How to overcome your inner body-shamer

Never leave the house without make-up? Always wear cover-ups at the beach? Your inner critic is holding you back.

Vladimir Godnik | Getty Images

The sea, the beach, the drinks, the palm trees, slender bodies in fashionable bikinis. Care free swimming and sunbathing. These are the fantasy building blocks of a perfect vacation.

The clash of imagination with reality can be painful. How can you go to the beach where there are dozens of people, among them women with perfect figures in beautiful swimsuits. It feels like everyone is surreptitiously peeking from behind dark glasses as you unfold the towel tightly wrapped around your body, and you wish you had invested in a cover up with even more coverage. (When it comes to the beach, I’m all about cover ups.)

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When you unwrap the towel, the other beach-goers might see that post-pregnancy belly sticking out, that extra fold in the waist, those no longer as firm as they used to be breasts, the cellulite in the thighs. And on top of all that you’re not wearing make-up, which means you are practically naked.

That’s how I felt, more or less, the first time I went to the beach during my most recent vacation. So on the first day I put on make-up anyway. I’m not used to going without a little foundation. But even waterproof cosmetics don’t do well after repeated swimming and drying cycles. (Particularly eye makeup.) I found out quickly that it simply doesn’t work. If you want to swim and splash around, you’re going to do it with the body God gave you.

It’s that little voice, the one in your head, that’s the dangerous one.”

I looked at the women from around the world, of different ages from XS to XXL (and some women who look to me like age 20 XXXS if I’m honest) who walked on the beach without the slightest embarrassment in sexy swimsuits, and two pieces.

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And you know what? They looked beautiful! There were confident, focused on relaxing and enjoying the moment. They didn’t worry about anyone looking at them crossly or judging them, the way I was. I envied that carefree feeling. And hit me that no one was holding me back from whipping off my cover up, but me. The sad thing is that, as women, we’re usually our own harshest critics.

According to husbands, partners or friends, you probably look just fine. But I bet you have a mirror at home, and sometimes you use it to convince yourself otherwise. He probably said that out of politeness, not wanting to hurt your feelings, you think to yourself, as you stare at those protruding love handles, the crow’s feet around your eyes or that first dapple of gray hair. It’s that little voice, the one in your head, that’s the dangerous one.

When did you stop thinking you are beautiful?

Even if you’re critical of your body now, it wasn’t always that way. Do you remember when you were a little girl?

At age five or ten, you didn’t care if someone looked at you and judged you. Quite the contrary! You searched out the looks, you confirmed your beauty in the eyes of your parents and loved ones. Crowds and photos and videotaping did not embarrass you. When your mom or dad pulled out the camera you joyfully posed for the photo, made faces, struck a pose.

55% of women think they look unattractive in photos, according to a Dove study.”

I remember a Dove soap advertisement from few years ago. In it, women with panic in their eyes run away from a camera. Some are laughing, others almost scared are really running away, trying to throw something at the photographer, covering their faces with their hands or anything else they have within reach.

Onto the screen comes a sign: When did you stop thinking you are beautiful? And we see young girls who are loudly laughing to the camera, posing with a twinkle in their eyes. Why is it that in a few years the same little girl will become ashamed, embarrassed, and decide she is not pretty, and doesn’t want to be in photos at all?

According to research conducted by Dove, 36% of women between the ages of 11-20 began avoiding the camera. 63% of them destroyed their photos, 55% think they look unattractive in them (usually that they are too fat) and 77% feel embarrassed when someone wants to take a picture of them.

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The problem is more pronounced because we live in a world where the real and virtual realities are intertwined with each other. Anyone can take our photo, put it on the internet, tag us in it. Women are afraid of that. Half feel uncomfortable when they are tagged, and the other half admit to erasing a photo they were not happy with.

According to the creators of the Dove ad, women instead of focusing on creating memories (after all this is the main reason for photographs, including the ones on social media,) concentrate on how they look, how to stand, how to position their hands and legs, how not to look fat, and what light to stand in so as not to see wrinkles. But in the long run these tricks will only cause you frustration because it will neither change your appearance nor will it allow you to relax in order to enjoy the moment in which you are participating.

Tap into the little girl within you

As cliche as it might sound, your beauty is within you. That’s not a clever line of advertising, or a silly white lie. It’s true: you have beauty inside you. All you need to do is acknowledge it with a little self-kindness.

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If you have never left your home without make-up, make an experiment. You don’t go to the swimming pool because you are ashamed? You have no idea how much you are losing. Think about it: people on the beach are not there to judge the shape of your hips. They didn’t wake up and think today would be a good day to go to the beach and watch for people in cover ups that I can silently judge. It just doesn’t happen. The people you see on their towels are focused on their own bodies, their own fun, their own relaxation … you’re not the center of their attention.

So every time you hit the beach or the pool, or feel less attractive than others at a dinner or event, try to remember back to the time when you were a little girl, certain of your own beauty. Tap into her fearlessness and love of life, her kindness and bold spirit. Because she’s still there, inside you. And she’s not going anywhere, regardless of the size of your jeans, or how often you touch up your gray roots.

Marta Brzezinska-Waleszczak
Marta Brzezinska-Waleszczak
Marta is an editor for Aleteia Poland, book author, and writer for 'The Catholic Guide.'

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