Last night, I went shopping for a new bathing suit. I grabbed a few of the deep purples and rich reds that I always seem to pick despite the bright, neon patterns around me and headed into a stall. A few years ago, trying on a bathing suit would’ve been a quick process I barely thought about – in and out, on to the next. But after I wiggle-danced into a stylish red one piece, my heart sunk.
With nowhere to hide and an unflattering fluorescent light beaming down on me, I sighed and looked myself over for a long moment. My eyes passed over every stretch mark and thin purplish spider vein without a single kind thought. Once the negativity started coming, it rolled in relentlessly. I only saw things I was supposed to hide.
In the car on the way home, I rolled down the windows to let the summer night air in, turned up the radio and tried to shake off that dressing room anxiety. And then I realized something that nearly made me laugh aloud.
That harsh, critical voice in my head? It may be mine, but it doesn’t come from me. For twenty two years, I have been ever-so-subtly coached to see only flaws in myself. To constantly compare my legs, abs, breasts, arms, etc. to everyone I know, and since the Instagram age came on in high school, everyone I don’t know, too. The underlying message of so many glossy magazine pages, TV commercials, (and even a good amount of nail polish names for heaven’s sake!) was something I had deeply internalized: in order to be beautiful, there must be less of you.
I’ll say that again: in order to be beautiful, there must be less of you. Because the more you think about it, the more absurd it gets. I’m all for exercising, eating right and even seeing results from pushing myself to live a healthier lifestyle. But somewhere in the process of frantically trying to cut that number on the scale down, I think we can end up cutting ourselves down, too. Reduced to a number, to an assemblage of assets, rather than the whole, thriving, happy person we’re meant to be.
All that being said, I’m going to try something. I want you to try it with me, too.
The next time I head into a dressing room, instead of thinking about all the places I’d like to make slimmer or shinier or smoother, I’m going to think about how much space I take up.
Yep, you heard me right.
Take a long, unflinching look at yourself and think about all the space you take up in this world and in other people’s lives. Think of all the places you’ve been and the ones you plan to go to. Think of how many things used to scare you when you were younger, that you’ve mastered and don’t even think twice about now. Think about how much you mean to your mom or your dog or your best friends friends from college. Think of the people you most often compare yourself to, and then let them go, because I guarantee you they’ve got their own list of flaws that haunt them too.
We don’t simply end at the boundaries of our bodies. Who we are extends so much further, out beyond our skin and bones in all directions through the stories we tell and the way we laugh and the people we support. We are told to conform, or to make ourselves smaller, but the truth is that we take up space. We’re too interesting, too ambitious, too human to let our whole narrative be confined to just a piece of clothing.