Defining Your Body

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The world expects you to define your body in certain terms. Waist size, bust size, height, weight. These measurements should figure into your holistic view of your physical self, but they needn’t be the only factors. And spending some time in front of the mirror looking at and learning about your shape can completely transform how you conceptualize your body.

Why is it important to become familiar with your personal physical terrain? Well, how can you love something that you don’t understand? Seeing yourself is key to accepting yourself, and accepting yourself is a huge first step toward loving yourself.

So. Get naked. Or if you’re not fond of naked, strip down to your undies. Now haul out a full-length mirror and make sure you’ve got some decent light in the room. When you peer at your reflection, what aspects strike YOU as your defining physical traits? Which bits are markedly large, small, or relatively out of proportion? Do you have a prominent stomach, long neck, tiny feet? Do your arms seem short, your shoulders broad, your breasts small? Does your torso seem much longer than your legs, or vice versa? Look at everything, not just the major areas like hips, midsection, and bust. Examine your wrists and ankles, leg and arm length, calf circumference. Try not to judge yourself and DO NOT use someone else’s body as a point of comparison. Just take a long hard look, and note the features of your physical form that seem to define it.

Let’s use me as an example. I have fairly broad shoulders which makes my B-cup breasts seem relatively small. My hips and thighs are full, which makes my natural waist appear small, too. My feet are well-proportioned to my muscular calves, but my hands and wrists are small compared to my arms. My face is large and rectangular, though my hair offsets its blunt angles.

Notice how I am describing my features mainly in comparison to my other features. What’s the point in comparing my boobs to Salma Hayek’s? Even if I had her boobs, I wouldn’t have her stature, her shoulder span, or any other aspects of her figure. Her boobs would look totally different on my frame. I’d rather focus on how my boobs interact with other aspects of my frame.

Ideally, this type of examination and evaluation should feel enlightening, scientific, and informative. You should be sating curiosity and gathering knowledge about how you are truly formed, comparing personal proportions with interest and tenderness. If you devolve into trash-talking yourself for having a prominent stomach, long neck, or tiny feet, remember: You are giving yourself a lesson in yourself. How can your stomach, neck, or feet be bad or wrong? They’re yours, and always have been, even if this is the first time you’ve recognized and acknowledged them. Welcome your defining traits into the fold like old friends. Because they are, and always will be.

Disproportionate is not bad. Big is not bad. Tiny is not bad. Uneven and unusual and unexpected are not bad. Familiarizing yourself with your body, just as it is, should prove your individuality in the best possible way. No other body is like yours, and that’s fantastic. FANTASTIC, I tell you! Stop comparing your figure to the figures of other women, and don’t define yourself wholly on the dry, soulless numbers that explain your dimensions. Decide for yourself what makes your body yours.

And then decorate it and celebrate it.

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  • Deja Pseu

    Great post, Sal!

  • Clare

    This is a great post, and something I've been striving to do since I started reading your blog. Evaluating myself on my own merits (and I firmly believe that this goes beyond physical description, and can be applied to personality, smarts, and a whole plethora of other personal traits) has been a challenge, but an incredibly rewarding one. I love myself a whole hell of a lot more now that I can look at myself that way.

  • bubu

    Great post yet again! I've been starting to do this lately, in part because I've just lost a substantial amount of weight and I'm kind of excited but also because I'm starting to understand what characteristics are immutable, regardless of my weight, and that helps me better understand. I recently finally realized I have broad shoulders and a short neck, and this is why so many blazers make me look like a linebacker… valuable information, this, now that I know, I can choose clothes to deal with that fact, and I'm much more pleased with the results. Great advice as always!

  • Charlotte

    Wise advice, Sal. I especially like the idea of not slapping value judgments on the parts, but just analyzing them in relation to the other parts. Whole Body love!

  • Kristin

    oh what an important exercise. There are days when it's hard for me to look in the mirror, but doing things much like what you suggest here have helped me a whole lot to stop comparing bits of myself against bits of others, and even back off comparing the whole of me to the whole of others. I'm the only one who has "me" bits, and it feels so much better to appreciate and even CHERISH that fact than to worry that because of my differences that I am less than in any way.

  • Sheila

    A marvellous reminder, Sal, thank you. With all the upheaval in my life, I'm working to really be kinder to myself, not just about my body, but everything (emotions, creativity, thinking). It's all one, and it's all good.

  • Katie

    This is actually exactly the sort of thing that I have trouble with. I have only just started paying attention to style and shape and color, and I find that just considering myself in isolation doesn't give me enough context. My face is the size of my face. It looks face-sized, and I have no idea how to determine whether it seems large or small. It's smaller than my shoulder span? It's larger than my hand? What does that mean?

    So what seems to *help* me is comparison — not to just one person in particular, but to everybody I can get a critical eye on without being creepy. If I look at a bunch of pictures of different types of people, I can start to figure out where I fall on the axis of humanity — my face is a bit narrower than most; my cheekbones are better-defined than many. Bit of a fleshy nose, but not the sort you'd call bulbous.

    Maybe it's that I don't naturally compare myself directly with other people: when I see somebody who really looks put-together I think, "man, she looks really put-together" and not "man, I wish I could look as put-together as she does", which is maybe the point you're trying to make by focusing on putting things in terms of your own body. But without those points of reference that come from really looking hard at other people, it's difficult for me to figure out what details about my body are important and make me unique, and what details are true just by virtue of having legs and arms and a spine that bends in the middle.

  • Ann M.

    Fantastic post!

  • Cubicle Chic

    Really great post! Your writing style is always so inviting and engaging – really easy to read and feel connected to. It's sad how few women actually know their bodies and learn to love them as their own and not in comparison to other women. I hope that lots of women heed your advice!

    – Meredith

  • Rebecca

    Great post, Sal. Your blog always reminds me to celebrate my strengths, rather than worrying about the parts of my body that I don't like as much.

  • Sidewalk Chalk

    Fantastic post, Sal, and good tips, too.

    I didn't realize how much I'd been neglecting my body until last year when I bought a new bathing suit, and seeing myself in it, I realized that my body wasn't as big or as gargantuan as I had thought for years — that all of its lines, curves, birthmarks, pigmentations and capabilities were worth loving.

  • A-Dubs

    Smartness.

  • Jodi

    I love this post.. I posted on my blog with links and reference to you… you always have such information stuff on your blog.. much appreciated!!

  • Delane

    I agree with almost everything you have to say.

    I agree in celebrating what you have and who you are until proportions become unhealthy. Being the best me, defined by me is something I still strive toward.

    Check out my $40 CSN Store giveaway at:
    http://euphoricagony.blogspot.com/2010/09/csn-store-giveaway.html

  • tinyjunco

    some people might be interested in making a 'croquis' of their figure as part of this exercise. a croquis is a silhouette or outline of a human figure upon which a designer sketches their clothes ideas. you can make a croquis of your own figure – directions here:
    http://tinyurl.com/24roth7

    you can use your croquis to evaluate your proportions, and to 'try out' different outfits or fashion ideas if you're at all 'artsy'. many home sewers find their own custom croquis to be a valuable took in evaluating new ideas.

    Hi Katie! there's a bunch of links out there if you search 'human proportions' that list typical and ideal figures….here's sum up of some popular ones:
    http://tinyurl.com/3wl2b7

    but it's all just ideas people have/had. i say, play around with creating different proportions and silhouettes on yourself and see what you like!

  • Fae

    There's something about this post that troubles me, and it's something that troubles me about many of your entries. I admire the goal of improving women's body images, but it feels like your attempts to make positive judgments are built on such a foundation of negative self-judgment that you're "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

    You say to view your body without making judgments, but your examples are all negative! Why not say, "Which bits are in particular harmony with each other? Does your collarbone or neck seem graceful? Are your breasts well proportioned to your frame? Is the curve of one body part into another pleasing?"

    Speaking, as a woman who has worked at and grown into positive body image and self-esteem, it feels as though you are giving to yourself with one hand while you take with the other. I wonder if you’re aware of the underlying messages in your words.

  • Sal

    Fae: I am not sure exactly what in this entry strikes you as negative or judgmental. I have in no way said that any aspect of my body is troublesome or bad or upsetting to me, nor have I encouraged others to pinpoint their supposed "flaws."

    This exercise is meant to encourage women to learn about how they are shaped without judging themselves at all. To see themselves and understand their physical forms. And I've been very specific to point out that all forms are worthy of praise and love.

    I don't see anything bad or wrong with short arms, broad shoulders, or tiny feet, to use some of the examples I cited in my post. These are simply observations of shape, size, and proportion – which can be useful in understanding, adorning, and loving your body as it is. If these examples strike YOU as negative ones, perhaps you should ask yourself why that is.

  • Maria

    What a wonderful affirmation of what I believe but nonetheless need to be reminded of. Thanks Sal. Good to have you back! Maria

  • K.Line

    This is TERRIFIC advice. We can only compare one feature against another to find the balance. Absolutely NO use in comparing ourselves to others. It's a waste of time!

  • Anonymous

    Oh I so wish I could do this. I just find that it is not possible for me to evaluate my naked/nearly naked body without it quickly escalating into self-criticism. There just isn't much about my body that doesn't make me cringe too much to actually study. I don't mind looking at myself fully clothed and can both evaluate my body and even pick out my good features. Once I am no longer covered with clothing, I cannot find anything good and am too distracted by the bad.

    I guess I have some serious work to do, huh?
    -Amy

  • Dana

    Hi Sal,

    Great post! Finally at 48, I'm starting to accept my body as it is; however, I still struggle with it from time to time. The crazy thing about that is now a days my sometimes dissatisfaction has more to do with my wide shoulders, back and torso, something I can't change with any weight loss.

    I kind of understand what Fae is saying. I'm not going to say that you're negative about yourself in any way, but after seeing numerous photos of you, I would never consider that your hair is "bushy," your shoulders are "broad" or that your hips and thighs are "full." I know you're not criticizing yourself, but I think you have an absolutely fabulous, hourglass figure. So yes, your waist is tiny in respect to your hips, but it's not because they're "full." I hope that makes sense. I do think that even as objectively as we try to see ourselves, we're never truly able to "see" ourselves 100% objectively.

    Oh, and you're hair is super cute! Full and curly!

  • The Waves

    I think this is a really important topic, so thank you for writing about this! Getting to know one's own body can be tricky (our mind likes to play games on us), but it is so worth it! It is also something you have to keep doing, because it is easy to forget and ignore.

    A friend of mine has taught her daughters (ages 5 and 7) to look at their bodies, and tells them every day that they are unique and beautiful. So many girls grow up these days not realising that they are in posession of their own bodies. My friend's little girls can already tell me, for example, that "it is important to know my body so that I can tell when it is healthy and when it is ill". Superbly important stuff!

  • Ruby

    Wonderful post and great description of the curious, non-judgmental mindset that is essential to evaluating our bodies.

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