As a12-year-old I remember impatiently waiting for the age of 13. Not because of the excitement that awaited me as a teenager, but because at 13 I could join my Mom’s gym. As a 14-year-old, I recall shocking forty-year-old women at Jenny Craig by telling them that no, my high school doesn’t provide microwaves to heat up my frozen diet food. In high school, I vividly remember being in the principal’s office more times than I can count. Not because I had been bad but because I had simply existed – because my breasts had made or had the potential to make someone uncomfortable. When I think about being 24, I can remember how cold the room felt while wearing only a hospital gown, as I attempted to perfect my apparent imperfections by altering my body, trading in my flesh for scars.
Throughout my twenties my height became an additional source of shame. As a woman who is 4’10”, I have had to laugh accommodatingly as powerful professionals made short jokes at my expense, placing their arms atop my head as they told me what a lovely headrest I made. I’ve endured countless digs that people confused for small talk, comments over coffee from C-level employees that questioned, “have you gotten shorter?” along with assertions of “wow! I didn’t realize you were THAT small!” And here’s the thing – I can’t totally blame these people. As I approach 30, I can say with confidence that I have never in my 29 years seen someone with my body type or height in an ad, as a mannequin, on a television show, or admired in the pages of a magazine. I’m sure these professionals haven’t either.
As social media has become more prevalent and with the rise of hashtag culture, I have seen how so many other women have endured experiences similar to my own. And I have been pleased to see that the shame many of us have been made to feel is no longer being hidden. Many don’t realize that the confident, smart women that they surround themselves with are also women who have grown up fighting off shame and stigma in the same way that I have. And it’s important that we have these discussions because if we don’t, we can’t change things for the women that come after us.
We’ve come a long way – with the rise of terms like “curvy” and “thick” it has (arguably) created a space for boys and men alike to verbalize their attraction to women of all different body types, without fear of condemnation from peers. Clothing brands have also taken note by producing more separates for swimsuits, along with an influx of high-waisted two pieces – all of which give women more options to choose from beyond the string bikinis and one-piece swimsuits we were once limited to. Offering diversified sizing options is an important step in the right direction but in a hashtag culture, social movements are also are vital in changing the narrative around body image.
Fortunately, there are celebrities and influencers who are helping to create a dialogue around these issues. One such advocate is Good Place actress Jameela Jamil who recently started a movement called “I Weigh”. It was sparked after coming across a photo on Instagram of the Kardashian’s which had their respective weights posted across each of their bodies, along with a caption that read, “what do you weigh?” The photo left her appalled. To clap back at the ridiculousness, she created the Instagram account @I_Weigh which asks men and women to reevaluate their own worth by rethinking what they “weigh” in accomplishments instead of in pounds. She does this by asking followers to submit images of themselves with words or phrases on top of their image, noting things about themselves that they are proud of and that makes them who they are. It’s a positive, visual representation for girls of all ages that they are so much more than just a number.
At the end of the day, no number of hashtags can give me or anyone else the confidence to live proudly in their own skin – I can only do that for myself. But creating an open dialogue that allows industries and individuals to understand the consequences of their expectations and encourages the expansion of acceptance is a great place to start. The space that many women (of all sizes) have that holds their insecurities grows with each expectation that isn’t achieved. When we can free up the space that holds our shame and insecurities – we free up more room for joy, confidence, and happiness. When we don’t tell women how to be, we allow them to blossom into who they truly are – and when that happens, our feeds will be filled with a lot more confidence, cleavage, and shapes of all sizes.