Body Image and Body Angstby Mary Sheehan Warren on 02/13/14
I have the best job in the world. I really do. One day I could be digging through a closet with a new client and the very next I’m speaking to a crowd of professionals in a four star hotel. In the morning I might be writing at my desk in my fuzzy slippers (and lipstick, of course), but by the afternoon I’m training an office of financial planners on the intricacies of corporate dining etiquette.
So, I’ve worked with many women. I know that I hit the one thousand mark by the late nineties, and by the time my book came out, I lost count of the number of fabulous people I’d met. I suppose this means that I can make observations on the attitudes of women toward fashion, shopping, and – most especially – body image.
First, it is definitely true to say that as a sex we are awfully hard on ourselves. For some twisted reason, moms are tougher on themselves than anyone else. I say that it’s twisted because moms, of all people, are living the full meaning of their bodies. They have birthed, nurtured, and maybe even have fed another human being or two (or five or ten). A healthy, well-functioning, mom’s body is not a little toothpick of flesh. It can’t be. What toddler would want to snuggle up against hard surfaces with poky protrusions?
And yet, so many of us are discouraged; maybe even disgusted. Our bellies and thighs and hips and the area under our upper arms are the topics of our discussions continuously. We’re bombarded with rigid and often ridiculous examples of the female form by our media, challenged to wear cheap tubes of material in imitation of these examples, and then told that, once past our sexual prime, there really is no point to pursuing any example anyway. Well, that’s dismal.
But is it really like that for everyone? You’d think that we all see things this way by what’s trending on our screens.
Remember how I mentioned knowing a few thousand women? Well, this also qualifies me to make a sweeping generalization regarding the two types of women out there: (Pardon the reductionism, but work with me here.) 1. The woman who whines, and, 2. The Beauty.
The whiner is focused on her body. She loses sleep over its changes and constantly asks, “Am I fat?” She’s a real party pooper at girlfriend gatherings and she’s a danger to the fragile psyche of her adolescent daughter. Sometimes, she doesn’t whine aloud, but ensures that everyone sees how hard she’s working to get her “hot” body.
The other kind of woman is past it all. She’s so busy with her life that she hasn’t time to study her undressed image in the mirror the way she did when she was fourteen and wondering if her breasts were perky enough. She throws back her shoulder, holds her head high, and carries whatever figure she has with a sense of purpose. Then, she lives out her purpose.
You might guess that most of my clients are whiners and that they contact me because they want to look thinner, sexier, and younger in their clothes.
But that guess is way off the mark. The vast majority of my clients contact me because they understand the value of their physical presentation and want it to serve their lives; not the other way around. A client of mine, generally, might be at the start of a career, headed toward retirement, at home with young children, or doing everything all at once. She also, generally, is an inspiration to me.
Not uncommonly, I can see how, even with twenty or thirty extra pounds on her frame, a woman can be confident because she derives her sense of self worth from who she is. This is the greatest way to beauty possible. In fact, little tooth picks of people do not exude beauty (and warmth, approachability, or even expertise) if it’s evident that their sense of self and the meaning and purpose of their lives are somehow derived from how they adhere to the current thinking that “if there is less of me, I’m better.”
No. As an experienced consultant who has worked with enough women to be qualified to give out advice, I say the following: Live knowing that every inch of you is beautiful. Indeed, you are a beauty. Now go dress like you know it.