Summer is coming. Commercials for swimwear are everywhere. The girls on the billboards promise the possibility of having a perfect body and a ticket to heaven. It’s just that the promised land is far away from my address, and the ticket is expensive. Reserved for VIP only.
I am opening the Instagram. Surprise, surprise! H&M has an inclusive advertisement! The model is neither laughing nor thin. Interesting… I am scrolling down. Photos of bodies, and they are all normal! When I say normal, I mean plus size influencers and models. We had to give a name to those kinds of bodies, to give them legitimacy and the right to adorn our feeds. Because, think! Do you have a friend who is overweight and proudly puts herself in photos on Instagram in her underwear and swimsuit? Without filter and embarrassment? Great if you do and a bravo for her! But most of the time, you need to call yourself a plus size model, have a lot of confidence and have a relatively flat stomach in order for these Internet worlds to allow you to show yourself on these platforms. To put yourself in THAT POSITION.
And what is that position?
Brave, they say. Courageous.
Wait a minute! Today, it is called courage when a woman does not stop breathing and does not cease her blood flow until the one behind the camera on the phone says, “Ok, done!” The discipline of undisturbed not breathing when pulling in the stomach is a reality for many for that one ‘’Cheese!’’ To capture that beautiful moment when you will show everyone how happy you were. And happiness is ‘’real’’ only if you were in a certain position. ‘’Well, wait! I am not going to show the world my stomach! Why would I?’’, you are thinking as you are reading this and throwing out the carbon dioxide that you skillfully stored in your diaphragm.
Why is being courageous a problem?
Every time I would embark on a new adventure, someone would say to me, “How brave you are!” I never fully understood that and somehow I would always be surprised when hearing these words. I felt as if they didn’t talk about me. Today, from this perspective, I understand those exclamations a little better. Because I did have to pack my bags and go alone, for example, to Colombia in 2012, when many didn’t even know where Colombia was.
And then, more and more often, I started listening to how brave a woman was because she showed herself the way she was.
Etymology of the word courage
I’m looking for the word courage, in French, to see what dear Google will tell me. “Courage, or courage (derived from coeur – in French heart) is a virtue that allows you to do difficult things by overcoming fear and facing danger, suffering, fatigue. From antiquity and in most civilizations, courage is considered one of the main virtues, important for a hero. The opposite is cowardice.” But wait, then why do they tell women that they are brave as if it was a flaw? Maybe because people consider that courage is reserved only for men?
Body positive Instagram post
I went for a photo shoot with the wonderful photographer Mila. The first time I opened the photos she sent me, I was thrilled! That’s exactly what I wanted! Myself, as I am, without lies, without photoshop. When time came to publish them on my Instagram profile, I felt a weird thing in my stomach. I didn’t like the idea.
All of a sudden, I understood what that word COURAGEOUS meant all this time!
In my defense, I almost didn’t use Instagram at all before the Klitmit project. I rarely published my pictures, and now I gave myself the task of exposing myself in a way I had never done before. A big deal for me.
But then I started thinking about my activist responsibility on my profile. Klitmit was mine after all! I thought to myself – It’s easy to post other people’s photos, illustrations, plus size models. A repost click is just a click. The hard part is to put yourself, because by exposing yourself, you also expose your insecurities, they become real. And once they look the light of the day, it is rather difficult to put them under the rug again.
A caption under the picture was also needed. I’ve been watching others for days as they “bravely” put themselves on the IG and wrote: “Summer is coming!”, “I love my body!”, “You need a beach and a body for the beach.”, “Body beach – body and beach”. Mhm. I was looking at those exclamations and thought to myself, “Lucky you!” You have accepted your body.” But I’m not in the same spot where you are. I don’t even believe some of them. Because, let’s not lie to ourselves… We started talking about these problems relatively recently, things can’t change overnight. But for those who really are, I salute you!
As you already understood, that’s not my story. The way my body looks like is an omnipresent thought at all times. It rarely leaves me. And I can’t lie to myself on Instagram and say that I am great to myself. Because I am not. But I’m learning to be.
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Many things at a stake
I have a love-hate relationship with my belly. Even when I was the thinnest, there was always a stomach. Very thin legs, while the belly and arms were always there as a reminder that the nature inevitably transfers genes and does not ask for a permission. “Well, what are you going to do, we all have the arms in the family,” my aunt would tell me, trying to comfort me, while I always sought solace in the special shape of the sleeves on the T-shirts.
The belly, on the other side, is every day different. I know roughly what it will be like the next day depending on what I ate the day before. As you see, there is always juggling between desires, possibilities and expectations.
I started thinking about everything that had a close connection with my body and what made me feel about it in one way or another. And, let me tell you, I came to a few conclusions. Because our relationship to our body is a combination of different things.
Of course it’s about food and how much and what we eat. Because it’s not just food as food. It’s about that emotional overeating and the ability to realize it. What emotion is hidden behind the need to eat a whole box of cookies at 10 PM? What is it that drives me to that kind of excess?
And it’s not just that! There are also those cultural legacies, at least in my country, such as: “No getting up from the table until you finish everything from your plate!”
Clothes and its importance for body positive movement
In the summer of 2020, I was supposed to get married. And as it happens, you start preparing a year earlier, which meant for us when there was no trace from COVID 19. I had never imagined that I would get married in formal conditions, with a wedding dress, but in the end I decided to do so.
I started looking for a dress and I really had no idea what I wanted. Completely desperate and without ideas, I went to a seamstress, hoping that she would find me a solution. Beautiful, as she was, she sat with me and for two and a half hours we talked, drew, tried on the models of dresses she had in her studio.
Her very first question was: “What’s most important to you?” Without any thinking, I replied: “I want to feel comfortable!” I want to move freely that day, feel free and comfortable. I couldn’t imagine spending the day pulling my stomach in, because it’s one size in the morning, completely different in the evening. I just don’t want to spend that day asking myself what I look like. I simply wanted to know in advance that everything was beautiful, in its place and then relax and dance with no obstacles on my body.
And the more I tried on wedding dresses, the more I understood what type of dress suits me, what I feel comfortable in, what my waist and hips are like. And then I realized!
All my life I have been buying what looks good on others and what is modern, and not what serves my body!
Hey! Do you understand that nonsense!
I believe we all need to remind ourselves of something:
Clothes are there to serve us, we are not there for clothes!
Clothing should be a tool that should provide us with comfort in our own bodies. It is here to help us, not make us feel poorly about ourselves!
And no matter how much fashion has brought women liberation, emancipation, the possibility of greater choice, I have the impression that we are increasingly closing ourselves in fashion frames. From season to season, fashion is not for all bodies. I’m not talking here about sizes, which is a completely different topic, but I’m talking specifically about shapes. Because if it is not socially acceptable for a woman with a belly to show it, who are croc tops and tight T-shirts made for? Do you get it?
I really think today that my attitude towards my body would have been at least a little bit different if I hadn’t mistreated it so much with the clothes it had to fit in. I expected it to fit into molds that simply weren’t made for it. And how many times have I bought a piece of clothing on sale, too small for me, because there wasn’t a larger number, but I said to myself, “Oh, it doesn’t matter! I will lose weight! ” And then those clothes would languish waiting in the closets for my body to change. Can you imagine! How many times have you done the same?
Clothes are there to instill confidence in us, not to destroy it!
Another thing that changes my view of my body is physical activity. The more active I am, the more self-confidence and faith I have in the strength of my body and what it can do for me.
The most important thing I learnt was not to trust other people when they tell me what I am fit for and what sport I should or should not play. When I was little, I really hated all kinds of activities, but I simply think that I didn’t have real examples in my house, to see that someone enjoys playing sports. Other thing was that I was constantly told that I was clumsy and that I should devote my time to studying and not to sports. As if those two could not go together! And, there was this common thought that, if you are not good at one sport, you are not good at any! Now I understand better the saying ‘’fish will not perform well if you give it a bicycle to ride’’.
Instead of wondering if we are good at something or not, why don’t we rather focus on whether we enjoy it or not!
All this being said, it is still not clear to me how I allowed myself to go to ballet. I have always imagined myself as a chubby girl who should not go to something as elegant as this sophisticated dance. Ballet was, in my mind, for skinny, thin girls, and their graceful movements, I never had.
When I lived In Colombia, I saw the students’ dancing at the school where I worked and caught myself watching them with longing. Like a kid whose lollipop was stolen. I found out that the same professor teaches in his private school and imagine this! Of all Bogota, his school was right in my neighborhood! There were no more excuses!
For 6 months, I went to a ballet for beginners which I enjoyed as no other activity before! I allowed it to myself. And more importantly, I allowed the professor to praise me, to tell me how I have a sense of music. Other girls, who had been dancing for years or in their younger days, followed me, because I had a better sense of music.
I continued ballet in France. During the last class of this school year, I watched us all as we were building the choreography and how much we all enjoyed. About 15 of us, from 17 to 45 years old, maybe uncoordinated to someone looking form the outside, maybe not very graceful to ourselves in the mirror. But all of that does not matter! I will always be a beginner, since I didn’t play ballet as a child.
Ballet teaches me so much! First of all, I view my body in a completely different way. As in any other exercise, you need to be completely concentrated. At the same time, you think about the hip, the spine, that famous line that goes through the whole body and pulls you up, the thighs, the buttocks, the retracted stomach that gives you strength.
Luckily, I don’t even have to count to go with the music, but let my body and hearing guide me. Even when the music is beautiful, it really is a balm for the soul! Every hour is a unique experience of caressing your muscles and ears, the moment when you let your thoughts fly away.
Physical activity greatly contributes to being aware of our body, of how it moves through space, of being present, of feeling it. The real thing is when we want to exercise because we know it will connect us to our body, not because we want to torture it in order to change it.
What physical activity is your escape into yourself?
My relationship with my body is still, with all this stated, quite complicated, but I am on a journey. My unique. I know that I have to work on it, but gracefully and gently, without torturing myself. The key is to leave myself alone and let myself be…