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Swimsuit Brigade For Honest Photos

November 13, 2009

I hate putting on a bathing suit. It’s irrational, to some extent, but very real. I am not alone. I don’t know very many women – over the age of 21 anyway – who like to be seen in their bathing suits. It’s scary. It’s the most surefire way to feel badly about yourself. It’s filled with the anxiety of “stacking up,” of being “hot,” of looking how the media tells you that beautiful women look. After all, you NEVER see “normal” women in bathing suit ads, calendars, movies etc…. Alyssa Royse Swimsuit Brigade

I’m not an all-encompassing media blamer. There’s more to it than that. We are reflective creatures. Long before we had mirrors and mass media, I’m betting that we looked to the reaction of others to know whether we were beautiful or not. And I’m betting that when someone else got all the attention, we interpreted it as a personal short coming. Even those of us who claim not to.

When my friend Suzanne started the Swimsuit Brigade For Honest Photos last year, I wanted to chime in and add mine. But I didn’t, for a somewhat strange reason. I didn’t because I know perfectly well, intellectually, that my body pretty much fits the mold that media demands and people expect. I felt like I was part of the problem. Felt a bit guilty that I couldn’t be “obviously flawed” and stand up with righteous indignation.Or worse, that MY BODY would make other’s feel badly about theirs, or my complaints about it seem like an insult.

She’s doing it again this year, and I’m right there with her. And my reasons are so contradictory that I’m not sure I can explain them.

First of all, although intellectually I know that my size 2 body is what people are told to strive for, I still look at it and think “ick,” as often as not. And I am both smart and strong. I am incredibly confident and sure of myself, and even so, I look at my body sometimes and all I see are thighs that rub together, a puffy pouch under my navel that will not go away no matter what I do, breasts that have lost their spring and sometimes get caught in my armpits. I could go on. Like the fact that said breasts are really only barely noticeable (no matter where they are.) I am missing either hips or a waist, not sure which, but the net result is that I am more ruler than hourglass. In the loving words of my trainer, I aint got no junk in my trunk, and frankly, I’d like a little junk.

I have, in my own mind, drawn all sorts of renovation plans to remodel it all. Remove this fat pocket and put it here, smooth out this surface, buttress this spot to make it more stable, maybe deflate this and inflate that.

And I feel guilty as hell for even thinking those things. But I do. And I don’t tell you that so that you’ll pity me or tell me I’m hot. I tell you that so that you know that if a woman like me – smart, strong, sexy and a size 2 – can feel this, imagine how people who truly deviate from the “goal” might feel.

At the same time, I feel strange admitting that, despite it all, I LOVE MY BODY. I really do. I think it’s hot as hell, really. In this age of self-loathing that manifests as countless cosmetic surgery procedures, diet plans, creams and quick-fix schemes, I feel like I’m missing the boat by actually thinking my body is pretty impressive as it is.

Sure, some of it is my ability to wear whatever I want. But most of my body-love is a lot deeper than that. First of all, it has never said “no” to me. I have asked it to give birth, fight deathly disease, do triathlons, survive all manner of climatic extremes, have all sorts of sex, and go without proper sleep and nutrition – and it always says, “sure, no problem.” My body and I have such a secure relationship that at this point, I know without even asking it, that it will do whatever I ask of it and probably be psyched about it. I love it much more now that I did when I was younger, when my breasts were closer to my shoulders than my navel.

I also very freely admit that I work on this body. I eat right (whole natural foods with plenty of whole natural fats,) and I exercise pretty much every day. I spent a long time figuring out how much food and exercise enable me to think, sleep and feel my best. I have figured it out, and the pay-off is huge. I feel RIGHT. For the first time, I really feel like this is the body that I’m supposed to have – not bigger or smaller than I should be. I have enough energy to do anything I want, but I sleep well. When my body is fighting off illness, it tells me, and I listen, and it gets better. I am pretty impressed with it, but I earn it. I treat it really well, and it returns the favor.

And I feel guilty about that. Aren’t I supposed to feel shame? The very confirmation that Janet Jackson has nipples threw our whole media system into a fury of fear and censorship. Are my nipples supposed to do that to me too?

So with my insane mixture of body-fear, guilt and pride, I join Suzanne in her quest to get as many images as possible of REAL women in their bathing suits so that we can start seeing REAL women.

I do not want to be part of the problem. I am not. I will not.

I have a daughter. I want her to be proud of her body. So proud that she’d feel comfortable anywhere. That she’ll know how to give and receive pleasure exactly as SHE wants it. So empowered that she’ll literally climb any mountain she wants to. I want that for everyone.

Strong, healthy bodies come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some of us are very small. Some of us are bigger. We are all beautiful.

Whether or not YOU are attracted to us, or want to have sex with us, or want to pin an ad campaign on us is utterly irrelevant.
It is IMPERATIVE that we:

1. Broaden our collective definition of “beauty” to encompass strength, health, personal power and sense of self.
2. Understand that one size does not fit all, and we all cannot fit into one size.
3. Understand that the media is a fantasy, not a mirror.
4. Understand that just because one person, or a whole group of people, don’t want to have sex with us doesn’t mean that we are not sexy. It means we’re not their “type.”
5. Fill the world with images of real strength and beauty to counterbalance the media sterotypes.

My friend Claire (easily one of the most beautiful women on the planet because of her brains, strength, vision, artistry, dedication and yes, her physical beauty too) is a co-founder of a site called 5 Resolutions that deals with media images and current trends in beauty. She co-founded it with her friend Magali, who was a super model, as they were both healing from their eating disorders. You should bookmark her site, subscribe to her feed and spread the word. She wrote a great article for JUST CAUSE Magazine about eating disorders, but no article can cover the depth of the issues.

So there ya go. Here’s me in a bikini. I hate wearing bathing suits, so this may be the only shot anyone has at seeing this sight.

Now, you go do the same thing on your blog, and then leave a comment on Suzanne’s original post so that we can all join forces.

Thanks Suzanne! (But Suzanne, for the record, I still hate body hair!)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2011 1:32 pm

    I found your blog today through a BlogHer article on self-confidence, and I absolutely love this post. It’s beautifully written and courageous; I applaud your vulnerability and bravery!!! More women need to feel as we do…unapologetic for feeling good about ourselves. My friend and I started our blog on that very premise, and I’m sharing your post all over. You should feel immensely proud of yourself. 🙂

  2. Alyssa Royse permalink*
    February 3, 2011 1:37 pm

    THANKS! Your comment means a lot, as I’m trying to find ways to help all women feel empowered and proud of themselves! 🙂

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