I went to pick a magazine off the rack the other day at the store, and, just like most people, I am automatically drawn to the headlines highlighted in big, bold capital letters on the front covers.
“Flat Abs, Lean Legs, Firm Butt.”
“Drop XX lbs. Fast.”
“Flat Belly Now!”
“Drop A Jeans Size In XX Days.”
“Sexy Abs Fast.”
You get the point. It is only natural for me, or anyone, to assume that these characteristics are being promoted because they depict beauty, and that sexy is defined as thin, lean, flat, and firm. As we are right in the thick of summer season, and attaining a “bikini body” is at the forefront of peoples’ minds, I picked up one of the magazines and skimmed through it. Thankfully, those magazine headlines don’t effect me in the same way they once did.
I suffered from an eating disorder at the age of twenty. My desire to appear attractive, and be physically fit fully dominated my ability to focus on being healthy. My initial attempt at losing “a few pounds” turned into an obsession with food restriction and excessive exercise. And, it all began in the summertime when I knew I would be in a swimsuit with my friends, and my body was more exposed than in the winter season. Little did I know that my drive to be thin and sexy would lead me down a deep, dark path of depression and anxiety.
I am an athlete. I have always been active and competitive in sports, particularly soccer. Short in height, I needed to have strength in my upper and lower body to be successful. At the time of my eating disorder, however, I lacked size, power, and personality–all attributes that had contributed to my successes on the field. I quickly realized these qualities I once possessed had dissipated and what I thought was making me better, sexier and more confident was actually making me weaker and more insecure.
Fast forward thirteen years.
I am now 23-weeks pregnant with my third child, and summer has begun once again. My body is larger than it has ever been in my whole life. But so is my heart. I have two little boys, who love to go swimming at our neighborhood pool. It is in this environment that I am forced to make a decision: embrace my features and my body, and enjoy myself and my children; or turn back to my eating disorder and disengage from life and from my family.
Love, family, and happiness now far outweigh a desire to be a certain body type. And, for me, who is not happy, joyful, or lively when I am dieting or focusing on dissatisfaction with my body, I choose to live life.
Life is too short to focus solely on my appearance or socially constructed beauty ideals. I much prefer to enjoy myself, exercise healthily, and concentrate on being the best person, mom, wife, daughter, and friend I can be. That is far sexier than any number on the scale or what I look like in a bikini.
Erin Mandras is a blogger and inspirational speaker at Kick The Scale. She’s also a youth soccer coach in the Baltimore, MD area, and cares for her two young kids (Levi, 4 1/2 and Austin, 2 1/2). Prior to these roles, Erin was a college soccer coach at Michigan State University, Towson University, and Loyola University Maryland, and a former women’s soccer player at Michigan State University. She was born and raised in West Bloomfield, MI, is now married to her wonderful husband, Jon Mandras, and resides in Baltimore.
Wondering how can you start to build a body positive summer for yourself and the people you care about?
Put the magazines down. Better yet, don’t even pick them up. Create your own headlines.