Those Little Digs

We often talk of a woman's self-esteem, her body image, and the language she uses about herself. We try to support her in the fitting room with positive language, support and our warmth to ensure she feels the best she can when standing half naked 60 centimetres from a mirror. After all, she is confronted with her battle scars from childbirth, stretch marks from weight fluctuations and her breasts that just don't look like those in the magazines.

We listen to her make little digs at her body, perhaps repeating comments that others have made over the years, ingrained in her mind. You know the ones; those schoolyard taunts, the well-meaning comments from her mother, a shop assistant, and those magazines that she believes are talking directly to her. 'You've got a fat arse', 'what about that muffin top', or 'those boobs, they are so big, look at them bouncing'. Often culminating in 'I'm so fat', 'I need a boob job', or 'I can't stand to look at myself in the mirror'. For some, the thought of another woman seeing them in a bra in the fitting room causes anxiety.

Recently I paid a genuine compliment to a friend. It was clear she had dropped some weight, the muscle definition in her shoulders was obvious and her head was held higher; a natural adjustment of the body as confidence grows. But many women don't know how to accept a compliment. There was no 'thank-you'. Instead 'Really? but look at my tummy' as she covered it with her hands as if it was flowing over like Niagara Falls. 'I still have to lose more' and 'I cant see it'. All I could see was a beautiful, fit, 50 year old woman who was taking care of herself and looked amazing. Why couldn't she recognise how far she had come? She also happens to be a personal trainer and she would never speak to another woman in that way. So why does she deem it acceptable to speak to herself like this? Do we not feel we deserve the same respect we give others?

I see women in the fitting room who cant see past their so-called flaws. Yes, apparently we have flaws. This is a word I have often used as a way of accepting my own imperfections. As a writer I need to ensure my terminology is on-point, and after a little dictionary exploration I've concluded I've got it all wrong.

1.flaw a mark, blemish, or other imperfection which mars a substance or object.
Mars? What's this word 'mars', so I looked it up:

2.mars impair the quality or appearance of; spoil.

Seriously! Do we really see our self-identified imperfections as flaws that impair the quality of our appearance, to spoil? Here's an idea! What if we didn't see ourselves as flawed and instead accepted that what we see in the mirror may not be a carbon copy of other women, but it is our normal?

Our bodies are not flawed, but are they normal?
conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

The word normal has no place when discussing our bodies. Standard, usual, typical, conforming. Oh, I reject that word: conforming. I certainly don't witness any standard or typical body types. We can look at stats and data and know the average body size, the average breast size and even the average foot size, but who strives to be average or standard anyway?
What I now know
Before I started working with women and seeing first hand what women's bodies looked like, I was the one wearing big baggy jumpers to cover my body and hunching my shoulders to hide my breasts. I was the size 10 that felt my tummy area was hideous, my arse was flat and round, and my legs were too skinny for my body.
It was only after seeing countless women's bodies that I learnt there is no norm. Who was I bench-marking my body against? Was it those women in that 'perfect body' magazine article, or that one friend who had a great butt, or did I focus on the woman at my work with those damn perfect legs? It wasn't just one... I was compiling all the best bits of lots of different women. That was my comparison. Well, no wonder I hated looking in the mirror. What chance did I ever have to see my reflection as a completed jigsaw puzzle of perfect woman's parts?
You are just fine
I see beautiful, young girls with what magazines would call the perfect body. But these are often the girls who are pointing out 1 cm of skin they refer to as back fat. Flip the coin, and how refreshing to see a voluptuous size 16 woman rocking a lacy, red bra set in the fitting room. You can see she loves the way she looks, soft bits and all.
My advice! If you want a body confidence boost, simply enter a room full of naked women. Rather than seeing a room full of flaws, you will recognise there is no norm, no standard, that your body is probably just fine.

Maxine Windram