I’m sitting at my desk eating an ice cream sandwich that I was lucky enough to get as part of a Pride month celebration at work. It’s a snickerdoodle cookie with s’mores ice cream inside and aside from the impact it will inevitably have on my lactose-intolerant body, it is truly delightful.
I will spend the remainder of my day justifying the decision to eat this stupid ice cream sandwich. “You went to the gym!” “It was free!” Or my favorite, “Come ON. It’s JUST an ice cream sandwich.”
The truth is this is a conversation I, along with many women I know, have with myself daily. Recounting calories consumed like a mad scientist, lamenting how “bad” or “good” I’ve been (the worst), feeling the need to justify nourishing my body with food that it needs to survive, and trying so hard to free myself of my obsession with food, my body and how the two interact.
Through my work in therapy and overpriced fitness classes, I have grown mentally and shrunk physically over the past two years. My arms have definition for the first time ever, my clothing fits more comfortably, and I feel healthier than I ever have before. I have run two half-marathons and am signed up to run the New York City Marathon in November.
And every single day ― not all day every day, but every day ― I feel uncomfortable with my body in some way.
I started my blog “The Real Girl Project” in 2012 because I was frustrated with the fashion industry’s gross exclusion of bodies that looked like mine. At the time, I emailed Leandra Medine, founder of the website Man Repeller, to voice those frustrations ― a cathartic practice with no agenda beyond releasing them from my brain. I am forever grateful that she wrote back and encouraged me to start my own blog since I was so dissatisfied with those that already existed.
As a reporter for HuffPost, I’ve also written extensively on the “body positive” movement ― a movement that has grown considerably in the six years since I began covering it. I cheered when Ashley Graham appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in 2016. I praised designers for putting diverse body types on their runways and called out brands for their perversion of the movement. When Urban Outfitters cast a plus-size model to advertise clothing in a size it doesn’t carry, I was quick to expose its hypocrisy.
Still, it felt momentous that brands were embracing a view of body positivity publicly enough that we could scrutinize them. During this time, I felt hopeful that there was a shift in the ether, that fashion was changing, and so was my relationship with it.
“The body positive movement has become just another thing that brands are trying to sell their customers while continuing to make women feel bad about their own bodies.”
But six years later, with the exception of a few brands and designers (such as Premme, Eloquii and Christian Siriano), I sometimes think it’s all pretty much bullshit. “Body positivity” claims to help women feel more comfortable in their own skin, but it’s just made me feel like if I’m going to have curves, they should mirror the perfectly proportioned ones I see so often on social media.
More than that, it makes me feel bad about feeling bad about the fact that, of course, they don’t. Ashley Graham is a “plus-size” woman. But she is also a traditionally beautiful woman with perfect proportions and features.
Women of all shapes and sizes should feel empowered and confident in their own skin ― I don’t mean to suggest otherwise ― and I would be remiss in discounting the slew of diverse bodies that show up on my Instagram feed that no doubt have been bolstered by the notion of body acceptance and self-love.
But that’s not the message of the over-commercialized body positive movement. The message is that now if you’re not “thin,” you need to be “perfectly curvy.” In too many places, the movement has become just another thing that brands are trying to sell their customers while, at least in my case, continuing to make women feel bad about their own bodies. When the Kardashians, with their appetite-suppressing lollipops and television shows about getting a “revenge body,” are praised for their role in society’s accepting some curvier figures as beautiful, it makes me feel a little sick.
My best friends got married to each other a few weeks ago. I was surrounded by loved ones, had exercised my ass off the week before and had just gotten a spray tan. I was riding an emotional high. So when I walked into my friends’ suite the morning of the wedding and saw a ridiculously beautiful bathtub sitting there in the middle of the room, I jumped right in.
I, a woman who for many years could not comfortably look at my own naked body in the mirror, stripped completely in front of a room full of friends, not to mention hair and makeup artists, and climbed into the tub. Of course, there were cameras. I even went so far as to post one (strategically posed) photo on social media. Someone commented that I had “Michelle Obama arms.” Reader, there are few compliments I’ve dreamed of receiving more.
Two days later I tried to recover from an emotional and literal hangover the only way I’ve been taught: by eating enough Chinese food for four people. I felt like a completely different person from that woman in the tub. All the work I had done to be a mentally and physically healthier individual drowned in a puddle of duck sauce.
I am exhausted from hating my body.
I feel that tenfold when I consider my grandmother. She is my muse, my fashion icon, and simultaneously my favorite person and archnemesis. At 86 years old, she has hated her body far longer than I have mine. She is severely anorexic, oftentimes favoring thin, impossibly long cigarettes in place of meals, and she watches just as intently my fashion choices, whether my nails are manicured on a given day and, most of all, my weight.
“All the work I had done to be a mentally and physically healthier individual drowned in a puddle of duck sauce.”
I want so badly to not feel thrilled when she says I look thin, and I can’t help but feel disappointed when she says nothing. It’s also impossible not to suspect that, in her eyes, what my body looks like and the fact that I’m single ― something she brings up often ― go hand in hand.
Family dynamics aside, I am simply fed up with being bad to myself. When I catch myself in the mirror during a gym class, I look (and, more importantly, truly feel) happy, healthy and confident. But I can’t spend my whole day in the gym because (a) that sounds terrible and (b) I have a job. And I still can’t at this point in my “self-love journey” stop those negative thoughts from creeping in whenever I’m craving greasy food or offered a free ice cream sandwich.
My only hope is that in putting it out there, I ― and hopefully other people, too ― can feel a little less alone in this whole thing.