Contributing writer Marie Hansen submitted this post as a Reader Submission for Gurl. We love hearing your stories! If you’d like to submit your writing to Gurl, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe that beauty is not one shape, one style, one-size-fits-all. I believe that beauty encompasses more than how you look on any given day and is about who you are inside and out. I believe the most beautiful quality is being comfortable with and accepting of who you are. I have always believed that.
About everyone but myself, that is.
It’s not that I’ve always obsessed over having a “perfect” body. I mean, I’ve wanted that too at times, but my real obsession has always been with having flat abs. I’m not sure exactly where this fixation came from. I used to think it was because of this moment in fifth grade, after my BFF (at the time) and I decided to start working out by running up and down the stars in my house. Between laps, I rolled up my tank top in front of the mirror and my friend looked at me and said, “Uh, maybe after we work out some more.” I took that to mean she thought I had a fat stomach.
Yet while that comment definitely stung, I know I can’t blame my flat abs fantasy on that completely. Maybe it was because I was a ’90s baby and my idols growing up – the Spice Girls, 17-year-old Britney Spears and teen movie leading ladies – flaunted their abs in crop tops constantly. We certainly live in a media-fed culture that breaks women (and increasingly, men) into the sum of their parts – a reality star’s big boobs, a pop star’s new haircut, a runway model’s long legs… and a Victoria’s Secret model’s flat abs.
My abs obsession was never healthy and the ways I went about trying to achieve “perfection” were equally bad. When I was 11-years-old, I started my first diet, secretly counting calories in the middle school cafeteria. I didn’t have Pinterest to provide me with the “Core Challenge” and “Flat Belly Workout,” but I did have sit-ups, which I did on my bedroom floor every night. I thought that if I was just diligent enough, crunching my way to 100, I would get the flat abs I so wanted. Then I would be beautiful, in the limited way I imagined it for myself. And then I would also be popular – beautiful girls are always popular, right? – and finally, I would be happy.
I wish I could say that I grew out of my flat abs hang-up along with my seventh grade wardrobe, but in reality, I continued to go on and off diets throughout high school and college. No matter what I did, though, my abs never looked like Miranda Kerr’s. I used what I considered to be my inadequacy to keep myself from being too happy, too confident or really accepting myself in any full way. Every time I was getting ready in the bathroom, I would lift up my shirt in front of the mirror. Squeeze my not-so-perfect abs in my hands. Turn to the side and cringe at the curvy-not-straight lines. I allowed myself to be ashamed every day because I thought I deserved it.
Ironically, at the same time I was being educated about body image issues and eating disorders and starting a blog for tweens about self-esteem. I wanted every girl to feel beautiful, happy and confident, no matter what she had been told – but I still couldn’t allow myself to feel that way.
Then, earlier this year, I came across an article about the new Internet-driven obsession with thigh gaps. Thinspo pictures were popping up on every social media site, encouraging girls and women to diet and exercise their way towards a space between their thighs. I was a little sickened by it. That’s so random and messed up, I thought. Who came up with the idea that one specific body part, looking a specific way, makes you beautiful? No girl should have to live up to such a narrow standard. No girl should define her beauty and happiness on one body part. It started to sound strangely familiar.
Suffice it to say, seeing my own flat abs obsession through the lens of a crazy thinspo trend was a wake-up call. I realized how totally irrational and unfair it was. I recognize that if I want to inspire healthy body image in others, I first need to find it in myself. The best way to lead is by example and if I don’t want my little sister or best friends or any female to be trapped under the fantasy of flat abs or thigh gaps or whatever the next trend will be, then I can’t get bogged down by them myself.
I have already started feeling more comfortable with my abs, although I still have a ways to go. I owe it to myself to find my happiness and comfort in my own brand of beauty… whether it involves wearing crop tops or not.
Have you ever felt this way about your own stomach? Which body part did you used to dislike? Can you relate to Marie? Tell us in the comments.