Yesterday was International Women’s Day and I found myself thinking about what it means to be a woman. Where we are, how far we’ve come and what we need to do to gain the equality that we still don’t have.
I heard a lot about how we all need to support one another. I also thought about the women in my life who have been role models and taught me about strength, resiliency and how to be a good friend. I was feeling all, I am Woman, Hear Me Roar!”
Then I went to the gym for a boot camp class with lots of other women. Great way to celebrate the strong woman I am right?! 👊🏻 💪🏻 Usually I workout at home where I’m not in front of a mirror or when I go to the gym I’m off to the side so I don’t see myself. But last night I had a few close encounters with the mirror in the circuit we were doing and I hated it! I saw the fat around my hips – aka saddle bags (who coined that term anyway?) Then I moved up to stomach and asked myself, why is it so big, I eat well and I workout regularly and then up to my arms which I quickly decided are so big and then over to the fat between my chest and armpits and wondered how do I make that go away?!
And don’t even get me started on how I feel about my skin these days. It’s like I turned 38 and the world new it was time to start telling me how much younger I could look. I am still dealing with the effects of adult acne which now that it’s gotten better has left me with some small scars but add those to my large pores and my skin texture is (in my mind) horrible. Not to mention that I’m also starting to get jowls, mother f, I’m going to have to invest in that treatment that’s about $1500 in order to nip this all in the bud!
Jeez…. did I mention that all of this ran through my mind in less than a minute.
Thankfully I have some practices that I’ve learned for times when this kind of negative thinking starts running through my mind.
a. unfollow or put the phone down.
b. If I’m at the mirror, stop that thinking even though I really want to go down that road and collect all the evidence for why I’m not good enough and broken (or needing to be “fixed”) and instead I replace those thoughts with a few loving thoughts… thank you Louise Hay (the godmother of positive affirmations)… my skin in healthy, healing and glowing.
And when I was at the gym I replaced those thoughts with, you’re strong, you’re giving your body love, you are blessed to be able to exercise, you are good enough just the way you are. I sent that out to everyone in the room because I had a feeling a lot of them were probably beating themselves up too.
Even though I have been working on learning to love my body more a over the past few years, it can be a constant struggle, especially when we live in a world that always wants to fix us.
I woke up this morning and felt really good. I laid in bed, took a few deep breaths, thought about how great I felt and how grateful I was.
I got up and this good vibe feeling was flowing right up until I checked in on instagram.
It was a simple enough post that triggered my good vibes to stop dead in their tracks and set off all of my “you’re not good enough” alarms. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I need to get off Instagram, maybe it’s just my own anxieties but I’ve been realizing more and more lately just how obsessed our culture is with an unrealistic standard of beauty.
After seeing the post that made me feel like I needed to fix myself immediately or hide away from the world forever, I did a little research and found a book called “Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women” by Dr. Renee Engeln, a psychology professor and body image researcher at Northwestern University and I watcher her Ted talk.
This is the description of her talk on YouTube, “Girls grow up hearing both implicit and explicit messages suggesting that the most important attribute they can strive for is beauty. The chronic focus on beauty directs cognitive, financial, and emotional resources away from other more important goals. Dr. Engeln considers whether there is hope for treating the epidemic of beauty sickness and what it might be like to live in a world where women feel free to spend less time in front of the mirror and more time changing the world.”
Yessss!!!! As I listened to the talk, I started to feel better. Phew, I’m not alone. A few weeks ago, I actually decided not to look in the mirror as much. I spend most days working at home without makeup on and it’s too easy to go down the rabbit hole of self hate if I do, so I have started just looking down as I wash my hands and moving on. A, nothing to see here folks, approach. Get in and get out! It sounds sad, I realize that. But it’s better than the alternative in my opinion. And hey, if you are in a place right now where every time you look at your un-done up face and think, damn I’m perfect! Good for you!!! I hope to get to that place too. And no it won’t be because I buy your miracle anti age attacking face cream. But again, if that worked for you, great. But please don’t email me and tell me you can fix my skin. It reminds me of the time that I shared my engagement news at a women’s networking group. This group’s whole foundation was based on the power we as women had when we joined together. I loved it! Anyways, so I got back to my desk after that meeting and received a call from a fellow member of this group. After we exchanged niceties she went on to say, “so I thought with your upcoming wedding that you’d want to lose some weight and I have just the shake to help you do that.”
No thank you. Bye.
The sad part was I wasn’t really shocked that someone would say that to me. I was a size 11/12 at the time after all (insert sarcasm) and was used to being body shamed at that point in my life. Sad but true.
And I also know that In some industry’s that’s how they make their money. They are encouraged to prey on other people’s insecurities and pain points. And yes, if you know me, right now, you’re probably thinking, but wait, don’t you partner with a company that sells shakes? Yes, I do. But I can tell you that I didn’t start adding them to my life because the person who told me about them said I should lose weight for my upcoming wedding. And she didn’t tell me that she could fix me with them. I bought them because I wanted more nutrients in my life, that’s all. Her social media wasn’t filled with, lose weight, look better promos, before and afters, and other messages that made me feel not good enough. And I liked that. Some people may like the other way. I can only speak for myself.
Full disclosure: In a blog post from a few years ago, I did post a before and after and I have on my insta once too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with before and afters. But I do believe in everything in moderation. And also asking, what is the motivation for posting.
And don’t get me wrong! I love facials, and treatments and getting dolled up. I enjoy the way I look with make up on and my hair done. I just don’t want to feel obsessed with it. And if my acne scars never go away and my teeth never get as white as the people I see on tv, then I want to feel ok with that. Because hopefully I will have a lot more aging in my future and I’d like to enjoy those years and all of the goodness that comes with them.
The comment about shedding the weight before my wedding was made in 2008 and the tedtalk I mentioned above was 2013. Have we evolved for the better since then?
I think we have and we haven’t.
There is a lot more body love, body positive messages out there today then when I was growing up.
For example, messages like the Dove Real beauty sketches video on YouTube. The one where women describe themselves to a sketch artist who can’t see them. It is a powerful reminder to be nicer to ourselves. But, as another person pointed out on their blog, it still narrows down a women’s value to being wrapped up in beauty only.
Still on my hunt for what the internet thought about this beauty obsessed culture we live in, I came across Carrie Hammers Ted Talk “The Business of Beauty is Very Ugly.”
She says that only 4% of women identify as beautiful. Ugh.
Ok so maybe we don’t need to feel beautiful to be whole? I’m down with that. But sadly when we aren’t feeling beautiful we are probably feeling a lot of other not cool things.
In her research she found that
“Women not feeling beautiful has huge, dangerous echoing effects on our society,” Hammer says. “Eight out of ten women opt out of important life events when they don’t feel [attractive] … Young girls self-select themselves out of sports, activities or even raising their hand in class because they don’t want to draw attention to how they look.” As an adolescent, Hammer never saw anyone who looked like her in magazine pages, and so she assumed she must not be beautiful and that beauty products would “fix” her. “[I did] what the magazines told me to,” she says. “I bowed down to the beauty bibles — started chemically straightening my hair … started hating my skin color, my thighs.”
You’ve probably been there too. I know I have been. And as I’ve already stated, I seem to still be there as my body and my skin evolves. #funtimes
But what I really liked about Carrie’s talk is what she had to say about how unrealistic these beauty standards are.
And I’m not just talking about an Instagram filter here and there either.
She talks about how 12 year old models are made to look like they’re 30 and then marketed targeted to adult women. I mean, wtf. No wonder we feel like we’ll never look young enough!
Hammer discusses “Frankenstein Photoshop,” in which photo editors use multiple models to make one image. “Recently, a famous 70-something celebrity was photographed for the cover of a big magazine,” Hammer says, “[for the shoot] but apparently they thought her legs looked too old so a younger leg model was called in, photographed and her legs were superimposed over the star’s for the cover.”
We are living in a world of delusion she says.
And with apps like FaceTune, which I just googled to get a brief description of, we really can’t trust anything we see online. Google it. Look at the video tutorials that show kids and marketers how to use it.
A before-and-after of a photo Hammer edited with Facetune (Photo: Carrie Hammer)
It’s no wonder people are logging off social media these days.
I’m not pointing fingers at anyone here. Because as I have learned that when I point my finger, there are always three pointing back at me. I can only look at myself and try to do better.
We’ve all been raised in this beauty sick culture. We are all trying to do our best I believe. And for me that means, keeping an open mind. What works for some doesn’t mean it will work for me. Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions. I can only take care of my own and do my best to practice the golden rule. “Do onto others as I’ve had done onto me.”
And we can all be role models by what we do and say in front of the next generation of girls and boys. I saw this first hand while hanging out with my seven year old niece last summer at the cottage. The magazine I was reading which was a health magazine had six very fit women on the cover all with their abs of steel showing. I noticed her looking at the cover deep in thought. And I wondered what she was thinking. Was her brain being washed with this delusion of perfection? It made my heart sad. But it reminded me to keep my own brain free of that nonsense and to not beat myself up in front of her and also to give her praise and acknowledgment for more than just how pretty she is.
It effects men and boys too. That same weekend at the cottage my nephew said, Auntie Cori, if you’re healthy, how come your belly sticks out. I actually laughed inside because he asked it so innocently and it wasn’t his fault I was walking around reading a health magazine with abs of steel women splashed across its cover. I mean he didn’t say that’s why he asked but I wonder if it was?
It was an honest question and a very good one. My response to him was that you don’t have to have abs of steel to be healthy. And that even skinny people can be unhealthy. That health is based on much more than what’s on the outside. And also that having abs is great for people too if that’s what works for them.
I was reminded at that moment how tricky and hard being a parent is and why I love being an aunt. 🙂
So to take it back to Women’s Day.
I have no idea what we need as women. I can only focus on myself. Check in with myself. Try to focus on things that empower me. Take my focus off of society’s unrealistic standards. Keep reinforcing positive thoughts over negative ones so that I don’t get pissed off at a simple instagram post. Share positive uplifting things on social media. I’m not doing a no make up selfie though. I’m not there yet. Spend less time getting the perfect pose and more time experiencing the moments. Less time criticizing parts of my body and more time giving them the love they deserve. Praise other women of all ages for their non- beauty related accomplishments.
And like Carrie Hammer said, “share the message and make impossible beauty a thing of the past.”