It is that time of year when a woman must muster every ounce of self-esteem and boldly walk into the dressing room with her arm full of skin-baring short shorts and tank tops only to leave the store empty-handed with her emotional reserves depleted. In swimsuit season, the thigh dimples and "bat wings" that are hidden under jeans and sweaters are now visible to the world. With idealized images of beauty held up as the standard, women of all shapes and sizes struggle with body image issues.
In the past, I have taught classes on "being sexy" and how it is all about confidence. Men have told me how turned on they are by a woman who is secure in herself and her body. Online, I follow people like @healthyisthenewskinny and @militantbaker and @hipsandcurves. I know, in my head, that my dress size is not a reflection of my worth, but right now, after gaining 20 pounds since last summer, my heart doesn't know it. I am in need of someone to inspire me. That's why I am so glad I connected with Rosie Molinary.
Rosie is a local speaker, writer and educator. Her latest book is Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance
. I have heard rave reviews of her and her workshops, so I was thankful for the opportunity to finally meet her a few weeks ago at the Women + Girls Research Alliance Summit at UNC Charlotte. After one of the sessions, I stopped her in the hall and asked if I could interview her for a post about body confidence, since it was something I was personally having a hard time with, and I was pretty sure I wasn't the only one. She graciously accepted. CL: There is a video of you online where you were interviewed about your book and you said "Negative body image and negative self-esteem don't usually root themselves only in dissatisfaction with the physical body, but really are rooted in a greater dissatisfaction." Can you unpack that a little more for me?
Given everything that I have seen and experienced, I just don't believe that a negative body image is solely rooted in dissatisfaction with one's physical appearance. I think that when we are fundamentally unhappy, we look for what feels controllable and our physical body at least feels like it should be controllable in our minds and so that becomes where we fixate. I also think that we can become consumed in our physical body when our mind and spirit aren't otherwise invested in experiences that provide us meaning, that allow us to feel a sense of purposefulness in the world.
Poor body image is often a manifestation of a poor self-concept or lack of self-awareness. Beautiful You is rooted in the premise that if we had a better self-image and greater self-awareness, we would be less likely to allow how we feel about our hair or weight or whatever happens to be our hang-up to consume so much of our time and energy.
Self-acceptance represents our decision to not have an adversarial relationship with ourselves. It is an acknowledgment that we have worth and are enough simply because we exist. I know you work mainly with women, but do you have any thoughts about men and their struggles with body confidence? I know quite a few guys working out like mad and taking scary diet drugs because even at 40, they think they need rock hard abs in order to be relevant.
The beauty standards we see represented to us in the media exist for a reason: to encourage us to buy more things that we are lead to believe will make us more physically attractive and, thus, happier. For a long time, women and girls received the brunt of those messages but, at some point, you saturate your target market and you either reach the pinnacle of what you can earn or you look for a new market. That new market? Men and boys. And just like women and girls were sold a bag of goods by showing them a very limited range of body types and looks that are then excessively photoshopped, men and boys are now receiving that treatment. The result is that boys and men are making risky choices now to get the bodies they see that are just as photo-shopped and/or achieved by using diet aids and steroids. We are sold a limited, unattainable idea of what is attractive because if we choose to buy into it, we will always be buying. And what a company needs from us is to always be buying. You work with a variety of women, from students at UNC Charlotte to middle-aged moms who attend your workshops. Do 20-somethings and 40-somethings have different demons?
It might be expressed differently but so much of it is rooted in the same discomfort with one's self and desire to be acceptable and enough in what feels like someone else's eyes. The irony is that we think we receive those things by being the stock photo definition of beauty. The reality is that the people who love us love us because of the way that we make them feel. Why are we so scared to believe in our own beauty?
When we decide to end our reliance on someone else defining worth and beauty for us, we open up a world of possibility for ourselves. I also think that we have this sense that to not be fighting ourselves is arrogant. But arrogance is not someone who doesn't abuse themselves. Arrogance is someone who abuses others in some way because they are so impressed with themselves. Self-acceptance isn't arrogant. It's neutral. The self-accepting person is not right or wrong. She simply exists and takes her experiences for what they are, opportunities to gather information and enhance her life journey as she lives her purpose. The reality is that we are all here on purpose - each one of us is meant to offer something to the world that will contribute to its healing in some way. The fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is what we are not doing while we're lamenting in our mirrors?