Erin Kiernan, news anchor for Iowa's WHO-TV, is like a lot of women in that she sometimes struggles with feeling good about how she looks in a swimsuit. But this summer, she decided to investigate those feelings and get to the bottom of them in a Facebook post that's been liked more than 5,000 times. Her ultimate conclusion? "Feel good, friends. And put on your damn swimsuit."
The post reads:
Happy 4th of July!
During the last holiday weekend I posted a link to a wonderful essay called, "Put On Your Damn Swimsuit".
The next day I felt like the biggest hypocrite.
I have a drawer full of swimsuits. I tried on all of them. None of them fit. I had a meltdown. Even after my husband made a Target run and came back with a bag full of cute suits I felt frustrated and ashamed and angry about the way I looked. Then I felt frustrated and ashamed and angry for feeling those feelings.
It's why I'm posting this picture. It's not me now. It's me two years ago. It's what I call "Average Erin". It's me when I'm working out on a regular basis but not killing myself. It's me when I'm eating healthy but not denying myself the occasional cheeseburger or glass of wine. It's just plain old me.
The thing is - when I first saw this picture I was horrified. My inner dialogue went like this ... "Cellulite! Huge thighs! Stretch marks! Blech!"
Two years and several pounds and stretch marks later I'm wondering why I've felt this way about myself for so many years.
Why do so many of us feel this way about ourselves?
The weekend I posted the "Put On Your Damn Swimsuit" essay a friend pulled me aside to thank me for it. She went on and on and on about how she's struggled with negative body image for years and said she always declines invitations to the lake or the pool because of it, but this year she was going to have fun, dammit! I was looking at her thinking, "Are you kidding me?!?!?" She's blonde and funny and thin and perfect.
Every day in the dressing room at work I hear, "Oh my GAWD - my thighs! Ugh...my hair! Ew - look at this gut! Geesh, these wrinkles!" These comments are coming out of the mouths of some of the smartest, strongest, most talented and beautiful women I know.
I know high school and college girls who have "DIET" in big bold letters on their massive "To Do" lists. They're young and brilliant and gorgeous and they have their whole lives in front of them.
Why are they worried about dieting?
One of my relatives recently spent a ridiculous amount of time talking to me about her "mom bod" and how fat and out of shape she is. She did this in front of her pre-teen daughter and it made me so sad because she's an incredible mom and she's funny and she's beautiful.
Why does she talk about herself this way?
Of course I blame airbrushing and mass media and the internet and fitspo and all sorts of modern day things for this sickness, but it's been going on for a lot longer than many of these things have existed.
It's not just women. One of the people I love the most feels this way because his dad constantly called him names; insulting everything from his looks to his intelligence.This man is one of the most clever, attractive people I know.
Why did his dad say these things to him?
By contrast, most of my family members were my biggest cheerleaders. But there was definitely a premium placed on appearance. I remember watching my mom stand on the scale, shaking her head. She also made a lot of disparaging comments about her looks. She's skinny. And she's beautiful. More importantly, she's super smart and funny and generous.
Why did she say these things about herself?
When I was in junior high a new girl moved to town and it didn't take long for me to be "on the outs" with my friends of many years. After a pool party the new girl and my former friends started calling me "stretch". I didn't get it. Someone had to explain to me that I had stretch marks and that they were a bad thing and that I was being made fun of for having them. She also pointed out to everyone how ugly my nose was. I've obsessed about these things about myself ever since then.
Why did she say those things about me?
One of those childhood friends also explained to me how awful it is to have rolls on your belly when we were at the pool one day. She also schooled me in what ideal legs look like (only touching at the very top of the thighs, the knees and the ankles. Who knew?!?).
Who taught her these things? I know the answer to this one - her mom.
I don't know how to combat all of these influences. It's so hard. My instinct when I look in the mirror is to start criticizing. My instinct when I hear others saying negative things about themselves is to chime in with negative comments about myself. My instinct is to always feel like I could be better.
Here's what I'm gong to do...I'm going to try to monitor both my inner dialogue and what I say out loud in an effort to eradicate this sort of negativity. Not just for for myself - but for my son. I want him to be surrounded by people who value others for their hearts and minds, not their appearance. And that includes his parents and how they view and talk about themselves.
To steal a quote from a teacher whose yoga class I took recently, "It doesn't matter how it looks, what matters it how it feels."
Feel good, friends. And put on your damn swimsuit.