Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

In my last post, I wrote about a few of my personal “body image role models,” women who embody healthy body attitudes and are helping me to cultivate similar perspectives. Now it’s time to consider the celebrities…

We often hear about the negative effects of the media and the damage created by trying to live up to celebrities in terms of beauty and thinness. While it’s true that many stars are not good role models for young (and older) women, there are some who buck that trend. I have written about a few of them in previous posts and will continue to share stories of women in the limelight who possess refreshingly positive attitudes related to the topics addressed in this blog.

I also keep a file of positive quotes from famous women on the topics of body image and self-esteem. Today’s post shares a few of these quotes from celebrity body image role models, as well as my commentary on what they have to say. The women quoted represent various professions – an athlete, a model, a singer, and a reality TV star – but they all have powerful insights to share with those of us who are working to rehabilitate a negative body image. It is my hope that you will gain a few tidbits of wisdom or “aha moments” from reading the quotes below.

A lot of attention is given to celebrities who have enviable figures. We’ve all seen the magazine articles with such titles as “The Hottest Hollywood Bodies,” “Body after Baby,” and a multitude of other stories chronicling celebrity weight loss and the body ideals showcased by the stars. Similarly, many of us know “real people” with amazing physiques and we may compare our own bodies to theirs and find ourselves coming up short. Seeing beautiful bodies can either motivate us or deflate our spirits, depending upon our mindsets and how we feel about our chances of achieving our body goals.

While it can be helpful to have body role models, it is even better to have body image role models, especially for those of us who are working to rehabilitate a negative body concept. This post will highlight a few of my personal body image role models and show what I have learned from the women in my life who embody healthy attitudes toward their bodies.

I always love when a woman with an alternate body type rises to fame in film or television. When I say “alternate body type,” I’m referring to a woman who does not possess the standard Hollywood stick-thin figure embodied by most starlets today. I think it’s good for young girls to witness other types of bodies on the big or small screen, especially since most women are not naturally a size 2 or 4. It’s healthy for them to see stars that have curvier bodies but are still regarded as beautiful by society at large.

One such woman who has recently risen to fame is Christina Hendricks, the lovely actress who plays Joan Holloway on “Mad Men.” Christina has flowing flame-colored hair, alabaster skin, glowing blue eyes, and a bombshell figure which evokes comparisons to Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Her shape is a pronounced hourglass and she proudly shows off all of her gorgeous curves, both on “Mad Men” and on the red carpet. She stands out not only because she’s stunningly beautiful, but also because she looks different from most of the other women we see in Hollywood today.

I recently found a journal entry I made following an interesting shopping experience I had back in 2004. I titled my journal entry “Perspective.” I am sharing what I wrote six years ago because I feel it is timeless and highly relevant to the “body image rehab” process. I have modified the original text slightly for the sake of clarity. I also removed references to specific sizes, as that information may be “triggering” to some people and is not really pertinent to the overall message.

I was in a department store buying clothes the other day. While waiting in line to pay, I overheard a conversation a lot of new clothes and told the saleswoman it was because she had recently lost quite a bit of weight. I noticed that the clothes she was buying were all several sizes larger than my current size; a size which I feel is unacceptable. I also noted that this woman was approximately six inches shorter than me. While I would have been horrified to be purchasing those larger sizes at my height, this woman was absolutely thrilled to be wearing that same size.

It struck me at that moment that it is all about perspective. I hate wearing my current size now because I used to wear two sizes smaller (or even four or five sizes smaller during my anorexic years). In contrast, the woman in front of me loved the fact that she was buying her current size because she used to wear a much larger size. What disgusts me thrills her. Interesting how perspective affects how we feel about our size – and ourselves.

For as long as I can remember, there has been at least one part of my body which I have found completely unacceptable. This hated body part hasn’t always been the same, but I can’t remember a time when I was not obsessing about some aspect of my body. It is extremely difficult for me to inhabit my body and not be roiling against some part of it. I do not feel fully comfortable in my own skin and this leads me to feel hopeless and despondent at times.

I can remember hating my hips, calves, tummy, butt, nose, and hair at different times over the years. While I am still not thrilled with any of those parts, I no longer obsess over them. At the present time (and for a number of years now), my most hated body part is my thighs. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t find myself cursing the size of my legs, wishing they could miraculously be smaller, and trying to find a way to camouflage what I consider to be their tremendous girth.

I’m fat! My thighs are huge! I’m ugly! I’m old!

How often do you say these types of things about yourself, either aloud or inside your head? How much time and energy do you spend disparaging yourself and your appearance? Do you think this kind of negative self-talk helps you to change?

For many years, I was my own worst critic. I would criticize myself for a multitude of “sins,” but my most frequent criticisms related to my appearance. I set unbelievably high standards for how I looked, and I would berate myself for not living up to these benchmarks. Whenever I would look at myself in the mirror, all I would see were my flaws; my virtues were invisible to the harsh judge inside my head.

I used to believe that my self-criticism served a useful purpose. I thought that my brutal thoughts and words motivated me to change, and that the judgments pushed me toward productive action. While it’s true that seeing that I didn’t live up to my own standards propelled me to exercise more often and restrict my food intake, there was also a downside to my self-criticism that I didn’t see until recently.

Last week, I watched a repeat broadcast of an episode of “The Tonight Show.” This episode featured a plus-sized model named Ashley Graham (click here to see a clip). The reason she was a guest on the show centered on ABC’s refusal to air her Lane Bryant ad during an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” on the grounds that it was too revealing (see New York Post article on this). Jay Leno had heard this story and felt the ABC decision was ridiculous, especially in light of the numerous Victoria’s Secret ads which are aired during many television broadcasts. Leno wanted to increase awareness of the issue of discrimination toward plus-sized models, so he invited this young model to appear on his show.

Watching Ashley Graham on “The Tonight Show” elicited a strong and unexpected reaction in me, which is why I’ve chosen to write about her in this post. When Jay Leno introduced her, Ashley glided out on the stage dressed entirely in spandex. While she is a very beautiful woman, she is definitely much curvier and voluptuous than most of the models we see in magazines and on the runway. I didn’t feel that the spandex ensemble was the most flattering thing she could have worn (spandex isn’t the most flattering thing for anyone, in my humble opinion), but that isn’t at all what most struck me when I saw this lovely woman.

What I noticed first and foremost was her abundance of … confidence. She carried herself with pride and poise and looked every bit as statuesque, sexy, and elegant as any movie star who might walk onto the Tonight Show stage. I was mesmerized by her magnetism and her evident self-love.

I am a long-time fan of the reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” I’ve watched all but one of its nine seasons and I frequently find myself in tears as I watch this truly inspiring show. Last night, as I watched the penultimate episode of the ninth season, I was moved to write about my appreciation for this show I’ve come to love.

The four remaining contestants all went home for a month, where they trained to run a marathon while continuing to focus on losing weight to vie for the title of “The Biggest Loser” (and the accompanying quarter million dollar prize). Two of the contestants were still close to a hundred pounds overweight when they left the Biggest Loser Ranch. Yet, they all returned and finished the marathon! The final two marathon finishers ran across the finish line hand in hand, and I bawled like a baby while watching this touching moment.

If someone were to ask you if you love yourself, how many of you would reply with an enthusiastic “Yes”? How about if you were asked if you love your body? I know that for most of my life, I would have found both questions absurd. I definitely and unequivocally did not love myself or my body.

For years, I was my own worst critic. I would unleash a torrent of criticism upon myself on a daily basis that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. In fact, I was my own worst enemy. Nothing I could do was ever good enough for me; my standards were impossibly high and there was no way I could reach them. While my targets for accomplishment and success were virtually unachievable, my standards for my body and physical appearance surpassed them by leaps and bounds.

While I would love for all of my blog posts to highlight my tremendous progress and exciting wins, life doesn’t work like that. Invariably, we all experience ups and downs, and progress occurs more like “two steps forward, one step back” than in an upward slope. Although I posted two weeks ago about the wins I’ve experienced since starting this blog, this past week has been more of a period of discouragement. In this post, I will share my feelings of discouragement, along with some suggestions for how to handle such times in your life.
Career & Health Woes…

One of the “wins” I shared in my “Progress Already” post was that I was attracting more work projects and experiencing increased confidence as a result. Well, that win turned out to be short-lived… The inquiries regarding prospective work have led to dead ends and a couple of projects which I believed were “sure things” have fallen through for reasons unknown to me.