A few months back I came across an ad from Victoria’s Secret. Ten models, dressed in skimpy bras and panties with the caption:
The Perfect Body.
So, this is what beauty looks like (as told by the expert on beauty, Victoria’s Secret). I have since learned that Victoria’s Secret changed the name of their campaign to “A Body for Every Body” — even though the ten models on that layout didn’t resemble ten of my friends.
Which one of those was my body on the layout?
I must have been standing in the back behind the skinny, shiny legs of the models…or maybe they accidentally photoshopped me out.
Where is my body? I cry to the winds of outrage.
Victoria must have been listening to her iPod because she didn’t hear me. I know because I passed her store about 50 times when shopping this Christmas season and I didn’t see my body there either.
I have misplaced my body, Victoria. Do you know where it is?
This must be her real secret:
I had to take a few deep breaths before clicking off the absurd advertisement.
You see, this isn’t the first time I have come face-to-face with my own body image issues.
I remember being an only girl and weight wasn’t much of an issue in my nearly all-male household (except during my brothers’ wrestling season), but I had cousins.
You know, the kind of cousins that are infinitely more petite and casually cool that you will ever be. I remember one relative, who apparently thought that saying: “Elizabeth! Look at how much you have grown! Have you gained weight?” was a compliment to one already insecure young woman who was constantly comparing herself to those cousins. You know, those perfect ones who were running around in their cheerleading outfits with their skinny legs and boy-short haircuts. You see, in my 13-year-old mind, I would never compare. I was the uncool cousin who was socially awkward and had “football” legs.
I didn’t even know what football legs were, but in my developing brain, they couldn’t possibly be cool. And, they certainly weren’t skinny.
Fast forward many years. I thought I had worked through many of my body image issues. I am older and wiser now. This is one issue I feel so strongly about, and I have worked hard to teach my own daughters what beauty is and be an example for them.
But, let me tell you one more story:
I have two five-year-old daughters. One day more recently, I walked into their room when they were having a little chat about mommies. Out of the blue, one of them tells me:
“So-and-so’s mommy is prettier than you are, mom.”
Breath catches. And, for a flick of a moment, I am back to being that awkward 13-year-old holding a bucket of insecurity on her sturdy football legs.
How. Did. This. Happen?
On this particularly bad day, I close the door to my bedroom and cry several non-pretty little tears on my white pillowcase. Luckily, we have a sleep number bed that is strong enough to manage the weight of the insecurities and the football legs – and pillowcases are washable.
You see. It isn’t about me being the pretty mom. Well, it may be a smidgen about that, but really…it’s not.
It is all the other little things…
How can I teach my daughters that real beauty isn’t about size or shape?
How do I teach them that the number on the scale isn’t the number that values your worth?
How do I prevent them from believing the Victoria’s Secret ads, the television commercials, and all the other terrifyingly unrealistic images of women they are bombarded with daily through the media?
How do I teach them that nice clothes and some lipstick don’t truly make you beautiful?
Or how do I prevent the belief that to be valuable as a woman you must be physically attractive according to “media standards”?
Because, if they believe that, then naturally they will be led to the belief that they are in a constant competition with every other woman in the world.
Which means that eventually my two daughters will start competing with each other.
How do I teach them the real definition of beauty in this media-heavy, photoshopped, make-believe world of thin-perfection?
And, how can I teach them that when I struggle with my own insecurities?
You see, all these add up to one big question:
How can I teach my daughters they are enough?
The heaviness of the power of media, the absurdity that Victoria’s Secret actually has the secret to beauty and the perfect body, and the weight of my own inner struggle with beauty seemed overwhelming.
Until I came to myself.
I remembered something that I learned, not only with my head, but with my entire being. It’s the kind of lesson that makes your fingers tingle it’s so powerful. I may have forgotten it for a moment, but it came back with such force that it made my insides shake.
You see, I know what real beauty is. And, it was time again to review that little piece of information with my five-year-old daughters.
I dried my tears and wiped up the mascara, I sent up a little prayer and sat down with my little ones. Two little faces, two big brown eyes and two hazel-grey staring at me – the fount of knowledge. I am sure they saw smudged mascara and a still-red nose as we talked about beauty.
You see. I don’t believe what Victoria Secret is selling me. I don’t buy it. The perfect body doesn’t stand around in a double D size bra and tiny panties without a smidgen of fat in sight. Because that body doesn’t exist.
Nope. It’s a fraud.
And even though I struggle with my own insecurities as the majority of women do, I know real beauty isn’t about how I look. It isn’t about my pant size or how I look in a swimsuit.
Beauty doesn’t come in a cookie cutter shape, with only long, skinny legs and shiny hair. It isn’t only about wearing a cheerleader costume and it certainly isn’t sold in a certain section of the department store.
Beauty is not defined in a Victoria’s Secret ad.
Beauty is so much more than that.
And so, firmly I stand when I take one small step in the fight for real beauty.
I am calling you out on your sparkly pink carpet, Victoria. I know it will not affect your financials for the year, but I’m banning you.
You don’t represent my body.
No more overpriced bras and panties. No more PINK emblazened across my backside. For my daughters’ sake, no more, Victoria. I’m done.
You see, I have done a few things right. After our conversation, my little one told me later that night:
“Mom, beauty is being pretty inside and out.”
I stood proudly that moment – football legs and all.
Because, frankly, I don’t really care where you hid the bodies, Victoria. I’ve found mine, and it isn’t in your store.
If you make a New Year’s Resolution this year, let it be this: Love your body – imperfections and all.
Stayed tuned for tips on how to love the body you are in, and how to teach your daughters to love themselves. You won’t regret it! This is the first post in a series on body image for women. Check out my next post here: 3 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About Body Image. Or, if you struggle with self-talk, please read this post: 5 Tips to Silence Your Inner Mean Girl.
I hope you’ll join me in the fight for real beauty!