It’s a tricky subject right? For over a year now, actress Ariel Winter has been subjected to both cruel and uplifting words about her body.
The feminist in me is furious, the teenager in me weeps for her, and the optimist in me believes Ariel’s attitude about her body should be encouraged and celebrated among all women people.
I can relate to Ariel on so many levels. I realize men also have body image issues, but I feel that women have it worse, especially celebrities. This isn’t a contest, it’s my observation. I’m not alone in this. Ariel is criticized regularly for not wearing enough clothing, for gaining weight, for showing her breast reduction scars, etc. She’s also sexualized and harassed. All because of her body and how she carries it. While the unkind and inappropriate attention from others may affect her emotionally, she chooses to address the situation with dignity, grace, and sometimes a little sass.
I remember being uncomfortable with my body from a young age. I’ve never been “thin” and my weight has always fluctuated. I used to be so jealous of my “skinny” friends and would be a little more modest in my choice of clothing than they were. These feelings did not just happen. They were built up. They were built up the media, my friends, my teachers and coaches, and even by family. Any time someone said anything to me about what I was eating, what I was wearing, or how I looked I took it all very personally. Sometimes I would fight back with a cutting remark, often I would hold it in and then wait until I was alone before crying or venting in some way. The intent behind the words was irrelevant. These feelings followed me around for years. They also made me a harsh critic of others, which is a hard habit to break.
I’ve been called fat by a lot of people to my face and behind my back. The girls I went to elementary school with used to make fun of the size/shape of my backside, as if I asked for it to look like that. I’ve been told I can’t wear certain types of clothing; that I need to be more active and take better care of myself. I was out with my friends in my third year of university and a guy said something offensive about one of my friends so I made some snide remark to him and he promptly said to my friend “I wasn’t talking about your fat friend.” Like I wasn’t even there to hear what he said. When I was a camp counsellor, a 12-year-old boy sat next to me and told me my thighs were huge. I’ve been told to be careful about what I eat and drink, actually, I’ve had food taken away from me like I needed to be cut off. Again, the intent behind the words was irrelevant. I’ve had friends who were treated worse than this because of their body type. It happens to a lot of us, no matter the age or body type.
I am not stupid. I make my own decisions about my body and it is not up to ANYONE else to tell me how live my life. If I wanted advice on whether or how to lose weight, I would ask for it. I don’t need anyone telling me what to eat or how often I should work out. People also need to be aware that being overweight is not necessarily a choice. Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other. I’ve had problems with anxiety and depression that have no doubt contributed to my weight fluctuation. I’ve also been battling chronic knee pain since I injured myself six years ago, which makes a lot of physical, high-impact activity challenging. These are not excuses. They are factors that contribute to a weight problem.
I used to hate the scars from my reduction mammoplasty even though they’re from a procedure I chose and that made my life infinitely better. Ariel had the same procedure and she shows off her scars like a warrior. I used to complain endlessly about being curvy and the inconvenience of finding pants and shirts that fit. My laundry-list of things I would change about my body has started to fade, but it’s still there. Ariel flaunts her curvaceousness as one of her best gifts. She is teaching me to love and honor my body and for that, I am grateful.
Society has a long way to go to get to where we need to be, but I love that powerful women like Ariel Winter are opening the world’s eyes to what body image should be about. Empowerment, being comfortable and feeling amazing in your own skin is a priceless gift.
It’s only recently where I’ve started to be kinder to myself and others. I still have so much work to in the body image department and there are days where I would rather stay in my comfortable and forgiving robe than risk going anywhere in clothes and expose my vulnerability. I’m painfully aware that being healthy both mentally and physically is important, but so is self-acceptance and being kind to myself and others.
I’m a work in progress. Respect that, and I’ll respect you.