Put yourself in the picture

This is the second post in a series about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies. You can read the first article, Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens, here.

Five years ago, in a posh Tokyo neigbourhood filled with restaurants, bars and elegant shops, I finally found a hair salon where I could get an amazing hair cut and colour. Both the stylist and colourist are lovely people who speak English and, over time, we’ve become friends. For many people living outside their home countries, this is like finding the holy grail.

Before I even sit down at the salon, a member of the staff has placed a couple of English language magazines on the counter where I will be sitting. They never forget. They place those magazines out for me because they know I don’t speak or read Japanese and they want to make my experience in their salon as lovely as possible.

I absolutely experience this gesture as love. But the thing is that I never open the magazines.

Vogue. Cosmopolitan. Others magazines from that particular high fashion family. There are no women in these magazines that look even remotely like me because all of the industries involved in making these magazines (fashion, beauty, diet) are based on the assumption that the worst thing a woman could be is fat. These magazines tell us how to dress to look thinner (not fat), how to apply makeup to look thinner (not fat), how to pose for photographs so that we look thinner (not fat).

In my teens and early twenties, I bought and read these magazines but the thing that got to me was the complete and utter absence of roundness. Not only were there no women who looked like me, the “average” sized women I knew were not represented in these magazines either. I watched as many of my friends and colleagues compared themselves unfavourably to the women portrayed in fashion magazines. Even when they received a compliment, some of these women would skip right over the thank you and dive straight into the self-criticism, “But my butt is too big” or “my hair is too curly” as if the whole damned world would shut right down if she were to say, “Thank you. I do look awesome.”

So I stopped buying the magazines. After a while, I stopped reading them in waiting rooms as even the articles were based on the assumption that a woman should do whatever was humanly possible to look beautiful… where beauty was always defined as being thin and taking up less space.

That has not been my experience of beauty.

My little protest of one didn’t have an impact on the beauty industry but I felt a LOT better.

So when the staff at the Tokyo salon place those magazines on the counter in front of me, I experience this gesture as love but I don’t read them.

Last year, during a morning at the salon, another English speaking client mentioned that she’d like a magazine.

“You can have mine,” I said.

“You’re sure you’re done with them?”

“I don’t read them.” And I explained the reasons why.

“You don’t even read them aspirationally?,” she asked.

Nope. Not even aspirationally. Especially not aspirationally.
While I was thinking about this piece, I watched a documentary called The September Issue about the making of the annual September issue of Vogue. The issue documented in the film featured photo shoots in Paris and Rome with sumptuous interiors, lush exteriors and amazing clothing, textures and colour. The photos were stunning.

Perception is a funny thing. Because the only women we see in these kinds of glamour photographs are very thin, we develop an expectation that these are the only women who SHOULD be in these photographs… who are ALLOWED to be in these kinds of photographs. We start to believe that THIS IS JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE.

If you’re a woman in an average sized or larger body and you visit Paris or Rome, you may may find it really difficult to put yourself into a picture that you don’t believe you have a right to be in.

It’s not like anyone will say, “Hey, round girl. Are you crazy? You’re not allowed to have your photo taken draped across that red velvet sofa like that. At your size, it’s indecent. Here, just take a nice Instagram of your cafe au lait beside these pink roses on this lovely marble table top.” Except someone does say that. Many of us have taken all the implicit and explicit messages we’ve ever received about beauty, bodies, power and pleasure and we’ve come to this ridiculous life-limiting conclusion on our own. We’ve built up a wall between ourselves and the fun possibility of being photographed on the velvet sofa.

In another example, I’ve noticed that a lot of my women friends are not in photographs with their kids. They’ll say, “But someone has to take the photo.” Sure. But it doesn’t always have to be you. Your kids are going to want photographs of you together and I promise you that they will not care about whatever you’re currently obsessing about… your tummy or your hairstyle or what you chose to wear on that particular day in September 2017.
In the first two decades of my life, I stopped reading fashion magazines because there was no one in them that looked like me. In this part of my life, I want to put myself back in the picture of my own life and I want to challenge you to do the same.

It doesn’t have to be a glamorous photo. You could start with a photograph with your kid. Give someone in your life an opportunity to love you and care for you by asking them to take that photograph.

It takes courage to be seen, especially if you think society doesn’t want to see your body. What I’m discovering is that everything that’s been learned can be unlearned.

Here’s a new thought: There’s no wrong way to have a body. Try that on. Wriggle around inside that thought. Isn’t it delicious?

I look forward to seeing your photographs.

Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens

This is the first post in a series I’ll be writing about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies.

A few days ago I read a Facebook post about an American High School Principal’s comments to an assembly full of Grade 9 and 10 students. She was talking about leggings. Yes, that’s right. Leggings. And it’s not even that leggings were against the school’s dress code (they’re not) but the Principal felt that she needed to educate the girls about who should be wearing them. She said, “I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now. Unless you wear a size 0 or 2 and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat.”

In the comments to this Facebook post, several women spoke out against this educator’s message and the potential negative impact on the students. Someone commented that this would make girls with eating disorders even more self-conscious. Yes, I thought. That’s true. Her words might further harm those with body image issues (which describes many of us) but the real problem with her comments is the assumption that it’s not okay for girls and women to live in a round body. That it’s not okay for them to be fat.

I’m going to repeat this. The problem is the assumption that it’s not okay for girls and women to live in a round body. That it’s not okay for them to be fat.

So I took a deep breath and wrote this: “The most shocking thing about this remark is that it is not new. People have been talking to girls and women like this forever and we are just now starting to notice and to say, “That’s not right’. Also these kinds of remarks are not just harmful for girls with eating disorders but also to actual fat girls. Like me and so many other gorgeous girls and women like me. ”

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that’s not a typical Monna-move. For many years, I’ve flown under the radar with my views on body positivity. While I feel SO strongly about understanding the ways in which society has shaped our views about weight, beauty, gender and power, it felt safer to have those conversations with students or coaching clients individually or in small groups. The work of helping girls and women untangle years of conditioning and limiting beliefs about themselves has been largely an offline and private endeavour. But there was something about one of the commenters that really got to me.

She shared a screenshot of “bad leggings images” from Google, chastised us for bullying the Principal and celebrated this educator for teaching the girls the right way to dress and behave. I could not believe it. A number of people responded to her comments but she was not to be deterred.

I thought about responding. I thought about asking her why she hated fat girls and women so much. Something had rendered this woman incapable of letting girls and women enjoy the body they’re in and dressing to please themselves.

But I didn’t post. Fortunately my better angels arrived just in time (as they so often do) and I chose to click on this woman’s Facebook page to learn more about her. Although I was not entirely surprised to see other conservative views shared on her page, one very relevant fact caught my attention. She had competed in beauty pageants in the early 1960s and had won a state title. While I’m sure that some young women have had positive experiences in these competitions, there’s not much space for body diversity or rounder bodies. Beauty pageant culture places thinness in the Penthouse right next door to godliness. Beauty pageants perpetuate the idea that it’s a girl’s job to be pretty.

It is not the job of girls and women to be pretty. That’s not our job.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so angry at this woman. I saw her as absolutely shaped by her life experience and by the beliefs of the adults around her as she grew up and developed her own worldview. I felt empathy for her and her situation.

Instead of responding to this woman’s Facebook comments I went to my own Facebook page and wrote:
Lovelies, After reading some particularly toxic + fat-shaming comments regarding what young women should (and should not) wear, I remembered these words from poet nayyirah. waheed.
I’d love for you to share, in the comments below, a photograph of yourself. A photo in which you are your own standard of beauty. I’ll go first. Monna xo

Do you remember the line, “If you build it, he will come” from the movie Field of Dreams? Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, hears these words and builds a baseball field on his corn field. Everyone thinks he is crazy but it turns out that he’s not crazy at all. My version of this was, “If you write it, she will show up.” On Sunday, eleven members of my tribe responded to my post by sharing photographs of themselves and claiming their own beauty.

These photographs said:
*I don’t need to feel totally ready in order to show up for myself (because I’ll never feel totally ready)
*I don’t have to look perfect in order to show up (because, of course, there is no perfect)
*I believe in my own inherent worth and that of my Mom and my kids and my friends (and even the inherent worth of the body shamers because it’s our hope that when they know better, they’ll do better)
*I’m not going to feel ashamed of myself or the way I look no matter what other people say and do

I’m so grateful to these women for helping me turn a really frustrating Facebook encounter into a lovely and affirming experience.

What is one way in which you could CELEBRATE your own unique standard of beauty?