Flawed&Flawless

 

I used to hate the New Year. There was always pressure expectation demand that I make resolutions around changing my body, and “changing” always meant shrinking. From the time I was a kid, I wasn’t only observing and ingesting the attitudes women expressed about their bodies always being too big, too round, and too imperfect, but I was also being explicitly and constantly told these things about myself. And every new year, I was presented with the so-called opportunity to fix myself and stop disappointing my family, friends, and future husband (yep, lots of healthy thinking modeled for me in my early life). The weeks that followed were a long, painfully held breath of waiting for that first cookie, that first second helping at dinner, until even the desire for something “not good” came with the heavy burden of disappointed faces and are you sure you want to do thats. Add to that feeling the stress of heightened scrutiny of my body, when all I wanted was to be unnoticed, and you can understand why I was strongly in favor of just cutting January right out of the calendar.

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As I Am

If you’re like me, every time you see a photo of/post by Jen Sinkler, you want to drop whatever you are doing and go hang out with her (or at least near her). The other day, I was scrolling through her blog and came across a piece featuring her latest “before” pictures as she embarked on getting swole AF with the Bigness Project.

Jen’s piece is about breaking the toxic tradition of the unhappy before picture – no slouched pose and disappointed frown. I always like seeing people celebrate their bodies, but I was really drawn in by a discussion in the comments, in which one fan expressed her desire to see someone without a “perfect” body  posting happy before pictures.

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Flaunt

I caught a ten-year-old girl checking out my legs the other day.

I’m determined to keep living like it’s summer as long as the weather will allow me, so I was happily strolling through the 90-degree heat in my shortest shorts, feeling warm sun swirl like silk around my naked thighs. Joy.

I stepped into a coffee shop to get something cold and caffeinated before I headed to the train, and as I stood waiting at the far end of the counter, someone about the height of my elbow sidled up next to me. I glanced down in time to see her curly puff of a ponytail whipping away from me as she turned her head, but she quickly darted her eyes back towards me. She stared at my exposed legs for a minute before her eyes flicked nervously up to my face, where my smile was waiting. She froze for a moment before she managed a small smile and a whispered, “Hi.”

I said hi back, and complimented her very cool pink and black sandals. She was wearing black leggings, and a long pink top, matching pink hair tie. Super cute. Her typical ten-year-old belly curved under her shirt, and I saw that she had a matching little sister sitting on her mother’s hip a few feet behind her. Her younger sister, however, wore black shorts instead of leggings.

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Dimples & All

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly kids grow. Take my friend Alie’s daughter, Zaida. Not long ago at all, we were losing our minds over how close she was to standing up. But when I saw her recently, on the day of the Superbowl, that was old news. As she careened around our friends’ apartment, I marveled aloud at how big she had gotten. She turned her cherubic face toward us & broke out the killer smile that is going to get her out of so much trouble in the future. We melted, & she hustled over to lay her head in her mama’s lap & beam up at her adoring fans.
“Oh my god, look at those dimples!” our friend, Laura, squealed in delight, before looking up at my own smiling face. “Oh, Priscilla, you have them, too!”
I fought the urge to cover my face with my hands, a reflex from years of having my face pinched, squeezed, & poked. Laura, thankfully, made no sudden moves. We laughed as she recalled sitting at her desk in elementary school, pressing her pencil’s eraser into her cheek in hopes of leaving a dimple behind.
“I was like that with freckles,” I said, recalling my attempts to dot my skin with pen, marker, makeup, paint.
“You can have some of mine,” Alie offered, not for the first time in our friendship.
Later that night, reflecting on this moment, I was struck by how my longing for other people’s features is fading into past tense. That’s new-ish. Most of my life, I wished I could wake up in someone else’s skin; no more chubby cheeks & dimples, no more explosive curls, every feature I’d bemoaned & hyper criticized melted away. As Mean Girls captured so well, that hyper criticism is all too common among girls, so I had a great audience for the shame & self-loathing I carried with me.
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This is probably one of the reasons why it was always so much easier to believe the negative things people said about me. One negative comment outweighed a thousand nice ones in my mind. It didn’t matter how many people told me I had a beautiful face & a warm, infectious smile; one middle school classmate trying to nickname me “Pillsbury Doughgirl” was enough to cancel out all the positivity.

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Plot Twist

The other day, Boyfriend set his desktop background to a photo of me. He usually opts for beautiful scenery or incredible feats of fitness, so I thought I knew what to expect when he started nudging me to go check out his new screen. But when I was slow to get out of my book, he couldn’t resist telling me, “It’s you!” & it was with absolute dread I shuffled to the computer in the corner of our gym. Absolute dread.

Boyfriend & I generally have completely different opinions of what photos of me are cute (or acceptable), so I wasn’t sure what he would have chosen to blow up across his jumbotron monitor. But whether I was to be met with a carefully posed portrait or a fantastic mid-word candid, I knew I was not going to be pleased.

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On Beauty

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook the other day, a video of a student’s media project. As the photographer tells her subjects that she’s taking pictures of things she finds beautiful, reactions vary, but the overall trend is heartwarming:

The exception to the embarrassed but pleased smiles?

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This moment was like seeing my inner truth take shape & stare coldly through my screen, right into my grinchy little heart. I’m exaggerating (a bit) – I don’t react this way when people describe me as beautiful…anymore…always…

 

I’ve been thinking about beauty because recently, one of my favorite online communities, Girls Gone Strong, launched a 7 Day Love Your Body Challenge. Signing up grants you a downloadable guide through the challenge, which includes daily guides to shifting your perspective. Each day has a focus, & for the past few days, I’ve been stuck on the third one: concerning beauty.

I feel beautiful when ____.

Day 3’s mantra encourages me to fill in the blank, & even though the guide offers suggestions, I’ve been stumped. I’ve tried out a few of the phrases in my head, & while I find that I feel happy, nourished, revitalized, peaceful, sexy, like a boss, even pretty or cute, I wasn’t comfortable saying that anything made me feel beautiful.

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