Shake what ya mama gave you...
October 24, 2010 9:20 PM   Subscribe

How did you come to accept, make the best of and enjoy your body/appearance? How did you learn to really own your body type/features?

I have a strong, solid, fairly muscular body for a female as I do a lot of sport, but I still have the wide hips - I want to learn to really OWN this body as my previous attempts to change/control it brought me nothing but misery. I think I need to redefine my vision of what femininity is and embrace the body that I have as I know that to have a slender, willowy body, I wouldn't be able to do the things I love, or am good at. Or even be healthy, frankly. I haven't been exposed to many positive narratives (or comments) about women with bodies like mine, so I'm not really sure where to start. But we all have our different things, I'm interested in how other people, with whatever different body types, or phsyical "flaws" or unnusual features, got to a point of accepting, and then rocking, what they've got, and living a happy life with, not in spite of, the way they look. Cos I'm pretty sure at some point this is going to come down to me making a choice.
posted by Chrysalis to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Throw out any beauty magazines you may have in your possession. Look around at the real women in the world who are considered attractive. Sure, a few of them look like super models. The rest are confident and curvy and yes, have body types that differ from the 36-24-36 ideal or whatever the media is shoving down your throat these days.

Also, look at your body for what its purpose is. Your body is beautiful because it allows you to excel at whatever your particular sport is. Especially since you're athletic and (I'm assuming) taking good care of yourself, any one or thing that might make you feel unattractive is not worth your time.

On a more practical, less feminist mentality note, the way you dress every day can have a big impact on how feminine you feel. Figure out how best to dress your body type (a lot of people on here have suggested What Not to Wear for advice on this for real women).

And as far as beautiful people with muscular athletic body types, I'd take Serena Williams as role model number one.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 9:45 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a guy, medium height, and I'm overweight. I need, and have needed, to lose weight, pretty much since junior high school, and I'm pretty lousy at it. I've made some headway this year, but have had some setbacks. I think, though, that BMI really made me think about my body. I do score in the obese section, and I need to get that down, but on the other hand, having the frame (stocky, from a family of broad-shouldered football players) I was born with, my 'ideal' weight is ludicrous. As it stands, people are usually stunned to the point of thinking I'm lying when I tell them my real weight, and according to BMI, I would ideally be 30 kilos lighter. I can't even imagine how unhealthy I would look at that weight, and my current goal is to drop about 2 more kilos by the end of the year. Some day, I hope, I'll finish off by dropping another 20 kilos (which would still put me at overweight, btw).

The thing is, though, that this is my body. I'm not thrilled with it, but I went to great lengths to hide it for years, including wearing shirts to pools, and hunching my shoulders to hide my gut and chest. The back problems I've developed basically put me in a spot where I couldn't do that anymore, and I had to choose, worry about other people's opinions, or get my back sorted out.

I also live in a culture where I'll always be considered fat, or big, or whatever (actual line from a former coworker when I mentioned my taller, heavier cousin: "But no one is as big as you!"). And, to some extent, I'm just tired of it. I'm tired of not being able to enjoy my life, of being worried about going to the beach with my slender friends.

In short, screw "other people." It's your life, and you shouldn't let other people's arbitrary ideas of beauty interfere with your life, or your enjoyment of your life.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:49 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was eighteen, my best friend would look in the mirror and tell herself that she liked the way she looked. I picked this habit up from her.

A few years later, I added the habit of looking in the mirror and seeing my own best friend.
posted by aniola at 9:55 PM on October 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Dress well. If your clothes flatter your body type, you'll feel a million times better when you look in the mirror.

I don't know what the equivalents are for athletic women, but I became much happier with my body when I figured out which styles work on a very lanky guy and which don't.
posted by ripley_ at 10:02 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hope you won't take this as me being flip, but you've got what you've got, so make it work for you. I know this is a much bigger deal for women than men, so I won't get on a soapbox about it, but to a large extent, looking good is all about misdirection. If you don't like your hips, perhaps you can try moving your waist up (ie Empire waist). If your arms are awesome, find a way to showcase them. An A-line skirt can hide a lot of hip, and if you're proud of your legs, that would certainly make you look and feel good. Most importantly, remember that this is for you. Nothing reads more attractive than a person who feel comfortable in their own skin.
posted by Gilbert at 10:07 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I eventually just got tired of the idea that all women should be at war with our bodies all the time, constantly want to lose weight, never eat appetizing food, etc.

Two things helped me along the path to being happy with my body.

The first thing was that, in the guise of wanting to lose weight, I used some website (I forget exactly which one) to track what I was eating and analyze the nutritional content, as well as to compute my BMI. It turns out I'm exactly average in terms of BMI, get all my nutritional needs met, and burn about as many calories as I take in. Seeing that written out in numbers and charts was a huge wake up call - why am I doing this? I'm perfectly healthy, and it all reduces to looking thinner. Why am I stressing myself out about the way I look?

The second thing was The Fat Nutritionist.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, I would be careful about all the various "if you don't like body part X, buy clothing item Y" bits of advice. The conventional wisdom is often wrong (an empire waist will accentuate a gut and wide hips, for instance), and the goal here is to like your body, not to obsess even more about hiding your supposed flaws. Wearing clothes that flatter you is important, but it's also important to find a way of doing that without engaging in even more self-hate.
posted by Sara C. at 10:16 PM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

I avoid almost completely

Weighing myself
Magazines that focus on any kind of "beauty" (including men's magazines)
TV except reality TV and shows with varied body types on them
Anything about celebrities
Any kind of weight loss book, article, conversations about dieting
Shopping (obviously I have to do it but I don't use it as a pastime)
People who are extremely body-negative about anyone's body (including their own)

Positive things I do:

Get laid a lot by people who are completely uncritical of my body
Focus on OTHER PEOPLE as much as possible, meaning, avoid thinking about what I look like to other people
Make sure I have clothes that fit and make me feel good, and then avoid full-length mirrors (it's much more fun to say "this skirt is awesome and comfortable, and so is this shirt, great outfit, me!" than it is to say "does this skirt with this shirt make me look fat"?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:23 PM on October 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

You might enjoy the Already Pretty blog. The author frequently reflects on the journey of appreciating and liking one's own body.
posted by lakeroon at 10:25 PM on October 24, 2010

Er, yeah, agreed that focusing on clothes that follow certain rules about flattering you is probably the wrong way to go about this. Though I do agree that wearing clothes that fit you--that you feel comfortable and good in--is a big help (check out the recently side-barred post about getting a bra that fits; I just found out today that I'm a D-cup, and my new well-fitting bras make me look and feel awesome).

Definitely throw out your fashion mags, and try not to engage in body self-loathing talk with other women--this goes double for other women you're related to, because I've found that relationships even within families between women an really be poisoned by those kinds of comparisons. And go easy on yourself if it's not a smooth or perfect journey. On my own quest for self-acceptance, I've had many set-backs and stumbles, plenty of days when I've felt cruddy about myself or whined about my body to my husband. What helps is knowing that I'm improving, that I don't feel cruddy *all* the time.

Have you ever had the experience of looking back on pictures of yourself and thinking "Man, why did I hate the way I looked then? I was adorable!" Remember, someday you'll look back on pictures of yourself now and think the same thing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:28 PM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

So funny to me to see people talking about "hiding" or disguising various body my experience it doesn't help with self-consciousness.

Instead, think about finding clothes that flatter you by showing off the things you like. Like your chest? Rock some cleavage. Like your face? Wear necklines and colors that make it rock EVEN MORE.

There is nothing about you that you need to hide, as though it were shameful or ugly because it's not--you, all of you, is awesome. Of course you will enjoy some parts of your physical appearance more than others, but you don't have to dislike anything in order to love something else.

A friend who is a young women's hockey coach makes her team members say two things about their body that they like for every one thing they say that they dislike.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:29 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me, a great deal of being okay with how my body looks is concentrating on how my body feels. You probably exercise more than I do, and maybe this loses its novelty - but I never get tired of the feeling of waking up in the morning with sore muscles and stretching very luxuriously. Stretching in general is wonderfully indulgent, almost decadent. Focusing on sensations, how soft my sweater feels, how powerful my lungs are when I breathe, how warm my neck is, how long my legs are when I stretch them, how my breasts weigh, showers, baths, massages, etc... I also like meditation where you focus on each part of the body in turn.

Your body is your greatest source of pleasure. It's wonderful when someone else gets pleasure from your body, and you become interested in your body or your beauty because someone else is paying attention to it. But you don't need someone else to tell you how soft your skin is or how good your hair smells or how nice your butt is, you can enjoy that all yourself - and the rest of the world is missing out on it.
posted by ke rose ne at 11:02 PM on October 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

I read a blog post once that suggested women unhappy with their bodies should take a whole heap of photos of themselves, or get a good friend to. Take close-ups, distance shots, shots just of the face, from different angles, whatever. And then spend a lot of time looking at them. Try to imagine you are looking at pictures of someone else. Stare for a long time at the bits you "don't like". See things like the colour of the skin, the folds in it, the soft curves, the underlying muscles. Draw some studies of your hand, your leg, your foot, if you can draw (and maybe even if you can't). In short, get really familiar with the way you look from every angle.

Keep the photos you really like, but only choose them after you do all of the above, maybe after weeks or months of doing the above. That way you aren't making knee-jerk decisions to keep the "flattering" pictures. But maybe you will keep some that showcase a pretty curve, or a beautiful interplay of light and shadow, and that make your body look interesting and familiar, or interesting and new, not just ones that "hide your flaws" and make you look "traditionally pretty".

Once you have identified those pics, bring them out now and then to admire.

If you find it difficult to see the beauty in your own body, maybe start by looking for it in other people's. This website is a good place to start.
posted by lollusc at 11:42 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Find blogs on fat-positivity, HAES (Health at Every Size), or plus-size/fatshion. They often have great articles on body positivity that apply to anyone of any size.

Some recs:

Definatalie (including this post on rejecting the notion of the "flattering outfit")
Axis of Fat
The Rotund
posted by divabat at 12:27 AM on October 25, 2010

Reading Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth was by far the most important thing for me in learning to accept and be comfortable with my body. In part, at the time, I was really angry, and doing nice friendly "why I love my body!" exercises just pissed me off. The message of The Beauty Myth really worked for me.

To sum up: Obsessing over our bodies and having terrible self-esteem feeds into the whole system of oppression, works against women's efforts at equality, and feeds the beauty-industrial complex. If you spend all your time fighting your body, how do you have time to fight oppression/poverty/racism/sexual violence/exploitation/evil corporations/(insert concern of choice here)? What do you do if you set aside half an hour to write letters to your congressperson, but then you spent that half hour staring down a piece of cheesecake?

So, yeah, I kind of pitched body acceptance to myself as a stick-it-to-the-man-and-eat-that-cookie thing. It worked well for me. Now, to be honest, I don't think about how my body looks all that much. I'm happy with it because it pretty much does what I want to and generally it's pretty nice!

If I remember correctly, The Beauty Myth also had a nice section along the lines of, "How can you possibly hate a body that allows you to walk through the woods and swim in the ocean and eat delicious food and have orgasms and touch the people you love?" I thought that was kind of amazing. We (those of us who have the luxury of taking for granted that our bodies generally work, at least) are used to seeing our bodies as having value in just one area: looks. But to us, to our physical experiences as humans, appearance is the least important thing! I think that learning to love your body for what it is and what it does, rather than just learning to like its appearance, is kind of paradigm-shiftingly awesome.
posted by mandanza at 12:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Chrysalis: I have a strong, solid, fairly muscular body for a female as I do a lot of sport, but I still have the wide hips.

Honey, you are a long time dead. To go through life, brief and fleeting as it is, regretting the container you have been assigned for the journey is a terrible waste. Reject the Beauty Industrial Complex. Decide that you are stronger than the billions of dollars spent telling you that you are the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour, that your hair isn't bouncy enough, your eyelashes aren't long enough, your ass isn't small enough. Throw out every women's magazine you've ever bought. Buy no more. Think critically and actively about every commercial you watch. Make filtering them for sexist, belittling, misogynistic bullshit messages your favourite game. Open your eyes, look around, and expand your definition of normal. Realise that if you're straight, you've probably seen very few real life naked women. Fix that. Open a book on the history of fashion and realise that women always come in our same variety; its only what's fashionable that changes. Find a definition of beauty that doesn't involve Photoshop. Start with what's in the mirror.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:29 AM on October 25, 2010 [17 favorites]

Learn to dress your body shape. Wide hips means most pants will be a problem, as will fitted or straight skirts. A-line to full skirts are your friends.

"I think I need to redefine my vision of what femininity is"

Well, for starters, having "birthin' hips" is a lot more feminine than being "slender" or "willowy" -- it seems like maybe your idea of "feminine" revolves around what young, almost asexual girls look like, not what full-grown, curvy women look like.

"I haven't been exposed to many positive narratives (or comments) about women with bodies like mine"

Stop looking at fashion magazines (the women in fashion magazines are chosen -- usually by gay men -- for their ability to be a good human clothes hanger) at look at men's porn (the women in porn are chosen by heterosexual men because they are sexy and look like women).
posted by Jacqueline at 1:48 AM on October 25, 2010

Honestly? Join a religious community. Become immersed in it, and make those people your close friends. Until I became a part of the Newman Center on campus (quite unexpectedly, actually), and ditched my old friends for people who accepted me for who I was, I was unhappy with myself. The eclectic mix of individuals in my new Catholic group of friends (from the Catholics-by-heritage to the extremely devout converts) seem to have one thing in common - happiness with themselves, because God loves each of them. He loves *you*, too. That's what makes you beautiful. It sounds cheesy, but if you change your attitude, and change your friends, your appearance takes a backseat in your list of things to think about. Stay busy, make time for prayer, and surround yourself with supportive friends. People who are grounded, goal-oriented, and who share a positive outlook on life. People who lift you up, and more importantly, don't make a habit of tearing themselves down. Funnily enough, I've lost quite a bit of weight without knowing it, even though body image/weight loss has been at the back of my mind.

I was most insecure when I was in a social circle of insecure sorority girls. It was a downward spiral of self-loathing within that group.

Hope my experience at least gives you some food for thought. :) If you don't have faith in God, well, I hope you can derive some sense of purpose, not related to your appearance or even your actions (we all make mistakes, over and over again!), from some outside entity. And even then, I would still encourage you to give a faith community a chance.
posted by sunnychef88 at 1:56 AM on October 25, 2010

Never mind all this about enormous hips.

What you have is probably an "hourglass figure", especially if you have broad shoulders to balance out your hips.

Check out pictures of

- Marilyn Monroe
- Nigella Lawson
- Beyonce
- Helen Mirren
- Christina Hendricks

who all have hips and look HOT with them.
posted by emilyw at 2:30 AM on October 25, 2010

I absolutely agree with the suggestions to focus on your favorite features and dress to accentuate those. But I don't think that being aware of your flaws and learning to dress around those is a recipe for self-loathing... learning exactly what my body flaws are has helped me immensely in liking the way I look, because for years I would put something on and it would just look wrong and I couldn't figure out why... I just looked crappy and it made me feel crappy about myself.

Once I began to really understand where my proportions are off it made shopping and finding clothes so much less awful and demoralizing. Now that I know which clothes are wrong for my body I don't have to try on 1500 items in order to find one outfit that looks halfway decent... I can now easily reject a lot of stuff right at the rack.

For instance, I have a short neck, big boobs and a round face. I need space and openness in that area between my boobs and my face, and I need to avoid bulk. I now know not to bother with scarves, chokers, or any top that has a high or bulky neckline, or I will look like a fat head smooshed onto an enormous bosom.

But once I started wearing a good bra, tops with low necklines and necklaces of a particular flattering length, suddenly that area of my body looks fine. I actually like my cleavage very much now that my clothes don't make me look like my head has sprouted directly out of it.

I don't obsess about my neck, I don't scowl at it in the mirror, I don't pine for clothing types that don't flatter me... I just set about finding the cutest stuff I can find in "my" style.

I really like the "What Not To Wear" books as they illustrate perfectly how wearing the right clothes for your shape can make you look amazing. One of the authors is thin and willowy, and yet when they put her in the "wrong" clothes she looks just as terrible as a chunky girl or a bosomy girl or a hippy girl looks in her wrong clothes. It was a revelation to me to realize that all body types have clothes that are flattering and clothes that are not. I'm not weird or ugly because I don't look nice in a cowl neck or wide-legged trousers.

At the same time you are figuring out what is difficult about your particular figure, you should also be looking at what is great about it. Apple-shaped girls often have great legs and bosoms. Pear-shaped women often have an attractive hip-to-waist curve and nicely-shaped butts. Any kind of boobs can be an asset if dressed well. I'm a fan of abundant cleavage but I also sometimes envy my small-boobed friend who can go braless at 45 and look fabulous... and also my friend whose average-sized rack is just enough to balance out her curvy waist and hips without looking cartoonish.

And of course you should get a hairstyle that works with your hair type, and figure out what your most flattering colors are, and do something to accent your eyes (because just about everybody has pretty eyes!) and once you have all that down and you're wearing things that really suit you, you look in the mirror and your eye is just naturally drawn to your best features, and you can't help but see yourself as attractive.

As far as loving yourself naked goes? Well, I think taking care of your skin and personal grooming (exfoliating, lotion, manicures/pedicures, keeping up with shaving/waxing if you do them) goes a long ways towards making you feel good in your skin, and I also think that taking really good care of yourself in that way helps you to believe that your body is something special and worth the effort... when you show love and care to yourself, you come to value yourself more.

But other than that, I think you have to learn to look at your naked body as you would look at the naked body of a lover. When you are naked with someone you love and find attractive, do you focus on his/her flaws? Most of us don't. You focus on the things you like, and let the less-lovely stuff sort of fade from your conscious view. You don't stare at his gut, you notice his broad shoulders and nice hands and pretty eyes and that great smile that makes you melt. You don't think about how fat her thighs are, you are just glad you're getting to touch that soft skin and silky hair and play with those amazing tits. And that is what you need to do for yourself. Just focus on all the yummy stuff about your particular body and let go of any negative thoughts about the rest.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Something that made me feel a lot better about my body image was reading through the archives of Photoshop Disasters. We're surrounded by these pictures of impossibly pretty people, right? Well, to make the images that we see all over the place, they take these perfectly nice people and then make them even more impossible with photo editing; seeing it over and over in PsD (made obvious by the occasional total screwup) sort of helps to drive that home. The pictures of pretty people all around us can't even be achieved by the pretty people themselves.

So it's okay to feel like my actual, genuine body is not innately flawed, and I don't need to feel inadequate for not looking like the impossibly pretty people. THEY don't look like that, either. Nobody does. It's okay to be a living, breathing, real human being.
posted by galadriel at 5:42 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am Nth-ing the discontinuation of pop culture beauty mag (or websites!) you might be a fan of.

I am also seconding the idea of taking the time to actually look at other women. Honestly, objectively watch the women around you. Look at the women you appreciate and like and want to be like.

I doubt they are all the willow-y woman you describe. Women come in all sizes, shapes, colors, etc. a crazy variety that never seems to get represented in MSM.

Any y'know what, there seems to be this new "Oh, but curves are great! Just look at _____!"-view. Which is only (somewhat) validating to one "plus-sized" body type. Yes, extra flesh is fine if you're stacked in that hourglass shape, but god help you if you aren't the image of a pin up girl, because the only positive association is curves = sex.

Girl with the huge ass and small breasts? Sorry!

So, anyway. You've got to find the validation inside yourself, which is hard to do. I'm not there yet either. But I'm working on it. I like to check out amateur/indie nudie/porno tumblrs to get my fix of reality when it comes to body aesthetics.

This one is great for bigger women.
This one is good for non-heteronormative women. (and men!)

Neither are work-safe!

In addition, I also feel like perhaps the majority of the responses are reading more into a body size acceptance-question than what you actually asked. It seems like instead of being dissatisfied overall, you're actually unhappy with one particular section/spot. Like someone might be unhappy about the shape of their nose.

So, to that I say, every single person has one area of their body they are unhappy with. It's okay and even normal to feel like, "awww, man. stupid ____." It's not okay however to dislike yourself because of it. You are more than your body, and your body is more than that one area.

In summary:
1. try and cheer up, and trash the MSM
2. look at more (naked) ladies!
posted by elleyebeebeewhy at 6:56 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I read this somewhere: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”

And it really got me to thinking that this is our only shot at life and I am not going to waste it worrying about what my body *looks* like (this may seem contradictory to my last AskMe, which really isn't about losing weight but being in better shape). I have child-bearing hips, and believe me, I have borne some children! ^_^ Anyway, it may seem trite, but the above saying got me to thinking that what my body looks like isn't really important in the grand scheme of things. It's more about what I do in life, and life should be about doing what I enjoy and who the hell cares what I look like? That's how I owned this body.
posted by patheral at 7:08 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that occurs to me whenever I'm thinking about this sort of thing is that cultures throughout history have had vastly different perspectives on what comprises beauty, especially female beauty. Every sort of variation exists from the sort of perversely skinny archetype we see in American culture these days, to rotund, from short to tall, from stocky to dainty, etc. It's hard to remember this also because the images we are shown of ancient times—or even of other cultures existing presently!—reflect our culture's ideas of beauty as they stand now (i.e. do you really think people looked that way back in the day compared to how they were portrayed in, say, "Gladiator?" I think they were all about a foot-plus shorter and a few shades darker, just to begin...). I'm not positive if it is true but I remember reading once that super pale skin was the vogue in ancient Rome until some royalty who was banished by Tiberius or Caligula or someone came back from her "island stay" with a tan, and then it became the rage.

Anyways, all this is to say that, at some point in time your body type was in vogue (or will be in vogue) somewhere in the world, and more importantly, knowing this highlights the fact that humanity is fickle and ideas of physical beauty are more or less representative of some sort of larger cultural force that you have relatively little control over. I'm going to make a logical leap here and guess that, just because you are on Metafilter, you are probably someone who has been able to step out of the mold of what society dictates in other ways...why should this be any different? Be beautiful if you want to be, and hang out with people who find you beautiful.
posted by dubitable at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2010

I've said this before in response to similar questions but it's worth repeating. Like many women, I also wasted a lot of time agonizing over my body. Are my legs thin enough? I wish I could lose 10 pounds. I wish my eyes were blue instead of green. Why did my brother get those blue eyes? So unfair. He doesn't need them. I DO. I hate my hair. I hate my stupid thighs. Why can't I eat less and lose weight? And on and on.

Then I met a man in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic who required a ventilator to breathe and had almost no use of his hands and arms. I figured he'd most want to be able to use his hands again but he said what he really wanted was to be able to breathe on his own. Suddenly this body of mine, that I spent so much time hating and trying to change was the most beautiful body in the world because it is healthy and it works.

I always just took it for granted that I could breathe on my own. I can run wherever I want, I can do simple and amazing things with my hands. I have the greatest gift on earth which is good health. My Grandma Laura was right - if you're healthy you have everything. I felt ashamed that I'd ever resented my body and now, every time I catch myself wishing I had curly blond hair or my brother's blue eyes or an effortlessly skinny little shape, I think of that man in the wheelchair, I take a deep breath and I remember what's important.

I'm healthy and gorgeous and you are too.
posted by Kangaroo at 7:25 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I really like the "What Not To Wear" books as they illustrate perfectly how wearing the right clothes for your shape can make you look amazing. One of the authors is thin and willowy, and yet when they put her in the "wrong" clothes she looks just as terrible as a chunky girl or a bosomy girl or a hippy girl looks in her wrong clothes. It was a revelation to me to realize that all body types have clothes that are flattering and clothes that are not. I'm not weird or ugly because I don't look nice in a cowl neck or wide-legged trousers.

I'd actually recommend avoiding the What Not to Wear books if you're hippy. My mother had one that railed so much against "saddle bags" that I felt truly awful after reading it. That's the problem with a lot of these guides, actually--it's not that dressing to your shape is a bad thing, but so many of them embrace a certain figure as normal and decry things like big hips as freaky that it might indeed be better for your self esteem to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:03 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I avoid all conversations with women who spend their social times talking about their diets and hating on their bodies. Change the subject, be bold in confrontation, or change friends. Notice women your size or bigger who rock confidence and non-hiding clothes and learn from them.

Don't read fashion mags or watch fashion show tv.

Laugh at ads that want me to buy things to make myself more acceptable.

This will not work for everyone, but I've actually found that looking at amateur or non-fetishized non-surgically altered porn helps me see that women that are my size or bigger are not only attractive when they hide their "trouble spots" with clothes, but hot and lusted for when fully exposed. (The sub-reddit "voluptuous" is a great one for this, I think.) I like arty porn, sure... but the regular old pics that proliferate when people are showing each other what turns them on and get silly little comments about how "hot" they are make me feel better about how I look.

Also, taking sexy shots of myself (and believe me I had to take a lot of them to get any I found nice) and sending them to someone you don't know (no face!) and getting compliments did a lot for my self-esteem.
posted by RedEmma at 8:16 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am short and long-waisted, skinny on top and a lot less skinny on the bottom. I have wide hips, a big butt, and thighs that a terrible person once referred to as "meaty." I am never not going to have short, thick legs. Even as a little kid, I had kind of short, thick legs. Even when I weighed 87 lbs and was a ballet dancer in high school, there they were, disproportionately sturdy-looking. I was upset about it for years.

A-line skirts and high-heeled boots help me feel taller and sexier. It's not so much a matter of disguise as it is a matter of lengthening and re-proportioning, for me, and thinking about it this way made me feel better.
posted by millipede at 8:23 AM on October 25, 2010

I'd actually recommend avoiding the What Not to Wear books if you're hippy. My mother had one that railed so much against "saddle bags" that I felt truly awful after reading it. That's the problem with a lot of these guides, actually--it's not that dressing to your shape is a bad thing, but so many of them embrace a certain figure as normal and decry things like big hips as freaky that it might indeed be better for your self esteem to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

See, I didn't get this sense from the What Not To Wear books at all. I mean, I guess if you want to throw out the concept of "figure flaws" all together, then sure... we're all beautiful in our own way and whatever. But beauty does have a lot to do with proportions, and that goes for both face and figure. Anyone who knows anything about art will point out at great length where some painting or sculpture looks wrong because some element is out of proportion. Apparently the average human eye finds some proportions more beautiful than others. It's just the way it is.

There are several different body types that are proportionately lovely (an hourglass figure is beautiful in one way, a willowy figure in quite another, etc.) but sometimes a disproportionate body part is going to look less than ideal. Prominent saddlebags, a fat stomach, stumpy legs, being too short-waisted (and I would argue, too long-waisted, never mind that Victoria's Secret seems to think that the incredibly long torso is the hottest shape for modeling underwear... personally I can't stop staring at it because it looks weird to me... and I'll bet some of those models would have a hard time finding regular clothes off the rack that fit nicely.)

If you can accept that most of us are not ideally proportioned in one way or another you can stop treating it like a personal failing, and/or or being mad at the world at large for not seeing the unique beauty in your prominent hips or big stomach (my most-hated personal figure flaw.) Accepting that you have problem areas helps you make peace with them and it also helps you learn how to deal with dressing them.

And, it also helps me to keep in mind that there are some people who are attracted to features that are not perfectly proportioned. There are people out there who think big hips are hot, there are people who are into big soft tummies, tiny boobs, big behinds, large noses, etc. And sometimes, when a person carries herself with confidence and presents herself well, odd proportions can be more compelling and interesting--"quirkily beautiful"--than cookie-cutter perfection.

The point being, being aware that some parts of you are not considered ideal doesn't mean you have to feel like shit about it. I've got a short waist and big boobs like Susannah of What Not To Wear, and while i'm not thrilled to have those figure issues, them going on about those things as "flaws" in their books in kind of a flip way didn't make me feel bad at all. I was just glad to have some information and examples about making my particular body shape look good.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:39 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with so much of what people have said upthread--getting a sense of perspective in that you don't want to die having wasted your life pristine and unable to enjoy things because you didn't want to wreck your appearance (I remember some model once in an interview boasting about how her mother instilled in her a sense of the importance of a woman's beauty from a very early age in that she was not allowed to climb trees, etc. lest she scrape her knees up...I was all "damn, that's fucked up" on my LJ and a bunch of cool dudes replied with "guys want cool chicks who do shit like end up in trees, not stiff mannequins that don't even allow themselves to run"), and emphasizing what your body _does_ for you (carries you where you need to go, comforts loved ones, keeps you safe and warm, creates things, performs useful tasks, feels pleasure, etc.) beyond how it looks. People have also alluded to the whole "get comfortable and sexual with someone who loves you" and that did HUGE wonders for me personally, but everyone's different. Ditto the down-to-earth porn/positive images of non-MSM ladies thing (or even mainstream celebs who are refreshing and strike a chord personally--I am under a rock re: pop culture but Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video blew my mind because she is rockin' something very similar to my shape, the same modest parts and the same assets)--personally it has totally helped me (and I never would have guessed this, but actually seeing myself have sex recently accidentally in the reflection on the TV made me feel awesome; I looked pretty happy and hot and not goofy and frankly a lot like the kind of ladies in porn boyfriends have watched in the past, which shocked me), but I could see how just as much for someone else it might still send them into an obsessive body dysmorphic comparison spiral. So trust your instincts and listen to yourself, too...

And I totally agree with whoever said they almost take it like a duty as a feminist to stick it to the Man by loving yourself and moving on in life beyond this stuff. It's so much easier said than done for sure, but when you have solid thought out reasons you know it's bullshit to obsess and self hate it's an ever-present reminder to calibrate yourself--"am I enjoying what I'm doing? Why the hell shouldn't I eat lunch, it's not like my boyfriend would do this to himself," etc.

So I'm just nthing all that stuff, with the caveat some things that make people feel good would make others feel bad, so listen to yourself. And my last piece of advice because I'm not sure I saw it yet--weight training!! Or possibly something like marathon running...something where you get a huge physical high AND feel super accomplished. I started serious strength training only recently and I feel like a million dollars not just because my posture's better and all that but for the first time in my life I feel _strong_, physically capable. It really opened my eyes to the fact in the past I'd spent so much effort trying to change my body's appearance but not what it can actually do physically. It's awesome and you can start small, and unlike cardio or whatever it doesn't require much time (I only lift 2x a week, and not for very long at a time).
posted by ifjuly at 10:01 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can accept that most of us are not ideally proportioned in one way or another you can stop treating it like a personal failing, and/or or being mad at the world at large for not seeing the unique beauty in your prominent hips or big stomach (my most-hated personal figure flaw.) Accepting that you have problem areas helps you make peace with them and it also helps you learn how to deal with dressing them.

For me, name calling in regards to body parts, which is what labeling someone as having "saddle bags" is, is a sure way to produce crappy feelings. As are labeling these sort of things "problem areas." It might seem like a trifling distinction, but "This flatters my shape and makes me feel and look good" is a very different sentiment than "This obscures my big flabby belly, which needs to be hidden because it's not the type of standard of beauty which is celebrated by the masses." Poorly drawn art is very different than what society regards as an "ill-proportioned" body (ex: Titian's Venus is realistically drawn. But that belly is not what you see in modern fashion mags, nor are those hips or thighs).

I guess what I'm saying is that, while such advice is almost always well-intentioned and meant to help women, you need to become an astute reader of meta-messages carried just beneath the surface of such words. For example, while Dove's campaign for real beauty was in some ways inspiring, the tagline on one of those ads--"Firming the thighs of a size 2 supermodel is no challenge"--still implies that big thighs are problematic, challenging, fundamentally wrong, and that women with cellulite need products like Dove's to "fix" them. And what I'm saying is that you don't need to be fixed. Big hips aren't a problem area--even if it makes it difficult to buy certain brands of pants. That's a pants problem, not a hip problem.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:10 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

I wasn't really speaking of poor renderings of the proportions of the human body in art, so much as the fact that art itself is about proportion. Like, there are a couple of so-called "sweet spots" in a painting that are proportionally ideal for placing your focal point (in paintings of flowers/scenery/etc. as well as paintings of the human body.)

I agree that fashion magazines give a distorted idea of beauty and if physical self-esteem is an issue it is probably a good idea not to look at them, or at least make a conscious effort not to take their artificial beauty standards to heart.

When I speak of problem areas I'm not even talking about not being able to find pants that fit your shape. As an apple-shape myself, pants-shopping is a fucking nightmare and I agree with your calling it a pants problem. Women are not all one size or shape and it is too bad that more clothing designers can't figure out some way to accomodate the different body shapes that exist and are going to keep on existing no matter what the "average" figure is supposed to be.

What I mean by problem areas are areas that women don't like when they look in the mirror... areas that they might like better if they understood what will flatter that area rather than accentuate it. I don't "hide" my short neck under a turtleneck because I think it's ugly and I'm ashamed of it. I just discovered that I look best (my neck, my face, my bust... my whole upper body) looks nicest if I wear certain things, and I'm glad to understand what exactly the problem is and how to make myself look better. I don't see it as insulting for a book to point out that "this woman has a short neck" and show how she looks better in some clothes than others. And I also don't think that I'd be better served by avoiding any suggestion that the no-neck look is part of my "real beauty" when it looks weird to me (and not because of what any fashion model looks like... I long ago accepted that I'm not going to look like the magazines.) And I'm particularly not bothered by it being pointed out by women who are posing in their underwear and pointing out their own problem areas as they do.

I do get what you are saying about saddlebags. That's probably not a good way of describing a body shape (neither is mufffin-top or jelly belly or the like.) I don't think that Trinny and Susannah meant it to be insulting, it's just a way of describing a body part that a lot of women use themselves and are familiar with. Certainly I wouldn't mind if they described it differently but I don't think the purpose was to make hippy women feel shitty. I guess they think that a woman wouldn't be reading their book if she was already happy with her proportions and the way she looks in clothes.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:08 AM on October 25, 2010

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