CW/TW: discussion of weight gain, body image, PCOS, etc.
Similar stories have been told before, and will be told in the future, but I think they need to keep being told in order to remind us of what our reality is.
Hating your body while swimsuit shopping is a tale as old as time. Folks of all genders struggle with this, but I find that myself and other friends who are female or non-binary ESPECIALLY struggle with this because of the way companies, the media, and society in general has groomed us since we popped out of our mother’s womb. I hated swimsuit shopping even when I was a thin little bebe in high school who was fairly close to the “ideal” body type. Prior to this week, the last time I had gone swimsuit shopping was over four years ago, and even then I only went because my friend worked at that store and had found a swimsuit in my size on sale that she thought would look really great on me. Even then, I put off going to visit my friend at her workplace to try on and buy this swimsuit for over a week because I really, really did not want to have to stare myself down in that mirror and see all my nooks and crannies revealed in horrific fluorescent lighting.
In present times, this seemed like an even more daunting task. Because of my polycystic ovarian syndrome I now have more body and facial hair than ever before (something that is greatly stigmatized as being “ugly” or “masculine” on a woman) and have gained a significant amount of weight. I was, and honestly still am, SO insecure about these changes in my body and what I think others will think of how I look. This insecurity is multiplied sevenfold by the industry I work in, where I have patients coming in, who are even thinner and more muscular than I am, to literally freeze the fat cells off their body, or to laser their hair off their body. Although I give my workplace enormous credit for not using body-shaming marketing or consultation tactics to make sales in an industry that is notorious for that sort of garbage, I still seem to absorb the insecurities of patients, friends, coworkers, and relatives like a sponge, and morph them into my own.
With all of these negative feelings bubbling beneath the surface, I still knew I needed to purchase a new swimsuit that actually fit my new size for the summer vacations I had coming up. I scheduled time on my day off, and the morning of I procrastinated on Instagram, watching a steady stream of Instagram stories. I follow @dothehotpants (Dana Suchow) and watched her lengthy Q & A Instagram story that talked a lot about eating disorders, body image, the media, and capitalism, and how all of these entities, ideas, and illnesses interact with each other. I had been aware of all of these things for quite awhile, but desperately needed to be reminded of them.
In case you’re in need of a reminder as well, let’s talk about it for a minute. Who stands to benefit from shaming women about their bodies? Immediately, I think “product companies” and “men”.
So many industries benefit from women feeling absolutely dismal and embarrassed by their bodies! There are entire companies built around body shaming women. Flat Tummy Co. (the name in itself is abhorrent) shills “appetite suppressant lollipops” while making women feel like crap about their weight. Razor companies push women towards a near impossible ideal of hairlessness. Fitness programs guilt women for “holiday weight gain” or “baby weight”. It is literally everywhere. Without this immense pressure and shame I’m sure many women would still buy these items because they themselves want these items or to look a certain way of their own free will, but this pressure makes women feel obligated to look a particular way and ridicules them if they don’t manage to achieve this unattainable ideal.
Men, similarly benefit from this shame. Women who are not confident are more easily manipulated. When the focus is on women’s appearance even in professional settings, it is more difficult for them to climb the ladder and make an impression on employers, clients, etc. that isn’t directly or indirectly tied to how they look.
Women are pitted against each other from childhood and made to feel as if they must compare to other women. Magazines publish “hottest” and “sexiest” lists, girls TV shows feature mean, pretty girls who judge others and characters who compare themselves to other girls, and there are pageants for females of each and every age demographic in which they face off in beauty-based competition. Because of this repeated message throughout our lives, even when we are aware of the factors that make us feel as if we must compete aesthetically, it takes years and years to unlearn this habitual behaviour.
With all of this in mind, I am so grateful for Dana’s reminder on Instagram. Sometimes, we just need that reminder that another woman’s beauty is not the absence of our own, that our beauty does not determine our worth, that there is no one-size-fits-all look that all women should want to look like, and that our shame and insecurities are implanted in us to benefit others. Keeping all of this in mind, I walked into that swimsuit store and quickly and happily found a swim suit that fit me and was heckin’ adorable, for the first time in years. I didn’t feel embarrassed for my belly, body hair, or stretch marks. I felt great and couldn’t wait to head to the pool on vacation! Who gives a damn what I look like, as long as I like what I look like?
I think for myself, a big part of my self-care going forward is to repeat these body positive mantras in one form or another over and over again until I’m able to mostly unlearn these self-destructive tendencies. It’s quite the task, considering how many times negative messages about our bodies have been repeated to us since we were young, but it is such an important task. I hope that you know that your body is absolutely fine the way it is, and you deserve to be happy with it. And if you don’t know, I hope that this is a reminder to take a little time to work on building that self-love, especially if it does not already exist within you.