Five years ago I had an “ideal” body.
I don’t mean to say that my body was free of imperfections, but rather that I had a body that most women are taught to believe is close to perfect: I was 5” 5’, weighed barely 115 pounds, and wore a size 2. I had a tiny waist, medium-sized breasts, a taut stomach, round bottom, and cellulite that was practically nonexistent. I was extremely slender, yet still somehow carried a feminine hourglass figure. I could never have been a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” but for a perfectly normal girl I had a perfectly enviable body.
Flash forward five years. Though I don’t own a scale, I’m probably 20 pounds heavier thanks to a slower metabolism, college drinking and a dire love of cheese. I now wear a size 6, my waist isn’t quite so minuscule, my stomach jiggles, I have cellulite swimming on my thighs, and I have ample junk in my apple-bottom trunk. My breasts have gotten ever-so-slightly bigger, but for every tiny bit that they’ve grown, my ass and thighs grew 10 times that … leaving me much more of a pear than an hourglass.
Size is all quite relative, of course. Adriana Lima would cry if she had my current body, but a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” would probably be thrilled to pieces. You, who I’m confident are somewhere between a Victoria’s Secret Angel and a 500 lb. man, would probably just call me normal.
Some might think there wouldn’t be a question about which body I prefer, right? If given the choice, clearly I’d go back to that younger, slimmer version of myself. But to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t. I didn’t like that body when I was in it as much as I like the one I have now. It’s a bit scary to admit that the reason doesn’t have much to do with me.
Five years ago, I was in a long-term relationship with someone who was completely wrong for me. I remember that he told me I was beautiful pretty often, which I never truly believed. I saw flaws when I looked in the mirror, and I hated them. My thighs weren’t muscular enough; the lines on my forehead were too deep for someone so young. More than anything, I always got the feeling that he was telling me what he thought he was required to by boyfriend law.
Two years later, I was at least 10 pounds heavier and had a new boyfriend, who I’m still with now. This time around I saw even more flaws — flabbier thighs, a stomach that wasn’t really flat, deeper lines in my forehead. Maybe it’s because I’m with the right person, and maybe it’s because he loves me more than the old guy, but my current boyfriend has never made me feel that he was feeding me lines or telling me what he thought I wanted to hear.
The reason I never believed the old boyfriend was because he never told me why it was that I was beautiful. His responses were standard and could be applied to any girl he’d ever dated: “You’re not flabby, you’re pretty,” or “Your skin is fine, you don’t have wrinkles.” Of course, I only realized that in hindsight, after being with someone who never lets me forget why I am beautiful: “You’re beautiful because you have perfect, womanly curves,” or “You have a behind that most other girls would kill for.” His compliments are tailored to me; they’re unique to my body, my sense of humor, and even my passions. Once, he told me that I had a body like an ancient Greek statue. It is by far the best compliment I’ve ever received, solely because I studied art history in college.
I don’t need a man to validate how I feel about my body, and I don’t think it should be a man’s job to constantly reassure us. I’m not any more insecure about the way I look than any other woman, and I’m capable of seeing a lot that I do like about my body. And yet, body image insecurity is one thing that almost all women have in common. It doesn’t matter if we hate our jiggly ass, bony arms, or pointy nose, we have been almost universally conditioned to pick out our flaws and be overly critical of them. We all have that little voice in our head telling us what isn’t good enough, and it’s difficult to block it out on our own.
When I look in the mirror now, the cellulite on my thighs is blurred a little and the lines in my forehead don’t look quite so harsh. I’ve realized that I like this body more because I’ve learned to see it through the lens of someone who appreciates it more than I do. Having someone in my life who tells me why I’m beautiful has quieted that little nagging voice a bit. It’s not completely gone, but it’s not quite as loud.
The process has been slow, no doubt. It happened so slowly, in fact, that I didn’t realize for a while that my internal dialogue had even changed. It dawned upon me one night as I shed my bathrobe while the water was heating up in the shower. I was passively staring at myself in the mirror when I thought, You know… I have the same waist, same thighs, same butt, same breasts as that Praxiteles sculpture I did my final paper on before graduation! And just like that, I wasn’t flabby or riddled with cellulite; I was a shapely work of ancient art come to life.