My body is beautiful: Loud ‘n Proud

True Beauty

True Beauty

If you saw me – if you have seen me – if you know me, you would probably want to kill me if I ever said anything negative about my body.

I am thin. I am tall. I have long legs. I can eat cake all day every day and not get fat.

(I will now duck down behind the sofa to avoid whatever projectile you managed to get your hands on while reading the above.)

And yet…

I have never been happy with my body. Like everyone else, in my spotty teenager years I took my good points for granted and just yearned for the things I didn’t have: thick, wavy hair (mine’s very straight and straw-like), a pretty face (mine is a bit blotchy, a bit spotty, a bit angular), less skinny arms (mine are slightly skeletal) and impressive breasts (…). I was a smart kid in school, but all I wanted was to be beautiful. I felt crushed every time I auditioned for a play and was yet again passed over for the role of the “pretty girl” and instead ended up playing somebody’s mother. It never occurred to me that perhaps this reflected my acting ability rather than my appearance.

I met my husband, who like the proverbial drop of water slowly hollowing out the stone set about re-training my eyes to see that I really am beautiful.

I actually struggled to write that down because somehow I still don’t believe it is true. I still feel like there are “beautiful people” and the rest of us.

I loved being pregnant, because it fulfilled many of my wishes: my hair was thick and lustrous, I filled out a little, my boobs were AMAZING (I am getting those nursing bras framed for posterity) plus, added bonus, I had made a tiny human.

I was proud of my body.

What skinny people look like when their stomach muscles give up. (C) Roger Hargreaves

What skinny people look like when their stomach muscles give up. (c) Roger Hargreaves

I was even prouder of my body when I had given birth. Maybe not so much the first time, but definitely when I gave birth naturally to my daughter, who came out feet first in record time. I was superwoman.

Since then all the teenage doubts have crept back in. Things I never really appreciated about my body have decided to take a holiday. Things I was never very happy with anyway have exacerbated.

I find it hard to be proud of my body.

How about you?

As women, we are being poisoned by advertising, by magazines, by public opinion. We are constantly being told that there is one way to be beautiful and one way only. There is no room for stretch marks, for sagging, for scars, for bulges. We are being told to “get your body back” with exercise videos and gym memberships – as if we had lost it.

My body is not lost. I have found it. I have discovered what it is for. I am learning and re-learning that I am beautiful.

A group of poets – and I am proud to be one of them – have banded together to fight for our works of art, our post-baby bodies. We have produced five poetry-postcards about our changed and changing bodies, which we are distributing around cafés and libraries and toddler groups for free. You can catch a glimpse of them here and read more about the project.

Our next step is our Twitter campaign #showusyourbelly. Please join us in creating a slideshow of what normal bodies look like. Send in your anonymous picture to sarah@paperswans.co.uk and join other proud women in showing off real beauty.

There is more to come: opportunities to write blog posts on the topic and share them, or to write poetry and fiction that celebrates the diverse and beautiful female form. Keep an eye on the website for new ways in which you can get involved.

Meanwhile, as usual, you can link up your Loud ‘n Proud posts by clicking on the link below. Tell us how proud you are of your kids, or yourself. Maybe you too are learning to be proud of your body? Link up and shout it from the rooftops!

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28 responses

  1. It’s hard for people to appreciate their own beauty and only focus on their ‘imperfections’. The things that you dislike about yourself are things others would love to have though. I am grateful that I have never been too fussed about my body or how I look because I think it’s such a shame for women to ruin their own lives by worrying about these things.
    So what a great idea you have all come up with. I hope it gets lots of support and gains lots of momentum.

    • Thanks, I hope we can keep riding it like a wave and make a real difference to public perception, but it is a big battle and PR agencies have bigger guns than we do…

  2. I know what you mean, and I am always careful about what I wear, to hide lumps and bumps. But you often see overweight young adults these days, who wear short clothes and cropped tops and seem to have no issue with their bodies at all. I am not saying we should wear shorts skirts and cropped tops, but perhaps learn from them that you should just go out their and be proud of who you are and what you look like.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this post – you make so many important and valid points. It’s like there’s shame in recognising beauty in ourselves, in our bodies. Like you I felt amazed, awed and proud after giving birth and yet the doubts in my form are creeping back in – but change is afoot, I don’t care who sees my stomach in the changing room anymore. Yes it’s marked but that’s normal, and maybe if so many others hadn’t hidden theirs away then I would have known that a lot earlier! Thanks for provoking lots of thoughts :-)

    • I have been studying all the bellies on #showusyourbelly and really on reflection, stretchmarks are art. They are arranged in amazing patterns that focus on and trace the growing of the baby. Beautiful!

  4. I’m the total opposite of you. I’m short and have always seen myself as fat, even though before getting married and pregnant (all in my late-ish 30s) I was a size 6. After giving birth however, everything went down-hill from there. I’m now a size 12, sometimes 10 and can also fit in a size 8 top from h&m (yes I know they have generous sizes). I can’t even use the blissful excuse “Oh I just gave birth!”, because my daughter is turning 4. The thing is, I’ve accepted my body now, especially since I’m 41 (shh). It’s all about finding the right kind of jeans and tops ;), though I’ve got to admit that sometimes, just sometimes, whenever I’m with another mummy friend who is probably in her early to mid 30s, and happens to be blonde, tall and in spite having twins, slim … with great legs. I do sometimes have to stop myself from comparing! Hey, I’m just human!

    • It is so hard not to compare ourselves, isn’t it! But I bet the blond tall slim mum has friends that she compares herself to (maybe you!) and wishes she looked more like them. We’re never happy. And I feel like especially the advertising industry works very hard to keep us dissatisfied with ourselves, because contented people don’t spend as much money.

  5. Brilliant post Judith, so well said. I’m pleased to hear that you’ve become fonder of your body over the years. I find it sad that young impressionable girls think super skinny is the only way to be beautiful. My neighbour is terrified because her 9yo stopped eating altogether, and now only eats a fraction of what she used to.

    It’s so important for the kids to also know what real life post-baby bodies look like.

    Can’t wait to hear more about the #showusyourbelly campaign :-)

    • Wow yes, there are so many things I wish I’d known about babies and having babies earlier on in life to help me make better decisions! For one thing I’d never heard of pelvic floor exercises until I was already 3 months pregnant.

  6. Fabulous post and wonderful that you are re-learning how beautiful your body is. It’s so difficult to feel that at all in the world we live in and it does make me worry for the young girls and children growing up so surrounded by all of the negativity towards anything but the ‘perfect’ shape. It took me a long time to accept my body (pear shaped with huge hips) and to learn how to look my best. Pregnancy and the changes it brings sent me back a bit as unlike you I didn’t like the bigger boobs or anything that came with pregnancy! This time at least i knew what to expect! Looking forward to getting my body back again after pregnancy, though I know it will be hard work :) xx #loudnproud

    • Maybe you will find that your old body has merely blossomed into a new, more beautiful one! I think the hard work is in learning to love what happens to our bodies post-birth. It is so hard, when all around us we are being trained to see just one particular shape as ideal – and I am not sure anyone really has that perfect shape at all.

  7. This is fantastic Judith. I totally understand how you feel – that being thin, you should be pleased with your body. But why can’t thin people have hang ups too? As you know, I’m slim too but I’ve never been happy with how look – fat arms, saggy tummy, short legs – we’ve always got something to moan about. It’s more about self esteem and accepting the things you don’t like, than celebrating you are thin, I think. Perfect for ‘#loudnproud :)

  8. I was a size 4 in here then now I am .. I dont know I am hiding in a size 10 or 12. Hiding because I gained weight and my body looks weird. I want my old body back but I know that this is how it is for a reason. Bigger arms to carry a bigger child, bigger legs to walk longer paths. But I hate my body and I am forever wishing that I have my old body back. This is actually a struggle for me. When I started changing I started hiding not only in bigger baggy clothes but inside the house. I am small and fat and I dont want to be seen.

  9. What a fantastic post. I think our body is something we all have issues with. I have never been happy with myself, even when I was at my smallest because of a tough break up. I blame this on my dad, he would always well me I was fat! A great man! After this pregnancy I do want to slim down so that I’m happy to look at myself in photos but I will do this by continuing to eat healthy food. My cravings this pregnancy have been mostly salad based!

  10. Wonderful post! So very well said….Over the last few years I’ve learned to love my body….I’ve accepted after having kids I am never going to be a size 10 again and I’m happy with that….

  11. Hear hear, good post Judith. You are very beautiful AND smart and you have kids so big up you :) I wish we could all waste less time and money on body image, it’s absurd really when you look at it objectively. If I just think about how much time I spend removing hair from various parts of my body… Not even just because I’d feel socially awkward if I didn’t, but because I have genuinely come to believe I look better this way. I don’t know what the answer is, but campaigns like these can only help. I have no stretchmarks yet though so now I feel left out haha ;)

  12. Great post and I agree that everybody has hang-ups about their body, whether they are fat, thin, tall, short etc etc. We are rarely truly satisfied and I do think that has been indoctrinated in us from an early age through TV, magazines and our mothers/grandmothers.

    Beauty is truth? I think Truth is beauty.

    • I totally agree! It is shocking how hard it is to step out of that learned frame of mind and redefine beauty. It is just so ingrained that our bellies have to flat and smooth and unmarked.

  13. Lovely post. I think my approach to my body has always been to quietly ignore it, but I couldn’t when I was pregnant when it was very alive. Since then, I think I have discovered a new found respect for it, but I still have difficulty loving my skin. Yoga helps. :o). X

  14. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, so no matter how we look we always find a ‘deficiency’ in ourselves and want for something more. It’s incredible that magazines etc. are still piling on the pressure to look a certain way; terrible that it’s allowed to go on.

    • This is very true. I bet even Kate Middleton looks in the mirror and finds things not to like about herself. I think when it comes to the magazines it is us readers who allow it to go on. They just print what sells, and we keep buying. I think we secretly like it. We like delineating what is acceptable so that we can define beauty. I think we want it to be clear what is beautiful and what is not so that we can feel like it is reachable. Or so that we can point to other people and say: at least they are uglier than me (when measured against these criteria).

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