Happy in our bodies

Written by Lara M. Pazek     

Finding self-acceptance including flaws has been my ongoing life challenge. Indeed, struggling with body image and disordered eating followed me from adolescence to my early thirties. Upon puberty and with its arriving weight gain, I began a long road of restricting, bingeing and over-exercising which took me years to overcome.

It took me a long time to understand how manipulating my weight and appearance in both healthy and unhealthy ways was a reflection of how I felt on inside of myself. I realized that learning to love my body rose out of my own efforts to like myself. This started when I chose to put the most value on achieving my own personal goals, exploring how I limited my activities because of my weight, and deciding to really interact with the world, socializing and doing the activities I always dreamed of despite how I worried about my looks.

At present, I am a sales associate, fitting women of all shapes and sizes and working hard to establish our collective self-esteem. When I accompany my clients to their fitting rooms, young women and their mothers regularly share with me their fears regarding the shape of their thighs, booties, and breasts. We also seem to be heading toward an unhealthy obsession towards appearing young. I am forever challenged when accurately predicting my client’s age to the point where young women are upset if I add a year or two on their twenty-year-old status. When I was their age to be considered older was a compliment. It remains a social faux pas to age a woman correctly as she will often point out her routine measures to fight off wrinkles including expensive skin care and Botox injections. My own girlfriends suggest interest in the later. As the one question often asked “does this outfit looks good on me?” or “does this make me look fat?” I grasp at these opportunities to reassure women regardless of their age that confidence, posture, and inner beauty radiates beyond body shape or size.

Many clients are surprised to hear that after losing over sixty pounds, I often say I liked my heavier self more. This appears impossible, however, I have seen in myself and others that being skinnier often leads to more self-criticism when we encounter a roll or stretch-mark. I try to communicate this regularly with my clients as they try on the latest in spring style. I like to learn about and vocalize my appreciation for what sets them apart, be it their freckles, or their life accomplishments, friendships and career achievements.

I am especially touched by the multiple stressors in young women’s lives. Faced with the pressures of social media, peers and fierce academic/job competition, girls these days struggle to learn how being in their own skin and comfortable in their bodies is paramount for both healthy relationships and overall well-being.

The “Supermodel “ (Christie Turlington, Cindy Crawford, etc.) informed the body image of my generation and the mothers who come to shop. These days celebrity culture radically informs a young woman’s image of what is beautiful. Currently, we look to Victoria Beckham, Beyonce, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus to set trends in fashion and makeup.

I often let girls who come into the store know the pressures we faced when curvy was not in and Kate Moss’ heroin chic inspired anorexic behavior. Now I see petite women and girls unhappy when they cannot ‘fill-in’ an outfit. How did we ever become our worst critics?

Rest assured, a-line will be back as fashion turns over what old is new again. And the cycle of hating our bodies will continue.

Dinners are hardly made at home anymore.  Routine discussion between family and friends is often interrupted by constant texting. The pressures of exams, lack of sleep and Red Bull, penetrates young lives. I regularly witness their increasing anxiety and a general inability to cope with life stressors. Indeed I have heard of young girls so uncomfortable with themselves that fake texting is rampant. This is as sad as when we need our girlfriends to accompany us to the restroom.

This is the context in which our feelings and thoughts about our bodies are developed. In lieu of discussion around valuing personal strengths, healthy intimacy, and goal setting on a young woman’s self-esteem, I regularly hear about my young client’s struggles with their bodies and wearing brands as well as what boys think about them.

Their mothers often seem uncomfortable really ‘owning’ their own identity and sexuality when trying on clothing, often complaining of sagging breasts, needing surgery, aging and seeking their husband’s approval. I attempt to encourage clients to demonstrate their personal power by selecting fashions which enhance their shape and fit best for their figure. I point out regularly the beauty or unique features which set them, hoping they will find more confidence in themselves. Sometimes we discuss societal, familial and workplace pressure against achieving a strong feminine presence.

So how do we combat this struggle to both be judged by and judge our own bodies?

It took me a long time to discover that being comfortable in my own skin indeed was enhanced by fashion I loved and clothes which flatter my own curvy shape. In the same way, I send petite women and adolescents to the best brands for their bodies. We can struggle regardless of how much we weigh.

But to really love yourself and your body I believe the struggles starts within. We must achieve our goals, grow our talents, invest in personal development, and learn about health sexuality through open discussion with peers, teachers and parents.

I went to a Catholic school when nuns threatened to wipe the makeup off our faces, we could not wear pants and dances between boys and girl included “room for the Holy Ghost.” Sex still happened, however I cannot imagine the pressures today given ‘sexting” and the Internet combined with having to try to get through adolescence in one piece. It is such an important time in a girl’s development. I am often encouraging my young co-workers to place school, family, friends and boys in that order. Also, we need to put our own feelings about ourselves before others’ in order to reach a place of self-love. Our outer beauty including the clothes and makeup we wear are strong reflections of how we feel inside about ourselves.