On a sunny afternoon, a group of friends and I gathered at the park and began asking women how they felt about their bodies, first by asking them, "Do these pants make me look fat?"
Here's what I learned spending an afternoon at the park asking strangers this oddly personal question:
1. You can't tell how someone feels about their body by how attractive they look to you.
To me, every woman we interviewed was beautiful in her own way. But these women's responses showed me that the outer appearance of confidence and beauty can be deceiving. Women who are conventionally attractive -- women who are thin, women who seem to have ideal bodies or looks to us -- also feel insecure about their bodies and appearance. Even women who are relatively thin fear becoming fat or being perceived as fat. Just because someone looks beautiful to us on the outside doesn't mean she feels beautiful on the inside. And happily, the reverse is true as well: just because we don't meet society's narrow beauty standards doesn't mean we can't feel confident and beautiful just the way we are.
2. We all wonder about our worthiness.
Whether we use the word "fat" in a negative way to body-shame ourselves or just doubt whether we're good enough, nearly every woman we talked to shared that she was critical of her appearance in the mirror, often on a daily basis. We wonder whether we fit in, whether we belong, and whether other people will perceive us as worthy of appreciation.
3. Speaking aloud the voice in our heads helps us feel less alone.
I was amazed at how clearly the women we talked to shared what the voice in their heads said about their bodies, and shared their own understanding of how society's expectations affects our ideas about what a worthy body looks like. We live with these voices and expectations all the time, but often feel like we're the only ones who hear them and feel them. It's a relief to bring them out into the light and air and see that we're not the only ones.
4. With a little encouragement, we can find beauty in ourselves.
As one of our interviewees says at the end of the video, "Sometimes it takes a stranger... to remind you, 'May I see my own beauty.'" With all of the images around us that we consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to, we need help looking for the beauty in the mirror and in ourselves. Sometimes we believe our flaws undermine our beauty, but real beauty includes embracing our seeming "imperfections." With even a small reminder, like a note on a mirror with just the words we need to hear, we can learn to pause and see ourselves with more love. We can be these mirrors for each other, too. Tell someone today that you see beauty in them, a beauty that goes deeper than what we see on the surface.
Can you look in the mirror and say, "May I see my own beauty"? Society would have us believe that beauty is a pie that you only get one small slice of, if you're lucky. Beauty is expensive and scarce, and only for the youthful and perfect. But when you define beauty for yourself in a way that includes you--your body, your nose, scars, and stretch marks -- you get the whole pie. And so does everyone else.