I don’t need a makeover and you definitely don’t

When’s the last time you looked at old pictures? Recently I’ve run across some. I remember when those pictures were taken thinking I was really fat. I remember that as my body changed throughout high school that I was getting more and more gross. My breasts came in like a tsunami, all waves and ripples and the bra I had to get fitted for was huge and all I could think of was how fat it all made me look.

I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always wanted to approve my photographs, and ideally I want them to be taken head and shoulders only. I still feel just kind of okay with my body, and even then only on certain days, in certain lighting, and around certain people. I don’t want to stand out. I want to be pleasant to look at.

Pregnancy is permission to be beautiful

As I grew out of my teens, that self-conscious body image never left. I was first pregnant at 21. Pregnancy was freeing because I was supposed to look that way. In pregnancy I discovered a new beauty in my body. I found respect for it. I was never ashamed of my body while I was pregnant. I loved feeling my babies move around, and I remain proud and impressed that my body was made so magnificently that I built human beings inside it, and then delivered them to the world. Having children invited me to appreciate my breasts. I turned from wanting to strap those bulbous things down that I hated having touched into someone proud of my breasts, familiar with touch, encouraged by my children’s search for them. I now share my husband’s admiration of them. I have held on to that, but I wish I had held on to more.

Body terrorism

One of my better pics.
One of my better pics.

I realize that instead of being ashamed of my body, I’ve evolved into someone who subjects herself to something I call body terrorism. This is a perpetual fear of being seen as fat, ugly, poorly put together – all these things and more. It’s judging yourself all. the. time, being scared of what the answers might be, and letting it all direct your behavior. Body terrorism holds you back.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I’m no expert on psychology, but I’ve self-identified some of the things I associate with body terrorism:

1. Comparing yourself to others and asking your kids or spouse, “is my butt bigger than hers?” as you walk around the mall.

2. Stopping yourself from doing something you’ll probably enjoy because you’re worried how you might look doing it – like swimming at the beach with your kids, let them wear their Baby Girls Swimwear and let yourself wear a swimsuit, don’t care about what people will think.

3. Taking all the photographs of the family while you’re on holidays, simply because if you are behind the camera, you can’t be in them, and it’s easy to look good when you’re not in the picture.

Sound familiar? This is the thing – this fear is not something that’s a result of truth. We’ve all had bad pictures taken of ourselves, and those are the ones we hold onto as ‘proof’ to reinforce our ongoing fear. Nobody is all-ugly, all the time. They’re just not. But we fear it and it stops us from living our life authentically. Living in fear sucks. We suspect our own body is our worst nightmare.

Waking up

Being at BlogHer 2013 last week was inspiring on so many levels. As usual, I came back encouraged, supported and strong. I met lots of fantastic women, heard lots of stories, shared some fabulous experiences. There were thousands of us, different shapes and sizes, backgrounds, lives and orientations. But you know what? I didn’t see a single person that I thought needed a makeover. Nobody. In fact, I’d hate for anyone at BlogHer to think they need a makeover. Those women are power houses. They are all beautiful in so many ways. Their diversity adds to our understanding of what beauty is. I loved being counted as one of them.

If I look back and think this, then, why is it that the only person in those thousands of women I would ever recommend for a makeover might be myself?

If I don’t see a dress size when I talk to someone, why am I so fixated on my own?

I am tired of being depressed when I shop. I’m tired of knowing I have a range of sizes in my wardrobe, and I’ll squeeze my ass like sausage meat into the skin of the smaller size rather than admit to myself age is catching up, I’m not exercising as much as I used to be and things are not as they were. I’m tired of it all. Body terrorism is tiring.

I like who I am inside. It’s time to like who I am on the outside too. I’m saying no to makeovers. I’m going to try and overcome my self-inflicted body terrorism. As long as I’m healthy and fit enough to do the things I want to do, that’s all I need.


  • This is such a great and important post, Jo. I’m so glad I got to meet you at BlogHer. You are beautiful inside and out.

  • Thanks so much – weird how tough some of these topics can be to write about. Every picture I see of the women I met at BlogHer this year just fills me with joy.

  • So many of us, both women and men, know all too well body terrorism. I started to fight my own body terrorism when I realized how I see myself would directly impact how my daughter would see herself as she got older. While I made this decision for her, it’s now fully for me.

  • WHy are women so fixated on their physical beings? It’s Evolutionary. We are programed to attempt to be desirable to the opposite sex for reproduction purposes. With the increased life span of humans and the influence of societal standards, our genetic ‘programing’ is attempting to stretch. What I’m noticing, at middle age, is a large group of women that look fabulous, can no longer reproduce, and are proof of a NEW way to age. Menopause no longer means undesirable. And you, my dear, are a role model.

  • Wow, how timely–this just happened to me today. I was looking for something else but came across a photo of myself holding my one-year-old grandson. I was 41. I look like a baby!! (It was 1995.) But back, then, newly divorced and after a bout with cancer, I thought I was old and unattractive. Actually, I think that now. I wonder if I’m really hot! Thanks for this post (which I found via a FB link done by Lynne Spreene).

  • What a fabulous post Jo! I really resonate with this view of body terrorism – I do it to myself constantly! The only time I have felt comfortable in my body was when I was pregnant. Before & since I am very self conscious & almost apologetic about the way I look. It has crippled me at times, by convincing me I can’t do certain things, or go certain places. I am still in the midst of my struggle & I hate it!
    I don’t want the same for my daughter & know I must change my view for her – and I will, she needs that from me. Just not sure how to undo a lifetime of terror – yet.
    Love the dress size reference – so, so true! Thanks for sharing – found you via Aussie Blog Chicks! 🙂

  • You are right, Jodie! We owe it to our daughters to provide them with an opportunity to move beyond this. Telling girls they can do anything they want is silently cloaked in the words “as long as you look decent doing it.” Ugh.

  • Oh, friend. I’ve written so many posts like this. I wrote one last year all about self-loathing and was amazed at how many women (including myself) put themselves through this sort of terrorism. For what it’s worth, I really only remember your beautiful face and smile.

  • Jo, I just adore you, inside and outside. Pregnancy is such a freeing time. I tried to take that feeling and why I felt that way and carry it after Delaney was born. I think her birth experience was what really helped me see how perfect I really am. I hope I can be a good example for my girls so that they will love themselves before they are old enough to have a baby.

  • We haven’t met, and somehow, I’ve only recently discovered you and your writing. However, the first thing I noticed about you in your photos is your radiant smile. As someone who grew up with “such a pretty face, if only her butt wasn’t so big” I totally get it. However, I’ve noticed as I make a concerted effort to avoid talking negatively about myself or pointing out other people’s physical imperfections in front of my sons (so that they don’t do it), the internal conversations have lessened significantly. It’s not completely gone, but if I won’t allow my sons to do it, then why is it okay for me? Anyway, I think it’s a great post, and I look forward to reading more.

  • Just goes to show how egocentric women are, concerned all the time about how they look in preference to being more gracious, charming, intelligent and witty.

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