Ask a Mom (Who Is Not Your Mom): I’m Having Body Image Issues

Dear Sarah,

I graduated from college last year and started a job that I love, but I guess between the long days sitting at a desk and living on takeout food, I’ve gained more than 15 pounds. While I’ve never been skinny, I played sports in high school, stayed pretty fit college, and felt good about my body. Now, I’m out of shape and can barely squeeze into any of my clothes. Next month, I’m supposed to be going to a family reunion at the beach for the weekend and I’m sort of freaking out. I miss my little brother and sister and my cousins, but I’m so self-conscious, I’m not sure I can deal with going. Some of my cousins are really athletic and tall and gorgeous and I’m worried I’ll feel horrible around them. Should I go on some type of crash diet like a juice fast? Or come up with an excuse and stay home?

—Panicked and Pudgy in Connecticut

Dear Panicked,

I feel you, girl; my early spring goal of losing some weight before the hot weather hit evaporated into a haze of guacamole making contests, gelato tastings, and naps. But you know what? When I went on vacation recently, I pulled on a sexy new bathing suit, donned my big, glam sunglasses and hit the waves, because. . .who cares? To those people whose eyeballs burned out from seeing my muffin top (and—gasp—stretch marks!) or whatever it is that happens to morons who disdain others based on body size: too bad, I had a blast. It’s time we squash the concept of prepping for bikini season.

Imagine yourself 20 years from now, thinking back on the joyous, life-affirming gathering of your clan—that you skipped because you felt overweight. I promise you, that memory will be one of regret. And you’ll also think, “I was so gorgeous! Why couldn’t I see that in myself and be more confident?”

Because, sweet person, there are lots of pernicious, toxic forces out there to make us feel bad about ourselves if we didn’t happen to be born with the DNA of a Victoria’s Secret model (not to mention the photo shopping, personal training, private chefs, etc., etc., etc., that even those rare unicorns require to be “swimsuit ready”).

Here are 5 things you can do starting right now to regain your mojo so you can go have fun with your sibs and the rest of your people. They really, really want to be with you.

1. Read this open letter by stunning plus-size model Jennie Runk. Runk, along with the equally glorious and outspoken Robin Lawley, is a body image warrior woman who challenged the fashion industry’s impossibly narrow concept of female beauty—and won.

2. Buy a new bathing suit. Please, please, please don’t wear some old, stretched-out nylon thing scrounged from the bottom of your gym bag. Treat yourself to something new, because you deserve it. Order a bunch of options online so you can try them on in the comfort of your own bedroom instead of some ladies prison-vibey, fluorescent-lit cubicle at the mall.

3. Wander through an art museum and ogle the curvy ladies of yore. Or check out this incredibly smart and provocative series of images called “Venus” by Italian artist Anna Utopia Giordano that shows what classical beauties would look like if they were photo-shopped to conform to today’s standards. These Renaissance goddesses look absurd and emaciated as a size “0.”

4. Make a plan for developing a healthier lifestyle—one that does not include crash diets or juice fasts. As piles of recent studies have pointed out, our office chairs are literally killing us. It can be super tough to keep moving and eat right when you are shackled to a computer all day, but you can do it and must. Speak with your doctor about your healthiest weight range (don’t compare yourself to your friends or your high school weight) and commit to getting regular exercise and consuming more nourishing food. Trust me, establishing better habits will only get harder as you get older and have even more responsibilities. Weekly grocery shopping and meal planning (instead of gobbling whatever is in front of you), work out dates with friends, fitness tracking wrist bands, and exercise apps are easy and convenient ways to start getting back in the groove.

5. Finally, take a look at these brilliant photos of Olympians with their extraordinarily diverse shapes and sizes. It’s an inspiring reminder to honor the miraculous functioning of our bodies rather than obsess about what they look like.

Love, Sarah

Have an issue that could use a mom’s-eye-view? Our new advice column features a real live mother of three who is ready to discuss any of your burning questions judgment—and baggage—free. Email [email protected] with the subject line “Dear Mom.” Please include your first name or nickname and where you are from. Questions may be edited for clarity and length.

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