When it comes to the whole body image conundrum, I’ve got a thousand questions and no answers. Which, admittedly, is not the best way to start an article. But hang with me.
It’s National Bikini Day, and all I want to do is write something meaningful and poignant about “body image” and “feeling at home in your body” and “redefining beauty standards”, but I can’t, because I have no answers. When it comes to this particular topic, I have no wisdom.
A recent study, The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, found that women’s confidence in their bodies is declining, and that low body esteem is increasingly common among all women, regardless of age or geography. Of the 10,500 participants, 85% of women and 79% of girls admitted to opting out of fun activities they’d otherwise enjoy if they feel like they don’t look their best.
After the study was released, there was an onslaught of articles calling the results “shocking” and “surprising”. I can only assume those articles were written by men, because it isn’t exactly new information that women struggle with their appearance.
Despite the current body positive movement, I have yet to meet a woman who truly loves her body and feels at home in her own skin. Every woman I know, regardless of age, social status, or weight, complains about her thighs, or feels guilty for eating too much dessert, or groans when thinking about bathing suit season. I’ve begun to equate a woman who actually loves her body with a mystical unicorn- appealing, but highly unlikely to exist in our current reality.
Sure, we’ve made progress. We’ve got Amy Schumer and Kim Kardashian and Ashley Graham. But it’s not working. It’s not enough. Because at the end of the day, the majority of us believe that the most important thing a woman can be in this world is skinny. We live in a culture dominated by thin privilege, and instead of tearing it down, we’re tearing ourselves apart. Instead of trying to change society, we’re trying to change our size.
It’s incredibly frustrating, both on an individual and a cultural level. Why, in 2016, is this still a thing? Why can’t we just get over it already and love our bodies? Why is it so unbelievably hard? We can vote, we’ve taken over the workforce, we have our first female presidential nominee of a major party. We know how to exist in society, yet we do not know how to exist comfortably in our own skin. We are waging war on ourselves on a daily basis for no good reason.
And the worst part is, we know better.
I know that the media presents unrealistic beauty standards. I know that my self-worth isn’t equal to the number on the scale. I know it’s my inner beauty that truly matters. Intellectually, yes, I know all of these things. I know them, and I desperately want to apply them. I want to be the woman who loves her body, who rocks her bikini regardless of her size, who feels confident and sexy in her own skin.
But I’m not. Not yet, anyway.
Because emotionally, I’m swallowing back tears in the dressing room. I’m reaching for my cover up. I’m designing meal plans and researching new exercise programs. Emotionally, I desperately want to have society’s coveted size 2 body. And I feel ashamed because I don’t have it, and ashamed for wanting it in the first place.
I have three sisters- two are 17 and one is 7. More than anything in the world, I want them to be free from this problem. But how? How do I teach them to love their bodies when I can’t seem to do it myself? When they inevitably complain about their thighs or start dieting, what do I say? What do I do? I am not the role model they deserve. I’m nowhere close.
But maybe that’s okay. I may not be able to give them the magic formula for healthy body image, but I can share my truth and my struggles. I can have a real and honest conversation- not about diet plans or exercise programs- but about what it’s actually like to live in a skinny obsessed world. And maybe I don’t have to be a role model or a leader. Maybe I can just be someone who’s struggling right along with them. Someone they can talk to and laugh with in the trenches. Someone who’s fighting the same fight, who’s battling the same demons. Maybe that’s all anyone really needs anyway, the comfort of knowing they’re not alone.
I’ll remind them that they’re beautiful just as they are and that their bodies are tools and that looks will fade and that they will do more important things in their lives than look good in a bikini. I’ll probably quote Sarah Silverman and tell them that “Mother Teresa didn’t walk around complaining about her thighs- she had shit to do.” I’ll break out the body positive quotes and clichés, because even if they’re cringe worthy, we still need to hear them once in a while.
And then I’ll try my best to become the freaking unicorn. I’ll do whatever I can to love my body. I’ll try like hell to feel comfortable in my own skin. And I’ll mess up and fail and get annoyed, but I’ll keep trying. Because my sisters, and my future daughters, and all of womankind deserve to live in a world where unicorns exists. And that starts with me.
It also starts with you. Today is National Bikini Day. I challenge you to go out there and wear one with pride. Don’t suck it in, don’t shrink back, don’t cover up. Own it. Fake it till you make it. Have a conversation about body image. Go for a run because you love how strong it makes you feel. Tell someone about your struggles. Do something, anything, other than frown at your reflection and grab your stomach and moan about how fat you are. You deserve better than that. You deserve love and kindness and acceptance. Give it to yourself, and then pay it forward.
Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. Apply to become a Contributing Writer by clicking HERE