By Kristi Trader
Below are two of my favorite images from childhood.
The younger one, my dad used to carry in his wallet. The older one is from of the first weddings I was in. I love the facial expressions in both. I’m smiling back at myself.
Do you know what it is like when a baby first discovers their reflection in a mirror? She is amused and most enjoys seeing herself laugh. At what age does our reflection turn from laughter and amusement to sullen stares and empty feelings?
I’ve looked through some pictures and I’m not sure I can pinpoint the age.
If I had to guess, I would propose age seven. Until that age, every photograph of me was simply beautiful. Well, except the one in which my baby brother looks as though my mom gave him Benadryl for the pose and the other one in which my baby sister’s mouth is wide open as though she is catching flies. But that was their fault. I still looked great!
I start to notice some awkward trends around seven. My smile was different, my clothing and my hair became more expressions of myself and less of those that groomed me. Oh, and then the braces rock it out, the perms, crimps and ratted bangs. Some of this stuff should just never have come out of the box again.
I’m not sure those images have ever resolved themselves back to that child-like smile that was taking in its own beauty. I knew this after I birthed my first child in 2003. Whoa! I thought perhaps the image in the mirror when I first ventured out for the post-delivery restroom stop was probably distorted from the drugs. But, nope, unless those drugs last three years, this had become my new body.
There is some crazy lady out there that uses every ounce of positive psychology she could muster to tell us, “Your body is not ruined. You are a goddamn tiger that has earned her stripes.” Okay, so I might have roared like a tiger during delivery but, let’s be real, they’re stretch marks and no amount of cocoa butter is going to smooth these babies away.
In 2006, I realized it was all downhill from there.
Women said they were running their weight off chasing their toddler but I was still over my ideal weight, whatever that is. I had concluded that either I had a sedentary toddler or their toddlers were simply nuts. Looking back, I think mine just knew this goddamn tiger meant business and that the cub had best learn to occupy himself when mommy needed some introvert time.
During my introverted moments, I found every cocoa-butter-loving-line in my body and they started to spread.
In my hypochondriac tendencies, I was convinced this was no longer from the 70 pounds I gained during pregnancy but that those 70 pounds and tiger stripes must have been the beginning symptoms of some rare disorder.
Sure enough, then I found a double chin and hairs under my chin and love handles (I had always heard of them but had never known what they were), gray hairs, thinning hairs, saggy boobs, saggy butt, hourglass shape turned pear shape, a worry line in the middle of my forehead, tired looking eyes. I knew this was serious and figured it would only get worse from there.
At the same time, I had an artist friend that teaches students how to capture the body’s form and figure.
She asked me to model for one of her classes. I imagined that because of my “disorder” she thought I was doing a favor for the education of our future generations. Since I knew this was progressing rapidly, I decided that unless I captured this moment in which I still looked remotely attractive, if one was ten feet away and squinted, I would never be able to prove it once existed. I was too shy to model for her students, but I modeled for her.
She painted a goddamn tiger!
She believed I was more beautiful than I thought. Her work so accurately captured every curve of my body. I have amazing curves—curves that were only made possible by stretch marks. Curves that evolve into shapes of fruits I had no idea were possible.
And, that’s alright!
These shapes are much more interesting and attractive than any string-bean-shaped model that society has programmed us to judge as our standard of beauty; the same string-bean-shape I once starved myself to achieve. Oh, and my painting wasn’t airbrushed or photo-shopped. I mean, I have no idea what technique she used, but what you see is just me—nothing enhanced, nothing taken away.
If I’m being completely honest, I did not have red nail polish on but asked that it be painted on the canvas. And, my double chin and worry line and tired eyes and graying hair, guess what? They’re just the product of being a woman that thinks and feels deeply. I’m awakened and aware and mindful. I fight hard and hold space for those things that I decide matter most.
And, recently, I’ve been able to explain to my boys that are embarrassed by my graying hair that women are now entering salons asking for their hair to be dyed gray. I just have it, kids!
Your mom is just that cool. Kind of like the popular cosmetic slogan, “Maybe she’s born with it?”
But, I’m human and I still have days in which I compare myself to other women and question my beauty. One such day recently, I sent about 20 friends four images of myself in bathing suits at different weights. Each image was cropped to only show my body from my neck to my mid thigh. Some subjects had no idea the bodies were the same person, much less that they were me. This would be an interesting research topic with a more scientific method.
But, let me tell you my findings. By a landslide, men and women preferred me at my heavier weight.
Not only was that unexpected, but so was some of the unsolicited feedback. In particular, men may have noted that while all images were attractive, the heavier one was most attractive—even hot and sexy, they were repulsed by the skinny ones—noting bones popping out, skinny looking sick, and a lack of desire for string beans and even then, personality was a factor that would determine which body they liked best.
Women would answer the question with a friendly and psychologically healthy question, “Which one made you feel most comfortable in your own skin? Or a philosophical diatribe, “You look hot in all of the pics. Health is not an image. It does not look a certain way.”
After many conversations, the interesting conclusion became that just as men groom themselves for other men in a gym, women are grooming themselves for other women, because men are saying no to skinny and yes to curves and finally recognizing that body image is only one component of beauty.
You are beautiful, too! For real! Look it up.
I’m not kidding, it’s now a campaign!
Since this experience, I have encouraged every woman I know to come to this same realization. How can we find and appreciate beauty in other things if we can’t first find and appreciate it in ourselves?
Take the first step on your journey to self-compassion today:
Sit with someone you trust. Describe yourself to them. Let them describe what they see.
Schedule a photography session with someone who can help you see, appreciate, and capitalize on your beauty.
Find an artist to sketch or paint or sculpt every tiger stripe of you.
Your body, your beauty, tells a story. Shout it out loud!
Kristi Trader founded Feel Be Do Good, a consulting firm that integrates technical skill and personal development to build a culture that is happy, healthy, and whole. To set an example and achieve her mission, Kristi accepts personal responsibility to stretch the boundaries of what it means to live an authentic life. Her writing shares thoughts on a wide range of topics that make her relevant to real people: art, community, ecology, education, health and wellness, parenting, relationships, sexuality, and spirituality. She graduated summa cum laude from Concordia University with a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Administration. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management from Spring Arbor University, and an Associate of Arts from North Central University.
Editor: Peter Schaller