Self Love and Pop Culture Beauty

2015 has been a good year for body love in the media.  I’m hoping the days of body type trends: Marilyn and Sofia in the 50s, Twiggy in the 60s, Cindy in the 80s, Kate in the 90s, and Gisele in the 00s, are no more.  They’re all lovely, but expecting every woman to match an ideal, as if body type can be changed as easily as last year’s sweater, is ridiculous.  In addition to the en vogue models, today we have Ashley Graham, Tess Holliday, Marquita Pring, Geena Rocero, and Andreja Pejic.  Even the men are getting the love with the “dad bod” love and rise in prominence of trans models like Aydian Dowling.  We certainly have a long way to go, since many in popular culture still alter their bodies to fit the latest fad.  Waist trainers?  Butt implants.  I never saw that one coming, although I personally appreciate the addition of ample butt fitting clothing to the market.

There are a few bodies missing from the body love though.  As much as “plus-size” is becoming more prominent, where is the apple shape?  Not every woman has a trim waist.  Frankly, most of us don’t.  While some women naturally hold weight in their middles, starch and sugar filled diets, stress, and hormonal imbalances make the rest of us gain more weight in our abdomen than we might otherwise.  While there are genuine health risks associated with excess abdominal fat, it’s also dangerous to focus too much on the negatives.  As I mentioned before, some women naturally gain weight there, and nothing will change that short of liposuction.  I’ve only had a flat stomach twice in my life, even though I’m naturally thin.  The first time was when my boyfriend (future husband) broke up with me for a few months.  I was so distraught I couldn’t eat anything but yogurt.  I also took up running since the endorphin highs were the only thing that made me remotely happy.  I ran about 20 miles a week and ate 1 yoplait yogurt a day.  I had a flat stomach then.  We got back together, I started eating again, and the tummy bulge came back.  Even when I was running marathons, it stuck with me.  The second time was when I went on a disastrous diet to fix my gut problems.  At the time, my physician and I did not know I suffered from fat malabsorption, so the diet gave me diarrhea and starved me.  I dropped from a size 8 to a 4 in a month.  Every meal ended in diarrhea.  That month I had a flat stomach.  I also felt like I was dying.  We adjusted the diet and started me on digestive enzymes.  I regained a healthy amount of weight and my belly.

The other missing shape is the curvy everywhere but top shape.  It’s the more extreme version of pear.  According to mainstream beauty standards, it’s ok to be flat topped if you’re skinny everywhere else.  I’ve met a handful of women with the uber-pear shape, and each time I smile inside and think, “Yay, there are other people like me.”  We’re underrepresented in fashion though, and I have to alter just about every dress and jacket I buy.  As a teen, I was mercilessly mocked for being flat.  I compensated by buying the latest super padded bra.

The next is not a shape, more an appearance.  The woman who looks like a man.  She may be trans, she may have hormonal imbalances, or she may just have a masculine appearance.  She doesn’t get much love though.  She gets a lot of ridicule and hatred.  In the face of this negativity, we have positivity warriors like Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman with PCOS, and Alex Drummond, a trans woman who rocks a full beard.

In different ways, I embody all three of these types.  My search for mainstream acceptance is a way of accepting myself.  It’s like if the world deems these women beautiful, that gives me permission to love myself.  I know it’s messed up and I’m working on hard on shedding the ego behind this mentality.  These tiny breasts are healthy.  They pumped out an insane amount of milk for my son.  No one would have expected nursemaid to be a possible career for me, but I managed to donate 360 ounces to a milk bank even after taking steps to reduce my supply.  Although I will admit having DDs for a few months was incredibly fun.  Oh the gorgeous bras I wore and stained with my leaky giant breasts.  My belly is now extra flabby since I rocked an enormous bump while pregnant.  I also tore my abdominals during pregnancy.  It’s gotten better with physical therapy, but it’ll never totally close.  But it’s also a reminder of my healthy pregnancy and wonderful son.  As for my lady beard and mustache, I can’t seem to find any love.  I hate having to wax my face once a month and pluck errant hairs almost daily.  I hate the acne resulting from ingrown hairs.  I wish I could be like Kaur, but in this I am weak.

Media portrayal helps.  It’s nice to see people like yourself be famous.  It stokes the ego and gives us a sense of acceptance.  We need more of this going forward, but ultimately also need to shift the focus to our inner selves.  Cultivating inner beauty will lead to greater acceptance for ourselves and others.  But pop culture is a good place to start.

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