Obviously I love this. I kind of squealed in delight.
I am also being 100% serious when I say that this simple, cheerful, polite, utterly badass response to common, run-of-the-mill trolling kind of rocked my world. Last week I was having some anxiety/icky-feeling flare-ups, and was sitting weepily at my desk thinking “whyyyy am I such a mess?”, and then Friday I got my period, and I swear every month I’m all “what is wrong with me I’M A MONSTER— Oh.” Like at age 28 it’s a surprise. ANYHOO. The point is, I have been struggling to love my body lately.
Not when I’m out doing things, mind you. When I’m walking around or doing my thing in my pole dancing classes or messing with the cats or cooking or what have you, I feel grand about my body! I love feeling tired and sore after a dance class, and sleeping the sleep of the physically fit. I love having the energy to run around the city. It’s when I look in a mirror or try on clothes and see myself through the lens of models and magazines and diet ads and other people’s eyes that I falter. I don’t think I’ve ever once looked in a mirror and said “Yeah! Right on.” Never. I have been self-conscious about my weight since I was five or six years old. I look back at pictures of myself as a child and think “ahhhhhh you scrawny little moppet with dimply cheeks you are perfect!”, and I look back at pictures of myself in college and think “well, your hairstyles certainly had quite a time, but you yourself are Fine!”, but I truly can’t remember a time when I looked at myself in the present moment and thought that I, as a whole, looked good.
I mean, lots of us have seen this gorgeous woman, right? This is Gabi Fresh, and I look at her in her bikini, and all I can think is “You look freaking amazing.” Her body is no better nor worse than a “mainstream” swimsuit model’s; she just looks like her, an absolutely awesome version of her, in a fantastic bikini.
I wonder sometimes why, if I think that Gabi, or a more “mainstream” model, or my girlfriends, or strangers at the beach look great in their bikinis, I can’t extend the same thumbs up to myself. I think it’s easy to get sucked into a “yes, but” mentality about ourselves. Sometimes it’s rooted in a natural desire for self-improvement, personal growth, and other aspirations. “Yes, I totally nailed that pole trick! But now I want more! For my next challenge, I will work on doing it on my non-dominant side, or from the air instead of the floor.” Or “Yes, I totally just ran three miles, but next I want to run a 10k!” Goals and challenges can be fun and stimulating, so we say “yes, I did that, but now, I’ll do this.” Unfortunately that can easily become “Yes, my hair looks great today, but my face is being dumb,” or “Yes, my boobs look fabulous in this bra, but my belly is puffy and annoying.”
I don’t think I’d ever considered the possibility that my beauty wasn’t constantly in danger of disappearing. I have always had the mindset of looking for a specific point at which I’d be perfect, or finally be beautiful, or finally be attractive or alluring to someone I loved. What if I gained five pounds? I better hurry to fix it. What if I lost five pounds? I better try to lose more. What if, by some miracle, I got pretty, and then lost the pretty and never got it back?
I ordered a bikini this summer (the one above, by Panache*), because my bra size has changed since last year and I want a swimsuit that fits properly and feels good to wear at my friend’s bachelorette weekend in June. It arrived this week, and with the triumphant images of Gabi, Georgina, my gorgeous friends,and other awesome women in mind, I opened the box and tried it on. And then I crashed. I mean, really, just utterly crashed and burned. Every terrible thing I’ve ever been told or thought about my body just came roaring out: your boobs are too big to wear a bikini! Put them away! You have too much back fat! You’re too short-waisted to wear a high-waisted bikini bottom! Your middle’s too thick and your hips are too narrow! You look inappropriate! You’re too pale! You’re too wobbly! You’re not toned! You’re too tall and you’ll attract too much attention! You’re too flashy in those bright colors! You should wear something more discreet! P.S. Your hair is also stupid!
GOD, BRAIN, SHUT UP.
I aspire to the (seemingly) effortless self-confidence and self-love of someone like Ianthe, and the grace with which she schooled her anonymous troll. Comments like “you’d be so pretty if you lost weight” are designed to destabilize, to hurt, to make the recipient shrink back, to tell her to disappear, to discount her. They’re designed to reinforce the idea that a woman is only worth as much as her beauty, which is in turn solely dependent on her weight. I talk a lot about beauty coming in many different forms because I genuinely believe that it does. I believe because I have seen it. I have tangible proof: in movies and magazines, yes, but also in my friends, my co-workers, the women in my dance classes, in my family, in women I’ve met through writing the blog. Really, just knock-your-socks-off beauty: it’s there, and it manifests so differently and magnificently in every woman. I talk about it over and over and over again in the hope that I can re-route the thought patterns that years of judgment and criticism have carved deeply into my brain. What I know to be true about others, though, I still struggle to apply to myself. I accept any criticisms or negative feedback as absolute God’s-honest-truth, yet hear compliments and assume the giver is lying to “be nice”. Which is ultimately hugely disrespectful to the giver, but never mind.
So yeah, when I saw myself in my bikini, I got mad at my body first, and then I got mad at my brain, for not walking the walk when my goal in life is to talk the talk as hard as I can. Why couldn’t I tap into the same self-love Ianthe, Georgina, Gabi, and others have shared so beautifully before me? Why DIDN’T I feel like life sure is a breeze?
I don’t have a good answer, except to give myself the space and the time to keep working on it. The same thing happened the last time I put on a bikini, and I’m sure it will happen again before all is said and done. The dark and cranky pathways in our brains have years and years and years of nasty thoughts and words crowding out the good stuff, and it will take time before the healthier, more reasonable, and more loving thoughts are strong enough to stand their ground. I thought about returning the bikini and looking for something more “discreet” and “appropriate”, but I’m going to keep it, if only to have as my next personal challenge. I’m going to wear it. I’m sure I will feel self-conscious, and I’m sure there will be some nasty thoughts that pipe up, but if I want to be one of “us beautiful people”, I want to wear something fun and bright, and I want to learn to enjoy it.
* * * * *
*Quick review: dang, this bikini top rules. The fit is PERFECT, 100% true-to-size, and majorly comfy and supportive. My only minor quibble is that based on the promo images I thought the straps and band would be a bit wider, in keeping with the retro look, when in reality they’re both quite thin. I don’t mind this in a bra, but I do think it would be both more comfortable (bigger boobs can be heavier boobs) and more flattering to have a bikini top with wider straps and a deeper band that didn’t dig in as much. The colors are fantastically flattering to my pale skin/dark hair, I love the sweetheart neckline, and the briefs are very comfy as well. They’re maybe a teensy bit big through the hips and rear, but I wouldn’t want to size down, because I don’t want a lot of digging at the waist. They come up REALLY high on me, as I’m short-waisted, so they’ll keep the retro look very nicely on longer-waisted women too. I ordered mine from Breakout Bras, which has a lovely selection of bras, maternity needs, and swimwear, and which offers fit advice on every product page, as well as free (and fast– ordered Sunday night, arrived Wednesday) shipping and fantastic service. Both bikini and store get a big thumbs-up from me!