What is all this body positivity we’re bombarded with doing to us? I can tell you what it did to me. Bear with me, this has to do with the story of my mental recovery.
It’s not only the body positivity that I’ll talk about. It’s the constant pushing of a certain body type—we all know what that is, we grew up with it, television, cinema, advertisements, magazines—and then, after you’ve internalized the message you’re inundated with, when you finally feel that you’ll never be good enough, thin enough, attractive enough, no matter how hard you try, then you’re told, what’s wrong with you? Why are you so unhappy? You should like yourself the way you are! The implication is clear: if you don’t accept yourself as is, there’s something wrong with you. Look at all those chubby people, perfectly happy with themselves. If I had a penny for each time I was told my only problem is I’m just not confident enough!
Only, most of the chubby people—plus sized models, my ass, they’re normal women—also have that certain body type, just slightly rounder-looking, still with perfect skin and wonderful analogies. The message is the same: you’re just not good enough. And I won’t get into the whole subject of mothers’ ravaged bodies: nobody wants to see that, we all pretend the saggy, wrinkly parts don’t exist, we call stretch marks “tiger stripes.” Well, that might give some women comfort, but to me, it’s just another way body positivity makes me feel even uglier. I don’t have stripes; it’s all pitted and puckered, disfigured beyond recognition. There are no lines. Even in that standard of beauty—the wonderful tiger-striped mommy belly—I’ve failed. Miserably. Which animal am I, since tiger will not cut it? A very old, wrinkly tortoise?
I’ve been fighting with the image of my flawed body for a while (wink wink: I’ll give my heroine Stella some more poignant moments of self-doubt in the next books of my series! Inspired by real life!) Last week, to give myself some comfort, I searched for the mombod hashtag on twitter. Lo and behold: perfectly toned bodies, smooth skin, abs showing under lean flesh. Where were all the moms like me? Why aren’t we showing our bodies to the world? My therapist keeps making a big deal of the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that flaws don’t define you, that, first and foremost, you should like yourself. But—I thought—since I don’t quite love my wrinkly mess, let’s see what others think of it.
So, I posted a photo of my mess on twitter. To my surprise, the reactions were mostly positive: other moms applauded the honesty, one or two posted their own mombods (with proper stipes—lucky tigers!). That gave me some hope. If only for a little while, I was able to distance myself from my need of confirmation—confirmation that, in my life, has been lacking to a pitiable extent—and look at others, how they feel, how I can help them achieve the self-acceptance that for years I’ve been struggling to find.
My therapist thinks it’s okay to look to others for confirmation. “But, first and foremost, you have to like yourself,” is her mantra.
“Okay, I do like myself,” I told her last week. “When I’m alone with myself, I’m fine. It’s society’s opinion of my body that does the damage.”
“What do you gain when you get that confirmation?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I really didn’t understand the question. What do I get? Well, confirmation. She said so herself.
“Emotionally,” she explained. “What do you gain, on an emotional level.”
I had to think about this for a while. “Well…”
And then I saw it. “I see that others don’t find me as horrible as I find myself.”
The therapist smiled, that triumphant smirk she gets sometimes when she’s proven a point without actually having to spell it out for me. I don’t begrudge her that. This was another breakthrough, one I will remember for a long, long time.