Words by Candi Barbagallo
I remember the moment I became aware of my body and its aesthetics. This was also the moment I lost ownership of it. I was ten, sitting in the back of my fifth grade classroom beside a very sweet blonde girl. Her peachy complexion and blue eyes were in stark contrast to my Polish-Italian genetics, and although our body types weren’t terribly dissimilar, I noticed my thighs spread across the width of my melamine chair while hers did not. I decided this was unacceptable. I spent the next decade or so self-conscious of my “big” thighs, never mind the fact I thought my legs were too long and skinny overall. In my mid-thirties, seven months pregnant with my son, an older coworker confirmed this as I stood filing a stack of papers. “Your legs aren’t supposed to be that skinny”, she giggled. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it. It was only ten years prior a male coworker peered through the hole in my jeans and gasped, “Your legs are thick, that’s nice”. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it.
When I was a tween, a boy I liked told my friend I looked “like a Barbie with a broken neck”, confirming my suspicion that my neck was too short. I cut my hair and pierced my nose. A kind stranger let me know I was too pretty for short hair and facial jewelry. I grew my hair long, but I wasn’t “as approachable” if I straightened it.
Girls in my small town high school admired my olive skin. Boys at church teased me relentlessly for having darker body hair. I used a hair remover cream on my back and arms before the pool party that summer. It burned. Badly.
In college, a classmate told me he wanted to give me a makeover, “like in the movie She’s All That”. The next week he asked if my breasts were real. A few years later, after leaving an emotionally abusive marriage rife with porn addiction, I ran into an old acquaintance. He told me I needed to eat some cheeseburgers to get some “tits and ass”. I was just happy to be alive and eating at all.
So. Much. Noise.
It never occurred to me that I handed over control of my self-image to everyone around me. And they all had an opinion. If I let the unsolicited feedback affect me positively and carried myself with confidence I often received a clear message from my contemporaries that I was vain, conceited, self-absorbed, or worse. If I dared to complain about a perceived flaw I was met with chuckles and eye rolling; “what do you have to be self-conscious about?”. I was not allowed to feel good or bad about myself. I was supposed to take catcalls as compliments and criticism as constructive. But no matter what, I wasn’t in charge. And I have no doubt this is the universal female experience in some form or another.
Many of us have been walking around for decades completely detached from our bodies. We’ve allowed others to tell us if we are okay, and for some reason, have attached our sense of worthiness to whether or not the noise around us is predominately positive or negative. And with the prevalence of social media things have become awfully noisy. We’re encouraged to love ourselves, accept that “big is beautiful”, but “strong is the new skinny”, and “real women have curves” (but not cellulite). We’re bombarded with images of not just the beautiful people, but of the regular people and their meals and workouts and filters and #nofilters, all screaming at us that we’re doing it wrong. That we aren’t enough. I have seen fitness professionals ripped apart for being “too skinny”, plus sized models’ accomplishments diminished for being “small fat” (translation: not fat enough), and many others for being too... fill in the blank.
So. Much. Noise.
So when I was asked to write a blog post about body image I cowered. I didn’t want to add to the noise, I was afraid of ruffling feathers, and quite honestly, had no clue how I felt about my own body. This was a nearly shocking realization. I am almost forty years old, I’ve birthed a child for heaven’s sake, how could I be so…. detached? Then I realized what I really am is angry. I am angry that it has been open season on women for far, far too long. I am angry that we are seen as walking suggestion boxes. I am angry that we preach and moan about “body shaming”, but continue to do it with the justification that everyone is entitled to an opinion. NO. Everyone is not entitled to an opinion about the way anyone else looks. You are not entitled to anything when it comes to someone else’s body. You are not owed viewing an aesthetic that pleases you, nor do you owe that to anyone. What you are owed is the freedom of moving through this world in a way that feels good to you. You are owed the ability to go about your day/week/month/year/life without being blindsided by someone else’s harassing opinion about your breasts/legs/stomach/butt/body hair.
As for me, what I’ve discovered about myself on this 38 year and 1100 word journey, is that I never loved myself the way I thought I did, the way I was expected to. I never had the thick skin I pretended to have, nor was I comfortable in it. I’m making a promise to myself now to try to let go of the expectations, from others and from myself. I promise to check in and ask my body how it feels and what it needs from me. I promise to learn to love who I am no matter what I look like. And I promise, the next time someone tells me I’m too thin I’ll let them know their opinion is none of my business.
It is my sincerest hope that you will make some of these promises to yourself, too. That you will love yourself most days and accept yourself on the other days. Give yourself grace and move your body in ways you enjoy. Eat food that nourishes all parts of your humanness. Wear clothes that make you feel lovely and alive. Let the whispers from within be enough to drown out all the shouting from without. And please, for the love of all, grant others the respect you’re giving yourself and remember their physical form has absolutely nothing to do with you.
About the Author:
Candi Barbagallo is a freelance writer, boy mom, virtual assistant, and personal growth enthusiast. She values synchronicity, authenticity, and a healthy dose of cynicism. When she’s not chasing a toddler, she’s drinking coffee, trying to sleep, and daydreaming about all the things.