On Swimsuits and Bodies

My beautiful Avenue swimsuit!

I grew up around water. Whether I was going to one of the Great Lakes for vacation (as I did this past week), or swimming in my grandmother’s pool, or joining the swim team, I spent countless hours perched on the edge of some body of water, wearing little more than a swimsuit.

This past week, I logged at least three or four hours a day in my swimsuit. Spending that much time bearing your body to the world is difficult for many people, male and female. And every summer, when vacation time comes around, it’s something I always think about.

I was lucky, I think. As a kid, I joined the swim team. From age eight up through age fourteen I swam competitively. It was, in many ways, a terrible time for me. I frequently was called fat. I was incredibly uncomfortable in my body and with what was happening to it. I was hyper aware of what my body looked like to other people. But I enjoyed swimming. At some point, I began winning my heats and doing quite well in long distance swimming. (I used to motivate myself to swim fast by pretending there was a shark behind me. It worked every time.) Though I was aware of how my body looked (and how fat I was), I was also aware of what my body could do.

Having spent so much time during my formative years in a swimsuit, I barely even notice it today. Yes, there’s always a twinge when I break out the swimsuit for the first time each year. I stare at it for a while, put it on, glare at the scrap of fabric in the mirror for a while. However, it’s not enough to stop me from wearing it. I vow not to let it stop me from enjoying myself.

But it’s harder sometimes. I sat on the beach yesterday, watching as girls pranced by in their bikinis, and I wished that I had the confidence, the curves, the abs that would make me feel comfortable in so little fabric. I look at them and wonder if I could ever look like that. And then I shake myself, trying to not let myself get invested in that counter-productive train of thought. I remind myself that, even if I were that thin, who’s to say I won’t still want to have a “better” body in some way? Who’s to say I will appreciate what I do have? Who says the body I have isn’t good enough?

Renewing my faith in myself is something I always do. I have to love my body, even in a swimsuit. I have to love my body in a tank top, in a skirt, in a bra and underwear, in long pants and a sweater. I need to love my body in some way every day. And I need to stop believing my body isn’t good enough how it is. Yes, I’m only human, and insecurities come with the territory. Some days it’s harder to do. Yesterday was a day I forgot. Today, I hope I’ll remember.

Haircuts and Happiness!

I got my haircut this weekend! And I love it. Absolutely love it. There’s something about getting a Haircut that rejuvenates me. Here’s the before and after:

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

What do you all think?

I think this is probably my favorite thing to do, cut my hair. I love trying new styles, being able to do new things with it, and overall, I love feeling like I have a new look. It’s something drastic that makes me feel like a new person.

There’s something about making a drastic change to one’s appearance that really gets me going. I absolutely love doing it. It’s addicting. Like, when I got my new bras (cited as my “Re-boob-olution”), and suddenly had this burst of self confidence. For me, it’s the same thing wtih hair. I like to change my hair in response to particular pressures and stages in my life. When I graduated from high school, I’d been growing out my hair for an age and a half (in response, I think, to a terribly short haircut as a child that scarred me for life). It was about down to my waist. It was frizzy, curly, and unmanageable. I wore it up in a ponytail every day.

Then, school ended. At my high school we have two weeks between when school ends and when we graduate (seniors get out two weeks early, that is). So, what’d I go off and do? In those two weeks, I cut off ALL my hair. We cut off about 11 inches, which I then donated to locks of love. My hair still brushed my shoulders, but GOSH, it was incredible. It was like a clean slate. I was able to wear my hair down for the first time in my life. I was able to just really have fun with it. Since then, I’ve been addicted to the drastic change of hair.

My sophomore year of college, I made a drastic change by getting bangs. Again, I was at the same point in my life where I needed a change. This one was more of a “gosh, am I sick of the way I look” cut, but it had the same effect. I played, I had fun with my image, and I absolutely loved my bangs.

And that brings us to this haircut. Why, after months of growing my hair long, did I cut it this time? I think I’ve talked once or twice about how I’m moving forward in my life, and making decisions about my future. Being a senior, I feel like the future is coming at my like a runaway horse, and I’m about to get trampled by it. So, to challenge that fear positively, I got a haircut. A haircut that I would consider almost “young-professionalish.” I’m really happy with the result. I think this haircut is easy to manage, easy to straighten, makes me look good, and makes me look much more like an adult than a kid. Overall, I’m really glad I did this. I feel good again, and I’m looking forward to my future with a fresh start!

Anyone else have some incredible haircut stories?

Self-Objectificiation? I Object!

I’ve been feeding my feminist side lately by perusing several feminist blogs and magazines, and today came across this article on Alternet about “Out-of-Body Image” and the predominance of self-objectification:

Self-objectification is a state of “double consciousness … a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”

It struck a cord in me. I know self-objectification all too well. Probably from ages 10-20, I perpetually saw myself through this “out of body” lens. Every little bit of energy for me was focused on how I looked to others, how I appeared, and what they’d think of me. Sometimes, it was positively focused: I’d be walking into a grocery store in a cute outfit and think, “People must see me and think how confident I look, and how aloof and beautiful I am.” But usually, it was in an extremely self conscious way. I’d try to think how I was being perceived from all sides, and pose my body, my mouth, my facial expression, etc. into something more “beautiful” or “polished.” I did it completely without thinking most of the time.

And I did it mentally, too. I saw a psychologist over the summer between my senior year of high school and my first year of college, and the way I explained it to her was that everything I’d ever done, all my perfectionist attitudes, my desire to strive in the theatre, orchestra, my need to get good grades, all of it was making up for my one greatest flaw, which at that point was my fat. I tried to counter-balance my ugliness with an inner-beauty, and success. I was nice to people, even those who were not nice to me. I was diplomatic in most arguments. I made myself emotionally available to everyone around me, for advice, and help. And I was a perfectionist.

My psychologist, who helped a lot in just being the first person to really listen to me, tried to tell me there was no reason to “counter-balance” in such a way. I, of course, didn’t listen.

Moving into college opened up a whole boatload more of insecurities. Sex and physical relationships were all around me. More stress was put on my physicality, and I didn’t have those lifelong friends who saved me from most of my misery in high school. I honestly don’t know how I made it through my first few years in college, but I know that those were some of the loneliest days of my life. I didn’t trust many people. And I often felt betrayed by the people I did at the drop of a pin. I would scream and yell at my friends because they were being “insensitive” and “trying to hurt me” when really, I was just hurting myself.

I know that I haven’t completely given up my self-objectification. I still think everyone is judging me, even my close friends, sometimes. I rarely let go of my inhibitions. But I know now that all of that has to do with me still trying to get comfortable in my own skin.

So know, I’m putting this here to encourage myself to do it, I hope I can think about what I’m doing, and take a step back. Self-Objectification has led to nothing but trouble for me. And, according to the article I read, has been proven to be severely detrimental to performance in all areas of life:

Self-objectification has also been repeatedly shown to sap cognitive functioning, because of all the attention devoted to body monitoring. For instance, a recent study by Yale psychologists asked two groups of women to take a math exam — one group in swimsuits, the other in sweaters. The swimsuit-wearers, distracted by body concerns, performed significantly worse than their peers in sweaters.

AND

….self-objectification impeded girls’ ability to throw a softball, even after differences in age and prior experience were factored out.

AND worst of all:

One of the more stunning effects of self-objectification is its impact on sex. One young woman I interviewed described sex as being an “out of body” experience during which she viewed herself through the eyes of her lover, and, sometimes, through the imaginary lens of a camera shooting a porn film.

It’s not mentally healthy, not physically healthy, and we all need to take the opportunity to stop. So I’m going to try. I’m going to stop judging myself, and others. And I’m going let me be me. In the words of Joy Nash, “You’ve only got one life to live. Live it up!”

America’s Next Top Model Agency: Ugly NY

Via my ever-interesting MSN feed on hotmail.com, I stumbled across this article today about a model agency called “Ugly New York:”

Ugly New York’s mission: To find the look of someone who is anything but outright pretty. There are safe words to describe the look; it could be “real” or “eccentric.” But certainly, “tall,” “short,” “fat,” “thin” and, well, “ugly” also fit.

The model agency, who started in 1969 in England, is looking for people who are interesting-looking. People who represent reality. The agency represents a wide variety of people, regardless of shape, size, height, color, or age. And each individual has their own type of beauty.

Now, of course, they don’t represent just anyone. But the owner, Simon Rodgers, had trouble describing what he was looking for:

“The truth is, it’s just a gut feeling,” Rogers told Roker. “Some people just have that something special. For me, the basic thing is they’ve got to be happy with themselves.

“They have to be content with who they are because after all, they’re going to be out there in front of the camera.”

I have to admit, I was delighted by finding this article. Ugly NY seems to be really, really, correct in their whole enterprise. They’re taking people that most of the media and most of the world would say, “You’re ugly!” and showing that even normal people, women, men, young, old, etc., can be beautiful. They make me gleeful!

What did not, however, make me gleeful was the presentation of the article. First and foremost, it had a way of sort of back-handing it’s subjects. For instance, this delightful paragraph:

Brian Thomas, an extra-heavy-set Ugly model, joked that he already knew he was model material before the agency took him on. “Well, I’m hot,” Thomas said. “Let’s just get that right out in the open. I’m drop-dead sexy.“

But seriously?

“My sister actually sent my pictures in to Simon and when Simon called, I thought it was a prank call,” Thomas explained. “I thought it was my buddies at work fooling around. But it’s been a great ride. I’ve been having a blast ever since.”

Umm…what’s that “But Seriously?” there in the middle? I’m quite sure this guy is actually drop-dead sexy. Especially if he’s as playful, and confident, as he seems in those few quotes. Those are incredibly attractive qualities, not to mention that fact that his “extra-heavyset-ness” is probably quite sexy as well. Lose the attitude there, MSNBC.

Not to mention the fact that on my page, the article was presented with FOUR different sections that contained some sort of contradictory message:

Ugly NY Article ads

Ugly NY Article ads

Number 1: Ad for Crest Whitestrips. Because, you know, you have to be obsessed with the whiteness of your teeth. If not, you must be reading the wrong section of MSNBC.

Number 2: Hair worthy of gold medals, wrinkle busters, etc. In case you wanted to fuss even more over how you looked.

Number 3: Miss Venezuela wins Miss Universe. Beauty Pageant, enough said.

Number 4: Check out these ambush makeovers. We’re making people look better, because they loosed SO terrible before!

Ahem. MSNBC needs to catch what Ugly NY is throwing at them. Here they are featuring them in an article, and on the Today Show, apparently, and they still don’t get it. It almost makes me feel like they’re making fun of the whole thing. Like, they thought it was just so quaint that such a Model Agency existed.

Well, Ugly NY, you got my support! Keep making beauty real, and making reality beautiful! Thanks so much for what you do!

Mary Kay: Make my Day

So my sister got a call from an old friend this week asking her to host a Mary Kay party so she could do a demonstration. My sis, K., got really excited and called us all up, so I ended up at her apartment last night for a Mary Kay party. Now, those of you who know me know that I don’t wear a lot of makeup. But I thought, eh, what the hell! It’s free!

So I went. It was fun, and interesting. K., our brother’s girlfriend B., and our cousin E. and her friend (F.) all came. We were sitting around beforehand and eating chips and dip, when F., who is athletic and stick thin, said something about how she “had better eat all this dip now because next week she was going on Weight Watchers.” We all replied with mild outrage at the thought, saying that she was so thin, and that’s just absurd. She replied that she wanted to do it so that she could control what she ate. She says she eats “mostly carbs and no vegetables.”

This, sadly, launched a whole discussion about how Weight Watchers was the best diet. I put in my two cents, saying “I think the best diet is NOT dieting.” to which someone said, “Well, Weight Watchers is good because it teaches you how to eat.” I responded, “Hell, I know how to eat. No problems learning that one. I can eat just fine. See?” And proceeded to eat my cookie. My comment about the best diet being NOT dieting merely started everyone into justifying why Weight Watchers was so good. Ugh ugh ugh. What can a fat girl do?

I sorta just sat there and tried to debate a little against it all, but it just got tiresome. So I just listened. I thought it was really absurd. And sad. And I didn’t know what to do.

Next thing I know, we’re all sitting down around my sister’s table with mirrors and makeup in front of us. The Mary Kay consultant (we’ll call her MK, hee hee), is a sweetie, an really believes in this stuff. And thus she began her presentation. Right away she talked about how great Mary Kay is for women, which I believe, and how their sales are good, and make women millionaires. She said:

“The thing about Mary Kay is that, even in times of economic crisis, like right now, our sales are still booming. In times of economic crisis, sales boom on three things: alcohol, cigarettes, and makeup.” We all “Oooo” and “ahhhh” at that statistic. She continued: “Think about it, if I just lost my job, I’m gonna drink, I’m gonna smoke, and I’m going to want to wear makeup to my job interviews.” Interesting. And a little sad.

But I have to admit, their products are good. We did all the cleansing, and moisturizing, and then put on their quick day to day makeup. Their foundation was light (though way more than I’m used to), their eye makeup fantastic, and their lip treatment (including first a scrub for lips that exfoliates your lips, and an oil-based lip balm that lasts hours) was heaven. MK was so great, and really knew what she was selling. She told me afterwards that she really does love the product, and the fact that she can make money off of sharing it with others sincerely makes her happy.

I also got some interesting beauty tips:

1. You should always wash your face and neck in an upwards, outward motion, to prevent wrinkles.

2. For your eyes, you should always clean in an inward, downward motion to prevent crows feet.

3. You should change your mascara once every 2-3 months to avoid getting pink-eye, etc.

Anyway, my sister was delighted. She bought a ton of stuff (after getting a hosting discount). Today she sent an email to my mother saying that my mom should “see how beautiful she looked” and that she really loved hosting a party like that. E. and F. also bought some stuff.

Now I think this post might display some conflict in feelings on my part. And here’s why: I’m all for makeup. I’m all for enhancing what you consider your positive attributes. I’m all for a little bit of glam for something special. But I feel immensely sad that my sister, and a lot of women, need makeup to boost their self image. And it falls back to the usual suspects: low self esteem, trying to fit into an unreal ideal. And it makes me sad. I loved the Mary Kay demonstration, but I hated that my sister has never sounded happier, felt more beautiful, than the day after she bought, and therefore the first day she wore, all this Marry Kay makeup.

I think we need a message to women. One where we’re all clean-faced, fat, and happy. But then, if a bit of makeup makes you feel better about yourself, and how you look, more power to you. I support anything that makes people happy. I just wish that the superficial weren’t it.

“Why wasn’t I wearing a Tank-Top?!”

See Joy Nash’s amazing new video below. I’ve noticed everyone else is posting it, and I just HAVE to. Because it makes me squee with joy! (ha ha…no pun intended.)

I know I haven’t posted all week, and I’m sorry. I’ve been unpacking from school, cleaning, organizing, and preparing for one of my best friend’s weddings (in which I’m the Maid of Honor, woah).

Anyway, better posts next week. Wedding’s tomorrow. Friends here all weekend. Monday I start working at the Avenue (wooo! It’ll be different this summer, I think. Since I’ve accepted myself…etc.). More good stuff later.

Anyway, here’s the Joy Nash joyousness to tide you over! She is my goddess!

My Biggest Fear: Ending up Alone

Just now, I opened my hotmail email, and this article was under the MSN Today tab. And it’s making me confront my biggest fear: ending up alone.

“Why I love women’s bodies”

Tall, short, plump or petite, one thing is universal—no matter what a woman’s shape, there’s a man out there who’ll appreciate it! To prove our point, listen to what these guys have to say, and feel your confidence soar… no matter what your body type.

It goes on with quotes from various different men about their significant other’s body type. And here’s the thing, it has raised a conflict within me that I can’t overcome. My feminist side is sitting here screaming in outrage at the insinuation that we need men to think we’re beautiful for us to feel beautiful. No one else should dictate how we feel about ourselves but ourselves. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate having men agree with my opinion of my beauty, but I wish, for once, that it would be men and women saying they love their OWN bodies.

This goes along with owning our poo, and other such things. We should get to say we’re beautiful, and whether or not a man thinks my shape is beautiful or not should have no measure. Let’s kill the line: “Listen to what these guys have to say, and let your confidence soar, no matter what your body type.” and replace it with “Be confident and you will be beautiful.”

But at the same time, I’m still trapped by it. I know that I personally want men to think I’m beautiful. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’ve figured out that my biggest fear right now is that I’ll end up alone because no one will ever find me attractive. I’ve started my nesting instincts early, I think. Whenever I see baby clothes and cute little kids, I keep thinking “I want one of those.” I already know, just shy of 21-years-old that I want to grow up and have a family. And at the same time, I see everyone around me pairing off into happy couples, and I can only hope to be that happy. I know I’m happy by myself right now, but I have no one to really share that happiness with, and I want someone to share that with.

I know, I know, that doesn’t mean that my physical attractiveness should take the front seat, but I’m starting to lose faith in this world that there are any men who DON’T think of superficially of physical attractiveness. Our nation is so stuck in that place where physical attractiveness takes precedence over everything else, that I just want to tear out my hair. And it scares me. Every day it scares me that no one will ever get past how I look to see who I am.

I discussed it in my fat documentary a little, and I think the fact that this is still hanging over me shows me that I’m not as confident as I thought I was. I’m still afraid that my fat will cause me to be old and alone. And I know I’ll need more than that. I deserve more than that.

I’d like to tell myself right now as I’m writing this that my lesson from it all should be “Well, if you don’t care about your fat, he won’t care.” or like I said earlier “confidence is beauty.” I want to own my poo. I want to not care. But this only proves that I’m human. I want a man to find me attractive. I want to find someone to share my life with. And the sad truth is that I feel completely powerless when it comes to this because beauty, the effing jerk, is in the eye of the beholder. It makes me so mad because I’ve given up all my power to men. And I just want to say fuck it. I just want to lie around in my pajamas and feel beautiful. I just want to look at myself in the mirror and say “this is great.” I just want to be fully and completely happy with myself.

Maybe it’ll happen someday. Maybe I need to just get out of college and live in the real world where people aren’t as superficial. I just don’t trust it to be that different.

Ownership in Self-Acceptance

My poetry professor read us a poem she wrote a few weeks back that started something like:

If there’s pee on the seat, it’s my pee. If there’s poo on floor, it’s my poo.

I can’t remember the rest of the poem, but we’ve spent every class since talking about “owning your poo.” Last night when I sat down to write some new poems for my collection, I had a small epiphany: all of this, everything I’ve been thinking about, writing about, etc. is about ownership, or as my professor has put it, “owning your poo.”

What happened this year wasn’t that my body changed, or even that my perception of my body changed that much. What happened was that I decided to OWN my body. Before, it was always something not mine. I wanted to lose weight because I wanted other people to think I was pretty. I was, in this market society, trying to sell an image of myself for the sake of other people. My body wasn’t my own, it was for other people’s enjoyment. It was a matter of other people’s concern.

But I realized today that I now own my body. It is MY body. What matters isn’t how I look to you. What matters is that this body is mine, and only mine. I don’t expect you to like my body. I don’t even expect you to care. Gosh, I don’t even expect MYSELF to care. This is my body. It doesn’t need excuses for your narrow-mindedness. This is MY body. Not yours. It’s not for you to criticize.

I realize now that my poetry professor had this epiphany long before I did. She is also a woman who “walks this world larger than life” (her words, not mine), and for her, it’s in how she carries herself. She has commented to me on numerous occasions, “Chrissy, your attitude about your body has changed. I don’t know about weight, nor do I care, but how you hold yourself, how you view yourself is different. And it’s beautiful.”

She gets it. I’m owning it. My body. MY body.

So, lets all own our poo. I think it’s some of the best advice I’ve every gotten.

The Totally Naked Show

There seem to be an abnormally large bout of posts on the Fatosphere lately about the media, so let me add mine. Contrary to some, mine’s focused on a more positive experience…

You see, I spent the whole afternoon a few days ago watching “How to Look Good Naked” (or what my friends and I call, “The Totally Naked Show”) online. I was looking for something frivolous, mindless and fun, something to use as a means of procrastination. This totally fit the bill.

I hadn’t actually watched any of it until that day because I had been in Ecuador when it first aired. But let me say this, I LOVED IT. The first episode was just…fantastic. From the first few seconds, when Carson was walking down the street with the models, I knew I was going to love it; as soon as that woman in the gold dress showed up, I just wanted to jump up and down. And then when those women were his models for the “compare your perception to reality” part of the show, I almost died. They are REAL WOMEN! And they’re MODELS. Who wanted to jump up and down? Me.

Aside from the models, the message is mostly right. It’s not about losing weight, it’s about loving yourself. You can lose the negativity towards your body, your perceived ugliness, in how you see yourself, in how you present yourself, in your confidence and grace. That made me happy. I ended up watching them all in marathon. I’ve always loved Carson Kressley, and in this he is so fun and helpful, and I feel like he genuinely wants to help. I can’t wait to see more. It makes me completely and utterly gleeful to see that message out on TV. Especially when it includes something like, “Zero is not a size. It’s a warning sign.” Oh Carson. You make me swoon.

Notice, however, that I say the message is mostly right. I feel like the show is trying to deal with the issue of negative body image, but really just skirting it. In having women stand in front of the mirror, and look at themselves, they aren’t saying “you look beautiful because these things society tells you to hate don’t matter.” but instead saying, “you aren’t as fat as you think. Compare yourselves to these women here. See, you’re not as ugly. And look at what you have to work with!” I mean, maybe that’s a skewed view of it, but that’s what I’m getting. That’s not productive in a universal message. Yes, it’s great for the women involved. But for the women watching? The message could get a little distorted. Distorted in the way of “I don’t have the things that he admires in her, therefore I’m ugly.” Yes, I might be reading into it a little more than necessary, but it’s important to consider, at least.

So overall, I like the show. I don’t think the media will ever be able to hit the issue on the head (because they’re working inside the medium that needs to change the most), but this is as close as they’re going to get. And for the individual on the show, I think it’s actually helpful. Finally, an uplifting message. Finally, real women on TV. And finally, more fun with Carson Kressley.

Compliments and Good Intentions

One of my friends was in the hospital two nights ago having an emergency appendectomy. She’s okay now, but on Monday night I ended up staying up all night at the hospital, waiting for the surgery to finish so me and my friends could be there when she came out. We sat with her mother and father, awkwardly making conversation. Her mother, who hasn’t seen me since I got back from Ecuador (where I lost maybe 20 pounds by sheer accident), turned to me halfway through the conversation and said. “Chrissy, you look like you’ve lost a ton of weight. You just look fantastic.”

Now, I knew this was meant as a compliment, so I accepted it as such, “Well thank you,” I said. At that moment I realized it was the first time since I fully came to accept myself that I had been told that I looked fantastic because I’d lost a ton of weight. And it made me realized that the compliment didn’t feel satisfying. It was empty, felt superficial, and didn’t flatter me at all. In that moment all I could think about was how little this woman knew of me, and how I didn’t know what to say to her.

In comparison, I’ve received a number of compliments in the past few days that have reaped some satisfaction. Yesterday, for instance, I was trying something new with my hair and five (!!) of my friends commented that my hair looked great. Then today I got a comment on my Fat Documentary from Joy Nash herself, which made me squeee with happiness. Almost immediately after getting that, a girl I only sort of know from one of my classes came up to me in the cafeteria and asked if she could watch my Fat Documentary because she had heard it was really well done. I sent her to my YouTube page and jumped up and down in my head with glee.

Overall, what I’ve realized is that I feel satisfaction in compliments when people are acknowledging my successes. Getting my hair to look good was, for me, a triumph. My documentary is definitely an accomplishment. And people rewarding me for my hard work makes me feel good because they’re reinforcing my feelings of success. I think this shows a step forward for me because I’ve begun to disassociate my fat from failure.

All my life, I’ve overcompensated for what I saw as my biggest failure, my fat. I’ve gotten good grades. I’ve been nice to people, been a good support for everyone (except myself). I’ve worked hard to achieve everything in my life, hoping that my good intentions would cover for my fat. Hoping that no one would care about my fat if I were successful, and seemingly happy. Little did I know that I only ever failed when I criticized myself. My weight is not a failure, it’s a part of me. It is not a failure, nor is the loosing of weight a success. It all just is.

My friend’s mom considered my weight loss to be a success. And considering how little she knows of me, I’ll take it for what it was–an allusion that I am a successful individual. It was superficial because she knows me only superficially. But I hope that when people see who I really am, they’ll see a confident, happy person whose accomplishments are many and whose body shape or size doesn’t matter. For the first time in my life, I’m happy. And that’s what really matters.