GOTG Strips Down to #EmpowerAllBodies

By Danielle Ball, Meghan Sullivan, Michelle Sweezey, Kelly Conroy, Chelsea Irvine and Photographed by Chantel Elder

Lane Bryant's #ImNoAngel
Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel

Plus-sized retailer Lane Bryant recently launched a lingerie advertising campaign with the slogan #ImNoAngel.

It was touted as a body positive initiative and a jab against Victoria’s Secret’s “Angels”, but it caused a fair share of backlash for two primary reasons:

  1. For a campaign promoting body positivity, it’s strange that they would position plus-sized women (their customers) against thinner women (Victoria Secret’s customers). They denied that it was a dig against VS, but ummmm … who else uses the “Angel” moniker?
  2. When customers pointed out that the #ImNoAngel models have basically the same body type and are posed strategically to erase any rolls/cellulite … Lane Bryant was flippant and has yet to publicly or directly address any of these concerns.
Victoria's Secret's Angels
Victoria’s Secret’s Angels

So. Much. Criticism. And all of it centered around the female body.  Are we the only ones getting T-I-R-E-D of this?

Luckily the InterWebs responded with counter-campaigns: #ImNoModelEither, #EffYourBeautyStandards and #EmpowerAllBodies which focus on accepting ALL women of ALL shapes and sizes.

One positive outcome is that it got us thinking … it’s a weird time to be caught in your underwear.

So we decided to do just that. Get in our underwear. And put it online. For everyone to see. Forever. And ever. #Gulp

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Let’s break it down, shall we?

Danielle Ball:

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been conscious of my size. Even as an average size child, I remember staring in envy at the legs of my sit-up partner in the fifth grade. Her thighs were thin and athletic, and I recall staring down at my legs in horror. I debated whether my legs would ever look like hers. My thighs were athletic but a little bit thicker than I would have liked. The girls that were popular were slim, whereas I developed early and have always been a bit curvier. I learned early on that there was an ideal body type, and I would be better off if I met that ideal. In my mind, the key to getting ahead was to conform to what most people considered beautiful.

As I got older, I realized that the ideal body type wasn’t just in my mind. Everything from movies to the stores I shopped in, to the discussions I had with friends helped to reinforce this. Watch almost any show on television and you’ll quickly realize that there’s typically a fat friend in the cast full of self-deprecating humor and physical comedy. A few months ago, a movie whose premise was simply that the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” should be lower on the social pecking order than her peers was released. Even from friends, I’ll see comments such as, “Why would they even make this top in an XL, no one wants to see that.” It’s hard not to believe lines like that when one hears a version of them every day.

Recently, Tess Holiday made news by becoming the first plus size model to get a contract with a major modeling agency. I would be excited about this news if Toast the King Charles Spaniel had not started modeling for a major fashion brand that same week.

After college, I put on some weight. As my body changed, I got more self-conscious and aware of how people treated my new body. Everything from snide comments in public to the term, “No fatties” on dating profiles seems fair game to some people.

Strangers and friends alike feel as though they have the right to advise me on what is best for my body. Sometimes these people are well meaning, and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the comments are supportive, “Let’s try meal prepping together!” and sometimes they’re degrading, “That’s a hungry girl!” mumbled between valets when I picked up dinner recently.

I’m still figuring out what’s best for me and what it will take to get my body to a point that’s comfortable and healthy for me. Until I figure it out though, I can say with confidence that my body is no less deserving of love and respect than anyone else’s. As I get older, I’m learning that everyone has insecurities. I’m doing my best to deal with mine and working on uplifting others in the process.

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Danielle Ball

Meghan Sullivan:

Forget one second about the problematic aspects of the ideal body type and instead focus on the fact that the so-called ideal body type has changed dramatically over the years. You have only to look at this video to see that: https://youtu.be/Xrp0zJZu0a4.

Now, it is true that even this video doesn’t represent all body types, but it does prove that opinions and attitudes shift over time. Even our views. Take a moment and consider how you felt about your body when you were younger or thinner or stronger or whatever than you are today … and then consider how you feel about it today. The sad truth of the matter is that in both cases, you probably thought something was wrong with yourself … your stomach wasn’t flat enough, thighs not thin enough, arms too flabby. Nowadays the vast majority of us have a distorted image of ourselves.

For whatever reason, there was a period when almost all of my friends were all very tiny girls, and I was always the largest among them. It made me extremely self-conscious, and I always felt like I was overweight, and that really wasn’t the case. I recently found some pictures of myself in high school, and I almost didn’t recognize myself because I looked thinner that what I believed myself to be. When I stopped to consider how unhappy I was with my body back then when I now look back and realize I wasn’t overweight, I began to understand how harmful those negative thoughts were and are.

And I have finally started to accept my body. Yes, I have cellulite and lines and flab but I also know my body has carried me through seven-half marathons among other feats. I’m tired of wasting time feeling bad about myself. I’m proud of my body, and I’m proud of where I am now. And I can be that way without looking down on anyone of any other size. As a scientist and an artist, I can truly appreciate the beauty of EVERY body. Each and every different shape and size is beautiful.  I love that we’re all different. It makes the world that much more interesting. Different curves, different styles, the way we carry ourselves, the way we walk … it’s all a function of the variety of different body types.

It’s taken me a very long time to get to the mindset I’ve recently discovered. Of course, I still have my bad days where my first impulse is to criticize myself. But then I remind myself that I’m healthy and happy, and that matters more than striving to look like an ‘ideal’ that won’t even be the same decades and centuries later.

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Meghan Sullivan

Michelle Sweezey:

Oh my God I look so huge next to you.” “Delete that, my face looks really wide there.”

Ugh. My arms look enormous in that, can you filter it first?”

Sound familiar? Sound like something, uh, you just said, maybe today? Maybe like, ten minutes ago?

Me too.

I want to say those are not my words. I want to say I’ve never thought those things. I want to say I am not passing those same negative criticism patterns onto my daughter. But they are. And I have. And I am.

I cannot remember a time I was satisfied with my body as it was. I wanted thinner thighs and ankles. Bigger boobs. A smooth and dimpleless backside. Skin that just bounced back together post pregnancy and didn’t leave purple streaks and a distorted belly button behind as evidence, as though the two kids weren’t enough proof of the life I grew inside me.

I remember a “friend” pointing out my cellulite in ninth grade, informing me I shouldn’t wear “that dress” again because she could see it, the cellulite, and it was gross. Ugly. Unacceptable.  I also remember my mom offering me $200 if I dropped a few sizes as a Senior in high school. Something about new clothes, she said. My takeaway- I wasn’t good the way I was. I could be better.

No. Not could. Should. I should be better.

And on it went. And has continued to go since then.

I’ve been chasing a mirage of physical perfection for the better part of the last three decades, assured I was just nearing the achievement of an ideal body at any moment.

But nothing was ever ideal enough.

If I was exercising a lot and on a strict diet I was either too bulky or too thin, exhausted all the time and quite frankly often too cranky to like myself. When I was curvy, I was irritated with the squishy bits in inconvenient places and the fact that no clothing seemed to be made for my proportions. It was always something.

It is, always, something.

I written several pieces about this topic, about beauty and body image, about accepting my body the way it is, exploring how and why it’s changed, what it does for me, how strong it is, even when I don’t want to see it that way.

I get it. Really. Truly. I do.

And yet, 90% of the time I look at myself, the very first thing I have to say is about something I dislike. Something I want changed. Something that isn’t good enough— just like me.

Only I am, enough that is. So is everyone. We are whole and complete as we are, no matter the physical shape.

I am beautiful because I am. You are beautiful because you are. We are beautiful because WE ARE.

I love my body. I love your body. I’m no model, and I don’t want to be. Perfection isn’t a flawless body, it’s seeing your body, flaws and all, and loving it anyway.

And as the saying goes— to me, you are perfect.

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Michelle Sweezey

Kelly Conroy:

I’ve never felt allowed to talk about my body type. I’m tall and thin and was just born that way. As I was developing my self worth through my teen years and even in my early twenties, I felt overtly ostracized by other women. Women of all ages complained about their bodies and would direct things like, “Not that you would know,” or, “You need to eat something,” toward me.

But I did know. And I do eat.

I was a woman, and I was struggling with my body image just like they were. The world was telling me that being thin was the only things that would give me value, so I tried hard to keep and even exaggerate my lanky genetics. I spent most of my teen years poking at imaginary love handles with a frown in the mirror and then being ashamed of my figure when another woman brought it up in conversation – like it was hers to comment on. Regardless of which direction I turned, I felt ashamed of my body.

I wish I could say that as I’ve aged, I’ve learned to love my body. I try really hard, but I still catch myself poking love handles in the mirror. And I still battle unfriendly female fire about how nice it must be to eat carbs or that I don’t really need to go to the gym. Most of the time, I’d really prefer to be invisible in conversations about bellies and bust lines.

But, as I learn how to appreciate myself as a whole (body included), my relationship with myself and with others improves. It can be incredibly easy to point to someone else and blame them for your feelings or wish for what they have. The trouble with that is we’re placing value on something we don’t have, instead of the many wonderful things we do have.

The more I focus on my value as a person and not as a figurine, the more I feel supported by those around me. I feel free to eat cake or skip the gym or wear a bikini because I know it’s up to me to love my body, and that my value is not determined by others. And really, isn’t that what we all want? Freedom to eat cake?

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Kelly Conroy

Chelsea Irvine:

If you have no idea how hard it is to constantly compare yourself to everyone,  I do. I’ve made it my favorite pastime. I do it without thinking about it and without realizing how much time is has consumed my life.

I’ve always considered myself “average size and athletic”, save for those couple of years after graduating high school when I no longer played soccer and put on the “freshman 15”.  (No matter that I was not a freshman, and it was more like 25.)

Notwithstanding my averageness, I’ve had issues with my weight, food, and fitness since I was teenager. Of course, this is something I never talked about nor is it something I ever bring up in conversation, yet it stays with me day in and day out. Even as a grown woman, I think about my body constantly.

A few years back, I found a gym I love. This is no big box, stare-at-yourself-in-the-mirror-doing-bicep-curls-while-lines-of-fully-made-up-women-(and men)-try-not-to-sweat-on-treadmills-gym. This is a pull-500-pound-sleds-and-dead-lift-more-than-your-own-body-weight kind of place. It makes me feel strong. It’s my community.I’ve gotten healthier than I’ve ever been.

Have I stopped judging myself and comparing myself to every woman I see? No.

I work out nearly every day and see my gym friends reach new goals consistently. Have we stopped saying how unhappy we are with our bodies? No.

I placed second in a lifting competition a couple of years ago, and it was one of the proudest moments in my entire life. I mean, I did five pull-ups and a 300 pound deadlift! (Sorry, brag moment.) Did I wake up the next day finally feeling happy with my body? No.

I don’t get sucked into pop culture; I don’t know the Housewives, and I can’t tell one Kardashian from the next. I don’t read Cosmo and I have no idea which skinny pop singer’s song I’m listening to.

So where do these body-shaming stereotypes come from? Everywhere. Our society has ingrained in us the need to be thinner than the next person, have better hair than she does, be the best dressed in the room and make sure that men (and women) will notice you.

Pinterest feeds and Instagram posts full of motivational quotes zoom in on a perfect body in front of a brick wall. And if I see one more bikini model seductively eating a damn Western Bacon Cheeseburger, it may push me over the edge.

Please don’t get me wrong. These standards are set for both men and women.  I have a number of male friends who are quick to join in the “man, my face looks huge” or “does this shirt make me look fat?” conversations.

I have friends who have worked their asses off to lose significant amounts of weight. I beam with pride at their accomplishments. I don’t notice that extra skin, and I want to throw a party when I see the progress through their slimming ankles.

Yet, here I am, sadly staring down my bulked up arms in the mirror, sucking in my stomach and unhappily pinching my love handles.

I have beautiful friends who train hard. And eat strict. And look absolutely amazing. They see none of that. I wish they could see what I see when I look at them. But I realize, until I see what they see when they look at me, we will both be blind to our own realities – imperfections and all.

Hopefully, as more women take a stand against our constant body-shaming, it will become easier to see in ourselves what others see in us.  Maybe we can stop the constant comparisons. Hopefully the media will see this paradigm shift and stop the front cover celebrity imperfection “gotcha” photos.

If we continue on this path of unattainable standards, it’ll be impossible for our young people to look in the mirror and feel pride instead of shame. It’s up to us to lift each other up and not always look for flaws in ourselves and in others.

So here I am, taking a deep breath, and starting a new trend within myself. No more negativity about how I look. I’m going to feel as proud of my hard work as I am of my friends’ and family’s achievements. I challenge you to do the same.

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Chelsea Irvine

BONUS….

Yessenia Anderson:

I’ve never really ‘loved’ my body, but thanks to a fast metabolism I’ve been relatively thin all of my life. Before I got pregnant with my son I was not fit but slim enough, but I was for the most part content. Flash forward a few years and my post-pregnant body brought with itself esteem issues brand new to me. I was pregnant for nearly 10 months followed by 13 months of breastfeeding so for nearly two years my body was not my own and also unrecognizable to me. Never would I have thought how not feeling good about myself would affect me and my relationships so much. I started down a dark hole of depression that impacted my spirits and my marriage.

Getting to the gym was a game of guilt. Guilty for leaving my baby boy once again. Guilty for taking him and dropping him at yet another day care and guilty for not doing enough.

I decided I need to make a change and fast. Six weeks ago I started personal training sessions. I needed to bring in the big guns – literally. Although the transformation has only begun simply having a consistent workout routine and learning healthy eating habits has made such a big impact in how I feel. I learned that I don’t need to be a certain size or a certain weight. I don’t need to shun all sweet treats that come my way but simply adjust my diet. I am at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been, with the exception of when I was pregnant, and yet I couldn’t be happier. I feel healthy and alive. It helps that my husband continues to oodle at my curves the same way he did years back when they didn’t have road bumps in between. I may never be the Yessi of before but I am totally ok with that.

My boobs nourished my healthy baby boy, my droopy tummy carried him to term and my lady parts worked overtime to deliver the biggest miracle of our lives. My body isn’t perfect but it’s mine… and kind of a bad ass.

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Photographers Note: This project blew my mind. These women showed up with a mission to celebrate their bodies. I was surprised by the ones that were the most shy and learned more about body image than I thought possible. They turned the music up and rocked it out, and when it was time to look through all the photos not a single one of them uttered the word “photoshop”.  They all encouraged and cheered each other on when they saw their photos. Women celebrating women is what it is all about.

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