Two years ago I took a ballet class for fun - it was a great way to get exercise, and I've always loved to dance. But I hated having to look at myself in the studio's full-length mirrors. Wearing tight leggings and a leotard top, I was disgusted that my body didn't resemble the svelte, delicate form that I'd long come to associate with beauty. My stomach stuck out. My thighs were thick.
I remember that at around age thirty I noticed that I had belly fat for the first time. Nothing major - I just realized that my stomach wasn't that perfect (usually airbrushed) washboard that gleams on the covers of magazines. I was embarrassed to sit on my own couch in a pair of jeans, looking down at this extra piece of skin that I had been told in no uncertain terms was hideous and unhealthy.
I never realized how hard it was to fight the messages sent by magazines, movies, television and the beauty industry until I started doing it. As lefty-liberated-feminist as I considered myself, I couldn't shake the idea that my completely normal, healthy-sized body was ugly. It's a battle that I fight every day, every time I find myself harshly judging that image in the mirror.
I have one trick that seems to work for me. Right before I get in the shower, I look at myself naked in the mirror. I don't pose, I just stand there. I feel the texture of my skin, the soft fullness of those parts of me that society says are supposed to be smooth and hard. I look at my eyes, my hair, my moles - all of it real, unairbrushed, unmodified. In that moment, at least, I am able to feel beautiful. Not because of some arbitrary set of guidelines, but because my body is my own, and loving it in the face of so many voices that tell me not to is the ultimate act of joyful rebellion.