An Essay on Female Body Image

I had everyone fooled. To the world-at-large, I was a successful fashion model, my confident smile bursting from local advertisements, my self-assured self sauntering down runways.

But, as cool and confident as I appeared, there was a simple part of the day that I avoided. I never wanted to look at myself in the mirror. When I got ready in the morning, I turned off the lights. If a makeup artist was handling the task, I shut my eyes. Mirrors only reminded me of the imperfections, and the face that stared back was far from perfect.

Only my mom and my best friend knew about my inability to face my own face. My friend thought it was weird. So did I, but – looking back on that era of my life – it makes perfect sense. 

I remember the day, for example, that a New York agent boomed, “I’d be interested in seeing you after a boob job and a nose job.” His exact words to a nervous 15-year-old. I choked back tears when I told my mother, who was waiting in the lobby. She quickly swallowed the “how dare he...” in favor of something with more wisdom, an assurance that this business would surely help me understand and accept rejection.

Only now that I am a mother can I understand the rage my mother must have felt that day. Just the thought of someone saying that to my daughter makes my chest tighten. Cassidy is not yet 2, but I can’t bear the thought of her ever turning off the lights so she doesn’t have to see the imperfect reflection.

I want it to be different for my daughter. I want her to be proud of the body God gave her. I want her to appreciate its strength, its poise, and, most of all, its potential.

The best way to make it different for our children is to make it different for us. Psychologists and self-help authors tell us how to embrace our bodies once and for all. Stand before a full-length mirror without any clothes on, they say. Dance around the room naked. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine myself ever doing that. These days, I can manage to look at myself in the mirror, but let’s not push it.

It’s much easier, really, to buy into the latest trend that promises to improve our outsides. I used to call it Haircut Anticipation: that eager feeling you get when you make an appointment for a new ‘do, knowing that this new haircut (or this fresh tube of lipstick or this new weight-loss program) will somehow turn your life around.

I know I’m not alone. It’s what keeps the cosmetics, weight-loss, and cosmetic surgery industries raking in the billions each year. And it’s what advertisers bank on when they feature women that look better, younger, and more rested than we ever could. I watched a documentary the other day in which a photograph, destined for the pages of a popular women’s magazine, had to be airbrushed because the 17-year-old model looked too old!

The self-helpers who dance around naked also tell us we should simply accept ourselves the way we are. But that doesn’t undermine the fact that we all want to look our best. And we can lament all we want the fact that physical appearance matters in this world, but that won’t change the simple fact that it does.

That doesn’t mean we need to focus on looking better. It means we need to focus on feeling better about the way we look. One of the biggest lessons I took away from my modeling career was that a woman who projected confidence always got the job over someone who didn’t. No matter what she looked like. When I know I look good, I feel - and therefore am - smarter, sexier, more productive, and more confident.

A more positive body image can help us in all of our roles. When we feel good about our bodies, we treat them with more respect, and our physical fitness improves. We become more effective in our social and professional pursuits. When we move our health and happiness to the forefront of our focus, our spirits soar, and we create footsteps we want our children to follow.

Join us on this journey to improved physical and mental health. Learn practical, insightful tips on improving your body image in “Learning to Love Your Body."
Make sure your positive body image becomes an inherited trait in “Help Your Children Build a Better Body Image."