These days, body-positivity is all the rage, but imagine being told all your life to aspire to only be thin, because it was what was considered beautiful, healthy, acceptable; then only to find out later on that really wasn’t true for everyone?
This was the experience of writer Stephanie Ashe in her piece “Why It Took Me So Long to Accept The Body Positive Movement” for NYLON, where she compares her struggles with weight and staying skinny as working on a project that “didn’t even count.”
“Famous women of the ’90s like Kate Moss and Claire Danes were, in my opinion, the epitome of physical perfection,” she wrote, referring to the prominent figures that popularized the waif-thin body type.
“Then, in 1999, Jennifer Lopez happened. Her beautiful curves overshadowed her music in terms of what she was known for, and her body was all anyone talked about. Suddenly, this is what a woman was supposed to look like. This is what we were to be striving for. This was not what I was ready to hear,” Ashe wrote.
She readily admits that her initial reaction to the body acceptance movement and these women coming forward pushing back against the ‘Skinny is ideal!’ notion, was that of incredulity and jealousy, but only because she didn’t consider herself strong enough to do the same.
“I fed all my own insecurities by scoffing at the body positivity movement and laughed along with comedians who made jokes at their expense,” she said.
“It’s just that, when I saw these women that didn’t fit the mold I’d been conditioned to believe was ideal, I was at once jealous, angry, regretful, and scared.
Jealous that I had never experienced the joy of looking at my body and finding beauty in it; angry that it had taken so long for those standards to break; regretful that I’d spent most of my life miserable and hungry; and scared that I was still too far into the disorder to make a turn now.”
Ashe said that growing up in the environment that she did, where her weight and appearance was constantly commented on, she developed Body Dysmorphic Disorder that warped her self-image so much she didn’t even see the danger of being severely underweight at 88 pounds.
“My BDD distorted the perception I had of my body so much that I was never even able to identify my frame as thin, even though it was. Instead, I spent hours in the mirror identifying all the flaws that no one else would ever see,” she said.
She wrote she felt all that she had aspired and gotten ill for turned to nothing when “women stopped accepting the beauty standards that had been forced on them.”
But a breaking point came for her in the past year, amid the current administration’s emerging policies that are seen as detrimental to women’s rights, and the president’s “callous” comments on equating a woman’s worth with her body.
“It was within this darkness that I came to realize that men like that [were]why I had been the way I was. They’re the reason I felt like my weight dictated my worth, and they’re the reason I projected that on the women much stronger than me,” she wrote.
While she is still learning to undo the psychological damage wrought on her for more than 20 years, Ashe said she is no longer in the habit of scrutinizing other women’s bodies.
“The only change I have been able to make is letting go of my poisonous habit of tearing down other women’s bodies in an attempt to feel better about my own. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful… it’s despicable that I would try to take that feeling away from anyone who has found a way to feel it.”
Read more on her experiences here.