“What if I was beautiful?” she asked.
“Well, what if you are?”
Each of our relationships with our bodies is as beautifully unique as our bodies themselves, but the more I am graced with the authentic truth of women in my life, the more I see that we all have a similar version of the same sentence: “If only I was _____, then my life would be good.”
If only I was smarter, taller, shorter, skinnier, curvier, funnier, more compassionate, bolder, kinder, more lady-like, less lady-like, flirtier, stronger, perfect. We could fill in the blank a thousand different ways, and each time, what is really communicated is “To be good, I must change.”
This is the ultimate lie. What it implies, is that there is no way we can be enough, just as we are. It shames a positive, whole, and healing relationship with one’s body and instead praises an ever-changing, never-attainable, social construct of beauty. It means we can never win.
As deep and profound I claim to be, my sentence has always been “If only I were beautiful, then…”
I have whispered it, shouted it, and heard the echoes of it bounce back and forth in my head, it has infiltrated my mornings and my evenings, my best adventures and my sweet time alone. I have said it to myself so many times, it feels like it has become part of me, even though it is nothing but a lie.
This one phrase, the loudest voice in my head for most of my life, had so much space, it spawned. “If only you were skinny, then you would be beautiful.” “If only you were shorter, then you would be beautiful.” And the list goes on and on.
What took me years to realize, was that this list, was intimately connected to another list in my head. At times that list was titled “If I Were Beautiful, Then I Would:” and at others “If I Lost 5 Pounds Then I Would.” This list was more or less and impressive comprehensive list of all the things that would make life worth living.
It included but was not limited to: go to the beach, host a dinner party, wear dresses that I love, join a running club, take a dance class, speak my mind, speak my truth, say “I love you,” dance in public, and a multitude of other life-giving things that objectively have nothing to do with beauty, or body size, or body shape, but for me, had everything to do with the relationship I had with my own body.
I thought about this list, actually at times it consumed me, but for most of my life, I didn’t share it with anyone. I was an expert at smoke and mirrors, and when I was confronted with one of these events, I could be found running in the other direction as fast as I could, throwing any excuse I could out behind me.
Then my college roommate got married, and I ran out of smoke and mirrors.
I adore weddings. I especially adore them when my friends are the ones getting married. I really do believe it is an honor to be able to be invited to celebrate such a wondrous day, and an even greater honor to be asked to celebrate it as a bridesmaid.
However, there was one aspect of weddings that I could never quite cope with: the dresses.
Dresses, specifically strapless dresses, had always sent me into what can only be described as a complete tailspin. I hated wearing them. I hated trying them on. I just hated them.
But when one of your dearest friends in the world invites you to be in her wedding, and wear a gorgeous dress, in one of the most beautiful places on earth, to celebrate the eternal love they have for their partner, you say yes to the dress.
When I tried the dress on for the first time, my first reaction was to start dropping the F-bomb like someone was paying me per-utterance, as though it were product placement. What is more startling than the fact that this was a gross overreaction to a beautiful dress, I almost never swear.
Once I got over the initial shock, and my wonderful friends had zipped me in, I realized that I had a choice to make. I had to decide if I loved my friend, more than I hated my body.
The wedding went off without a hitch. It was incredibly beautiful and such a reflection of the couple’s love for one another and commitment to loving and serving their community.
Towards the end of the evening, as dusk gave way to the stars and we bid farewell to cars full of friends, I realized that I had survived an entire day of wearing a strapless dress in public, and the world did not fall to pieces. I even ate in that dress, danced in that dress, and was photographed in that dress and people didn’t faint upon seeing me, nothing exploded, and no one disowned me for how I looked.
As ridiculous as that is, I really do believe that is the type of fear that so many of us operate from daily. We get so caught up thinking about our bodies, and our food and our dress sizes that we can’t seem to recognize, the obsession is keeping us from living our lives.
After I was forced to conquer the strapless dress, I began to wonder what would happen if I began to check other things off of my list.
What if I didn’t wait for someone else to declare me beautiful, and just decided to live as though I already was?
What if I stopped spending all of my time worrying about my body, and starting considering the fact that I had one at all?
What if I stopped dissecting how my body looked while I danced, and gave time to be in awe of the fact that I could dance at all?
What if I went to the beach?
What if I said, “I love you”?
What if I lived as though I had been set free?
I think then I would be.
About the Author: Gillian McGann could not be more in love with or passionate about the mission of Circles of Change. She is currently serving as the Director of Ophelia's Place where she is constantly in awe of the incredible women she gets to work with, and the blessing it is to be in love with what you do. Her advice: there are two things it is always time for: dancing and popcorn.