Last weekend I was cleaning out my closet, and I came across a pair of shorts. And when I say a pair of shorts, I really do mean a pair of shorts. Singular. They are the only pair of shorts I own.
These shorts are usually reserved for emergency situations like impromptu pool parties or extreme heat waves, but even then I don’t wear them. I opt instead to stay indoors and wear long flowy skirts or capris. And it’s not because I consider myself modest or because I’m against shorts as a fashion choice. I just don’t like my legs. It’s been almost five years since the skin above my knees saw more than a couple minutes of sunlight.
I’ve gotten really good at coming up with excuses for wearing ankle-length leggings when it’s 90 degrees outside. But over the course of the last 18 months I’ve also been making some health changes in my life, and I’ve lost enough weight that I could hypothetically buy shorts off the rack and have them actually fit my body.
However, even after shedding over 50 pounds, I’m still giving the “summer wear” section of the store a wide berth. I tell myself I’ll deal with figuring out what size I feel comfortable in once it gets too hot to keep digging out the capri pants.
There Is No Magic Cure
Losing weight is not a magical cure for feeling good about your body. I realize it was messed up that I ever felt this way, but to be fair, as woman we are basically told this 24/7 through every Facebook ad, magazine cover, television commercial, and cereal box we encounter.
Which is why the body positive, or “bo-po” movement, has emerged in full force in recent years. And it’s a beautiful beautiful thing. There will never not be a time when I am happy to see a sexy plus-size woman showing off her curves in an ad for body wash or lingerie. I’m so happy there are women in the world who are proud of their bodies without being a size 4. But I still struggle with being one of them.
You should be able to love your body without forcing it outside of its natural shape or size. And when I realize that I sometimes don’t, I not only feel bad, I feel bad about feeling bad.There are so many worse things in life than not fitting into society’s preconceived idea of what is and isn’t attractive. Yet I don’t possess the strength to stand out against these ideals with confidence.
Being Positive Is Exhausting
Recently I came across the term “body neutral.” Basically, this new movement means you don’t have to love your body all the time. In fact, it’s OK to regularly experience insecurities, as long as it doesn’t stop you from living your life.
It’s OK to look in the mirror and wish that your thighs were smaller or your tummy flatter, as long as you acknowledge that your self-worth as a person is greater than the size of your thighs. It’s OK to wish you were a smaller jean size, as long as it doesn’t prevent you from putting on your current pair of jeans and then going about the rest of your day. Because fighting yourself into being 100% positive all the time is exhausting. Sometimes it just makes you feel worse.
Realizing this has been a turning point for me. I have been a wide range of sizes in my life, and even at the lower end of this size range, I do not have the perfect hourglass body. I still don’t feel as confident in a bikini as the plus size models I see. No one is going to come knocking on my door asking me to be in a body wash commercial, even one starring “real” women.
That’s OK, because I have other things going for me. I’m smart and funny and fiercely independent, and I don’t need the perfect body to have a good life.
There are only so many hours in a day, and I’m going to do the things that make me happy. That doesn’t mean getting down on the floor and doing 50 crunches, nor does it mean trying on crop tops while giving myself a pep talk about the beauty of my arm flab.
I Will Always Feel Imperfect
For me, being happy just means going about my life and not thinking about my weight constantly. It means getting ice cream with my friends because I feel like it. It’s exercising when I have time and appreciating how fortunate I am to have a healthy body I can move. It means skipping the sit-ups to read a book or write in my journal, because I am also a being with a mind and a soul, not just a body with abs to tone.
I used to think losing weight would be a magical cure-all for feeling good about myself. However, I will always have some part of my body I wish I could change, no matter what I weigh. I will always have cellulite and stretch marks. I will always have acne and bad hair days.
The moments when I feel the prettiest are not the moments when I’ve done the best to cover up these imperfections, it’s the moments when I’ve completely forgotten about them. It’s the moments when I’m talking or laughing, surrounded by people I love and having a good time. This is true whether I’ve just eaten a salad or an entire platter of onion rings.
Although I am a human being, and therefore not immune to compliments, I deeply appreciate the people who do not comment on my weight, even when it’s on weight I’ve lost. My personality is still the same no matter what size I wear, and I like to think people enjoy my company because of who I am as a person, and not whether I’m up or down 20 pounds.
My Body Will Change, But I’m Still Me
Right now, my life is going really well. I have a job that I love, and I have free time to exercise and cook my own food. I have enough disposable income to pay for a gym membership and farm fresh produce. I have the energy that comes from being young and healthy. I am not bogged down by a chronic illness, whether it be physical or mental. I have no great responsibilities in life besides taking care of myself.
I realize any one of these privileges could suddenly vanish overnight. If any of these things go away, there’s a good chance I could gain back the weight that I worked so hard to lose. This is why I don’t want to hear about how thin or how pretty I look. Instead, I want you to ask me questions about my job or my latest writing project. Or, if all else fails, let’s just talk about you. Because my life might change, and my body will definitely change, but I will still be me.
Being body neutral means recognizing I have perceived imperfections, but not letting it upset me. I might not be ready to rock a bikini or daisy dukes, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking for a lot of positive encouragement to do so. It’s about realizing I’m still happy even if I’m not wearing those things. It’s not necessarily about loving or loathing my body. It’s about living my life, no matter my weight, or what other people think of it. It might even mean buying a new pair of shorts this summer, just because I feel like it.
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This is like putting what’s in my head into words. I’ve struggled with my body and how I feel about it for so long that I’ve only recently, at 30, come to peace with not constantly trying to starve or run myself to my ideal mental body image. But body positivity is emotionally exhausting, and some days you just can’t do it. Body neutral is such an accurate term, and I’m going to start using it from now on.