is constantly and without fail misrepresenting the truth, has to say.

If we can get past the hurdle of other’s perception of us which is WORST than the media (and for goodness sake, what other people think of us, is none of our business to begin with); if we can tune out the glorified and falsified misrepresentations of beauty, youth, success, and power that is splashed all over every information and social outlet there is, then we can allow ourselves to live our own lives, expand our own boundaries, appreciate our own definition of beauty, to grow, to become, to be.

Can you image a world free of self-deprecation and under-appreciation? Can you imagine what exactly would happen if we become a society that was self-accepting and self-approved? What would happen if we become confident in not only ourselves, our abilities and capabilities, but in our short-comings which we should embrace with gratitude because they are essentially what makes us individuals and part of global community of flawed beings?

I moved to Spain when I was twenty, and after that first day where I was blatantly being stared at for my peculiar swimwear, I stopped wearing clothing at the beach altogether. All pretenses and insecurities and hesitations I had about my body and self-image were cast-aside so that I could fit in with the rest of my new culture, and enjoy life the way they seemed to do so effortlessly.

Did I have a great body?

Hell no.

But did I let my wobbly-bits hang out for the whole of Spain to see unabashedly?

Hell yeah.

I didn’t need to be “small enough” to wear a bikini. I just needed to be confident enough. Comfortable enough. “Me” enough.

Since then, I have proudly rocked a bikini in the summer despite not having the body to do so. And I’m not alone.

More than ever I’m noticing women of all shapes and sizes wearing bikinis. Better yet, I’m noticing less to no judgment being passed on them for it. These women are not flaunting their cellulite free thighs, perky breasts, or rock hard abs – they’re flaunting their self-acceptance, their appreciation to be who they are, and their freedom from self-imposed restrictions built up from social norms force fed to them by a judgmental media-driven society.

And I’m proud to be part of that shift in social conscious.

After what I’ve seen the past few summers, I know without a doubt, there’s a revolution happening.

A self-image revolution.

And it’s a beautiful thing.