Posts Categorized: body image

Why Caring About Your Appearance Is Valuable to Self-care

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There are plenty of people who still believe that style is a frivolous pursuit. Plenty more maintain that caring for and loving your body is a waste of energy and that it’s what’s inside that matters – intellect, creativity, emotions, personality. Here are the reasons I disagree with both:

In order to move through most peopled societies, we are required to wear clothing. Nudist colonies aside, we’ve all got to get dressed every day if we want to leave our homes for any reason. Of course, economics, geography, body shape and size, ability, and many other factors can limit available clothing choices. But with thrift and fast fashion, online shopping and expanded sizing options, most people have more options now than they did even five years ago. Many, many people have choices when they dress, and what they choose to wear reflects at least a small portion of their inner lives. And in my opinion, since we’ve got to get dressed anyway, we might as well do it expressively and in ways that feel good. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention.

As for the argument that working toward body love is a waste of energy, the related argument that loving your body amounts to vanity, and the idea that your exterior self is just a vessel for your superior, interior self? All I see there is imbalance. I’ve already acknowledged that how you look isn’t the most important thing about you. You can pore over nearly eight years of archives and you will NEVER find me making that claim. But thinking of your body as a brain-and-personality-holder strikes me as short-sighted. Consider this: Someone who focuses virtually all attention, care, and love on their body is generally considered to be vain. So why would focusing virtually all attention on your intellect, creativity, and personality be any less imbalanced? You’re not a zombie – a body that moves through life without a functioning brain. But you’re also not a brain in a jar – thinking and creating in the abstract alone. You have a body. As long as you are alive you will have a body. In fact, without your body, your intellect and creativity and personality wouldn’t exist. Pitting your mind against your body is like cooking up a personal civil war.

I’ve known I’m smart a hell of a lot longer then I’ve known I’m pretty. I spent a long time trying to hide my body with clothes and wishing that my body didn’t exist at all. But I feel a lot more balanced, serene, and complete now that I’ve accepted my body as an integral part of my identity, and chosen to utilize style to express my personality to the observing world. We are thinking beings with corporeal forms. You can’t have one without the other. So why not work toward respecting and accepting both?

Image courtesy Andrea Parrish-Geyer

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Body Love and Power

 

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Why is it important to love and accept your body?

Simple: Power.

Many, many companies profit off the low self-esteem of women: Diet companies tell us that losing weight will make us feel better about ourselves, cosmetics companies tell us that wearing makeup will make us feel better about ourselves, drug companies tell us that getting face-tightening injections will make us feel better about ourselves. All we have to do is give them some money, and they will give us better body images. And sometimes we do, and sometimes their promises pan out. But the marketing machinery is still whirring in the background, so that once we feel decent about our wrinkles we begin focusing on our love handles, once we’ve got those under-eye circles under control the worries about hair texture and color crop up. Make no mistake; Money is being made off of women’s body insecurities.

Of course, the beauty standards being thrust upon us by Hollywood are mixed up in there, too. If every woman felt equally beautiful, there would be no aspirationally gorgeous movie stars for us to worship. So the movie industry insists on tall, thin, young women with unblemished skin and just a hint of muscle, a figure that is attainable for a tiny segment of the population. Because they firmly believe that the escapism of movies is inextricably tied to the audience’s desire to see people who look nothing like themselves on the screen.

The messages we are fed make us feel shame and fear. Since virtually everyone hears the same messages, and since many buy into them without thinking, we end up with endless streams of body- and appearance-based judgment from the press, social media, our peers. We are told that unless we look a certain way, we are lesser, laughable, worthy of scorn. And the threat of that backlash just for looking like ourselves? It frightens us further. We become less bold, less willing to step up and be seen, less capable of taking risks and moving into leadership positions. Because the scrutiny, the scathing criticism, the blatantly misogynist diatribes that will undoubtedly be hurled at us will be more than we can bear.

Hating your body can strip you of your power. Hating your body yields that power to others, outsiders, people who know nothing of your strength and potential and brilliance. Hating your body stifles you.

Which is not to say that those who are on the path to body love are all mighty Titans, or that they need to be. Or that all women are susceptible to these negative messages and feel lesser because of them. Merely that committing to loving and accepting your body can be a move toward reclaiming some stolen power. When you feel good about your physical form, some of those negative, manipulative messages will start to bounce off of you. You’ll hear them and think, “Nope, I’m just fine, thanks,” and you’ll move on. And depending on how you’re wired, gaining ground on body love and acceptance may empower you to be more visible in your daily life, family life, professional life, artistic life. When you’re able to let snark slide off of you, you aren’t as leery of speaking in front of a group or offering to lead a team. You’re bolder, braver, stronger. When you aren’t worried about how others will look at or think about your appearance, you’re free to make bigger choices. Or just different choices. Ones that mean action without fear of judgment or repercussion.

Fighting the industries that profit off of our low self-esteem is important and necessary work. But you can wage war on a smaller scale: Work toward accepting and loving your body so you can deflect those misguided messages about body “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” Work towards hearing and discarding useless criticism of women’s bodies. Work towards knowing that you’re amazing just as you are so that you can move through your life’s work unencumbered. We may not see a world free of body snarking in our lifetime, but we can reclaim our power by loving ourselves and moving on.

Image courtesy Liam Wilde

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This Week I Love …

Wendy for sitting me down ten years ago and saying, “Kid, you’re gonna do big things.” I admired her tremendously. She barely knew me. This was such a gift.

… Beth for matching my intensity at every turn and for being my professionalism and graciousness role model.

Sarah for being the person in my life who constantly asks, “What’s next for you?” and keeps me thinking about what more I can accomplish.

… JoAnna for inspiring me with her strength and bravery, and for telling me constantly that she admires me for mine.

Bets for being willing to listen to my worries, connect me with anyone in her network, and celebrate all of my triumphs. Even the tiny, internal ones.

Barbara for mentoring me without meaning to and showing me that a Capricorn CAN be self-employed and love it. By doing it herself first.

Katie for her passion and insight, support and affection.

Allie and Sarah for sending me all the good feminist jokes and working right alongside me to empower women.

… Emily and Anne and Hanna and Gaby for knowing my whole sordid history and loving and accepting me anyway.

Tehilah for her marvelously rambly phone messages, sage advice, and unending support. I know for a fact that if I needed her, she would hop the first flight out of JFK and be at my side in mere hours.

… Claire and Maureen and Anita and Christy for asking, “What can we do to help?” And meaning it.

Trinity for making me think hard about my actions and their repercussions, and for her curiosity and kindness and patience.

Annie for showing me that when you’re chasing your dreams, very little else matters. And for making me laugh my ass off.

Christina for her gentle compassion, flexibility, and unending generosity.

Megan for forgiving me even when she probably shouldn’t have.

Liz for hatching big plans with me, swearing fluently with me, commiserating with me, geeking out with me.

Autumn for reminding me that being candid is always a good idea, and that kindred spirits are rare and precious.

Audi for being my polar opposite and mirror image all at once. And for reminding me to RELAX, for God’s sake.

Amy for kicking ass and taking names, for cracking me up on the regular, and for inspiring me with her meticulous plans for world domination.

Letta for being brilliant, hilarious, effusive, and unstoppable.

This week I’m thinking about the women in my life and how essential they are to my happiness and well-being. I am blessed and fortunate to have a large and loving network of women friends who do nothing but support me, encourage me, and lift me up. In a world where the media pits women against each other, focuses on competition instead of collaboration, and manufactures cat-fights to drive ratings and page views, I want to take a moment to say that I love my women friends so much. More than I can ever express in words. We stand together, we work together, and unlike the TV- and movie-depicted women we never steal each others’ boyfriends. Or thunder. Or anything at all.

I started this blog because of my women friends. I realized that I was having the same conversations over and over again about weight and body image and confidence and self-esteem. My friends struggled to feel good about their bodies in a constant and exhausting way, and I wanted to show them that they didn’t need to change themselves. Not ever. And that instead of digging into another crash diet or investing in a round of Botox, they might consider exploring dressing options that highlighted what they already loved about their bodies. And practice some daily acceptance and forgiveness. I had those conversations in person, and they helped me move toward having them in writing and in a space where they might support and validate even more women.

I write and speak and teach to empower all women including the ones I’ve never met, but the people who make that work possible and keep me going when I’m ready to throw in the towel? They’re my women friends. The people who hug me and tell me they’re proud of me and remind me to be grateful. The people whose successes thrill me, whose tragedies crush me, whose new endeavors and adventures fill me with pride and joy. The people who see me often yet are always visibly glad, or see me seldom but welcome me as if not a day has gone by.

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that it’s essential to tell the important people in your life how important they are. Tell the people you love that you love them. I tell these amazing, inspiring women that I love and value them as often as I can to their faces, or to their phones and computers. I probably do it a little more than is strictly necessary, but I’d rather err on the gushy side. If you have women in your life who support and celebrate you, I’d love it if you would take a moment today to reach out and let them know how much you appreciate them.

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