Accept It, Fix It?, Elisa & Lily

Accept it, fix it? Accept it, fix it? This is a question that I have been grappling with my whole life. When it comes to the shape of my body, I have constantly and perpetually struggled to decipher whether my physique is inherently wrong in some way (something to work on fixing) or whether it is beautiful and perfect as it is (something that I need to work on accepting). Do I need to try to become a slimmer version of myself in order to feel amazing in my clothes, sex appeal, and general swagger, or do I need to unlearn a fabricated societal notion that beautiful and slender are synonymous, while having curves implies that something is broken?

As a young adolescent, I was one of the tallest girls in my class (I am now 5' 10''). From the onset of puberty, it was obvious that I was not going to be that dainty, skinny girl whose legs slid into a tight pair of skinny jeans, or whose flat stomach and firm thighs remained intact while running around the beach in a bikini.  I quickly towered over the boys in school and surpassed the waist sizes of most of my girlfriends. Skinny jeans were a struggle to wiggle into, causing my love handles to pour over the sides, and bathing suits caused the "scars" (my stretch marks) on my hips to be exposed.

Having grown up inundated with images of models and celebrities who looked light and graceful in their sample-sized, designer clothes, I desperately wanted to emulate them. My style icons were Mary-Kate, Ashley Olsen and Sienna Miller, their cut outs from magazines lining the walls of my bedroom. My real-life "girl crushes" were a pair of twins in school whose understated, bohemian clothing fell perfectly on their model-like physiques.

To top it all off, my mother -- my most prominent role model -- was gorgeous, stylish, and through an intense workout regimen and disciplined eating habits, maintained an exceedingly fit body. During periods of my life, I resented her for her discipline. "Why are you so controlling?" "Can't you live a little?" I would ask. Unlike many of my friends, my house contained no Oreos and Honey-Nut Cheerios, only a basement filled with a plethora of workout machines. By the time I was in seventh grade, I was already two inches and four pant sizes larger than my mom. Dreaming to look like her, I would leave every shopping excursion in tears.

Growing up, I would obsessively analyze what skinny girls would eat, comparing their diets to my own. If they ate what I deemed to be a lot (i.e. more than me), I felt a strange sense of relief. “Mother nature has just cursed me,” I would tell myself, preferring to play the victim.

In eighth grade I discovered dieting. Sick of feeling insecure and jealous, I put myself on a highly restrictive workout and eating regimen.  I locked myself in my parents’ basement gymnasium at 6am before school, 5 days a week, and I limited my food intake to not much more than salads, veggie burgers and Skinny Cow ice cream bars. I got hooked on Splenda, diet soda and anything with the word "light" on the label. I was strict, foregoing hangouts with my friends if it meant missing a workout or intaking junk food. On a bad day, I would eat 1200 calories, but my general caloric intake was even less.

Lo and behold, it worked. I got what I wanted. Within weeks, I felt light and amazing. My clothes were loose and I was thrilled. I glided seamlessly into size 29 jeans and began to wear mini-skirts and tanks. I felt relaxed at my friends' pool parties, attractive in the face of men (my middle school crush, Brody, finally gave me the attention I had been dreaming of for years) and, for the first time, I truly loved looking at pictures of myself. However, my elation was always short-lived.

Here, I began what would become a lifelong cycle, alternating between depriving myself but feeling great about my looks and living a balanced lifestyle but feeling insecure. In my mind, food became something naughty and indulgent -- I would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night for chocolate chip cookies or a bowl of pasta, as if I was breaking the law.  When I let go of even a modicum of control, I knew the moment where I’d break down crying, trying to squeeze my thighs into my "skinny Lily" jeans, was close at hand.

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Ironically, when I was slim, I wasn't even skinny by society's standards. After all, I was still a size 29/30 in jeans, which most women in our culture would deem unacceptable. Even though I did not look anorexic, a disturbing side effect of my dieting was the complete loss of my period.

As I entered my 20s, I grew increasingly frustrated with my self-imposed roller coaster -- not only was the strain of yo-yo dieting having an adverse affect on my mental health, but it was also becoming increasingly clear that I was actually attempting to fight nature. Around that same time, I was beginning to delve deep into my work with StyleLikeU. Inspired by the confident women I was exposed to -- no matter their shape or size -- I realized for the first time that it was truly possible for women to tailor their style to their bodies rather than tailor their bodies to trends. This revelation, while it seems obvious in retrospect, was perhaps one of the most liberating moments in my journey with my body. At this juncture, while I continued to lead a healthy lifestyle (my favorite foods today are Kale Salad and Sushi, I am a dedicated exerciser and I rarely drink) I finally stopped my frantic calorie counting, obsessive workout schedule and my addiction to artificial diet foods.

Cut to today... While I have made immense strides from the girl who used to forgo most experiences in order to keep her diet under control, remnants of my conflict continue to haunt me to this day. In the last year, I have overcome my fear of exposing my bare arms in clothes and have begun to accentuate my curves in clothing. However, I still catch myself envying my slender friend Nina and the ease with which she moves naked or in a bathing suit. I remain self conscious and covered up on the beach. I hide my curves with long, loose fitting tops over a tight dress or skirt and I still look at pictures from my dieting days and feel a pang of longing for that girl. Lastly, though I think about them less, my "skinny Lily" jeans are still stashed in the back of my dresser.

While the Lily of today still faces these insecurities, an ever-increasing desire to be the most secure version of myself has changed my lifelong struggle into a full-on mission. A couple of recent experiences have also helped shift my perspective on this issue. Firstly, when I was in New Mexico this past September shooting a story for the Huffington Post, Anya, the style editor with whom I traveled, repeatedly told me that I looked like the model Crystal Renn. At first, I was upset at the idea that I would be compared to a "plus-size" model (as a side note, I really do hate the whole notion of “plus-size” models, mostly because they are totally normal-sized and I don't understand why we are perpetually sold clothes by people that are smaller than the average consumer being targeted -- ridiculous). However, after letting go of my qualms about the label, I began to look at images of the voluptuous Crystal and I fell in love with the beauty, poise and strength she exuded in her amazonian physique.

Secondly, I came across The Good Body, a play by Eve Ensler about her own hatred towards her stomach. I was touched by a conversation she had with an African girl. The girl, bewildered by Eve's insecurities, says poignantly, "In America, your bodies are just pictures to you. Here, we live in our bodies, they serve us, they do our work."

Crystal’s spirit, this newfound perspective from Eve’s play, and my determination to defeat this demon once and for all, has me thinking about the power of confidence. At 23, I am beginning to understand that in order to transcend a lifetime of feeling ill-at-ease in my body, it is time to turn off the broken record in my head that doubts my inherent beauty. I am seeing that it is that broken record, and not anything related to my actual healthy physical state, that keeps me from feeling and subsequently looking as beautiful and sexy as possible -- just as I am.

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In light of all this, I’ve decided to make some commitments before God and StyleLikeU readers:

1) I will wear heels from time to time. I like the way they look and I am not going to continue compromising that for fear of standing out and towering over men.
2) I will uncover my hips in bathing suits. So what if my thighs jiggle a little when I walk?
3) I will acknowledge my real weight by stepping on a scale. I used to think that avoiding scales was empowerment, but now I’ve realized that being unashamed of the number is actual acceptance.
4) I will stare at my naked body in the eye (no dim lighting or skinny mirrors) in the mirror and learn to accept whatever contours God has graced me with.
5) I will be taking dance classes at the gym. This may seem trivial, but I’ve felt inhibited from expressing myself through my body in this kind of way.

In her closet interview, Lesley Arfin says, "I think it is sexier not to have a perfect body." I agree with her philosophy wholeheartedly and I now feel it is time to walk the walk myself.

Wish me luck and I will be in touch soon.

Love,
Lily

 

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  • Meesh

    great post! you have put into words the struggle that a lot of women deal with everyday. glad you are in a good place

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Thank you!

  • Anastatica

    *Tears* That was beautiful. Thank YOU.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Thank you!! xx

  • cyrena_ly

    Lovely piece. Insecurities about your body type can strike anyone - as someone who is petite and short, this piece still really spoke to me. I feel self-conscious standing with a group of tall women, feeling inadequate or childlike even in five inch heels. Jeans don't look great cuffed. What's really helped me is to view my body more as a tool rather than something to be objectified by others or myself. I celebrate my petiteness by acknowledging that I can squirm my way to the front of shows or reach for lost keys into tiny spaces. Yoga has especially helped shape this view -- if you treat your body as a vehicle to feel good physically - feel, not just look - then the rest will follow. Good luck! x

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Yes! I have realized that every body type finds a way to feel inadequate no matter what. But once you focus on being in tune to how you feel versus trying to look like something you're not, you can begin to feel totally liberated! So glad the piece resonated with you even though we have different body types!

  • Seriously amazing piece, and wonderfully written. Thanks for daring to bare, Lily 🙂

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Thank you!!

  • Nicole

    What an amazing piece. Thank you for putting your heart out there for your readers. I wish I had this much wisdom at 23. I have spent years fighting my body.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Thank you!! Scary but feels good to let it out!!

  • Trae Harris

    In America, your bodies are just pictures to you. Here, we live in our bodies, they serve us, they do our work.”
    I smiled, I cried and then I smiled again. Thank the goddess and the universe for your courage my dear. Ur a warrior, a warrior in a beautiful flowy dress, or tight jeans, or a bathing suit, however you choose to adorn ur temple. It's urs, you own it, so thank you. Appreciate you. My sister!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      I love you Trae...You've inspired me so much over the years, you don't even know!! xxx

  • Alexandra

    Wonderful piece...thank you! I was just thinking yesterday about Crystal Renn - she has struggled with eating disorders and then accepted her body and now she has lost a lot of weight and is no longer a plus size model. It made me think about the infliction of the fashion world and how powerful it is. Karl Lagerfeld and Derek Blasberg too - they have had dramatic weight loss. I don't think Karl is very healthy though he drinks at least a liter of Diet Pepsi every day (I saw it with my own eyes)
    Lily, you are a beautiful and intelligent woman. Thank you for sharing your story of acceptance of your body. Now I can't wait to see what successes your mind and spirit bring to your life. Peace & Love.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments and support xxx

  • Emalynne Brushey

    Goosebumps all over!! Lils - heart to heart, thank you for calling attention to all the ridiculous things women, including myself, have such a hard time accepting. Stretch marks..love handles..them dang skinny jeans (sadly, I have like 6 old pairs in the back of my closet that I think I may actually fit into once again) ha! It is time to let go Emalynne!! So, with all that off my chest... I, Emalynne, commit to rock my bikini this summer and show off what my mama gave me, big booty and all!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      love you emalynne!!!!! you're the hottest

  • disqus_HTxXRtX2cy

    thank you so much for writing this, I found my chest feeling really tight because I identify with much of what you were saying (I'm 6'1" and always had more meet on my bones than other girls) and have always strived to look and feel like many of my skinnier friends. to me, they give off the illusion that being thin = happiness. I'm slowly learning to take the step forward in my life and realizing that I can be valued for many things in my life and my body is a gift that I should use in every way possible. thank you for sharing your journey--I've booked marked it for re-reading on a gloomier day. xo

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      wow thank you!! so happy this resonated. in it together!!! xoxo

  • Anja

    The African girl knew what is real. We're here for such a short time (in this life, anyway... ) What matters is what's in our hearts and how we express it, how we aid in helping other humans evolve - period. 🙂 I hope to see the flowering of more and more souls waking up to this, and it sounds like you are! If you have a healthy body, you are more than blessed. Having had some health challenges, I can say it really puts into perspective concerns about appearances when you just want to feel well, or not be in pain. At 46, I'm also starting to have the surreal experience of watching myself age when I feel 25 inside, along with the sense of time speeding up, and I'm learning to appreciate and care for my body for what it really is - an incredibly intelligent, organic vessel for the spirit that carries me through this brief life of learning and loving here in the Earth School. 😉

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      agree with you wholeheartedly!! thank you so much for the support. glad to hear about your evolution, it's an inspiration to me xox

  • This is so inspiring that you were confident enough to talk about your insecurities. I hope to one day be able to do the same! Fantastic job!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      thank you! working on it!! xoxo

  • It is truly amazing to see acceptance of oneself, something that we all, including myself, need to work at. Your inspirational story gives me confidence to take in what nature intended for my body. Thank you Lily. Thank you.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      working on it! thanks for the support!!

  • Rheannan Watson

    Lily, I love you for this. Thank you. So many of us have struggled to escape the exact same mindset that every woman must have the exact same unrealistic size. This notion is extremely oppressive and leads to nothing but self-destruction and mental imprisonment. This is something I have struggled with my entire life, and something that I continue to struggle with today. How ironic is it that the whole reason I even saw this video was because I had opened my laptop for the sole purpose of watching some workout videos on youtube and just happened to check this site for any recent updates before I logged on. I am in tears right now because after reading this and watching the roundtable session and campaign video, I don't feel quite as alone in this struggle for self-acceptance and the battle to fight the status-quo. Thank you eternally for raising you voice to speak out about this on-going problem. Please continue to bring people together through you all's constant extension of love and acceptance, and together we can bring to an end this struggle to love ourselves for the beautiful, colorful, and brilliant individuals we all are all while sending out a big fat "FUCK YOU" to those who try to keep us in a box.

    Again, many thanks to you.
    With love,

    Rheannan W.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      I love you for this comment!! We are in it together :)Such serendipity the timing of you finding the article. Seriously thank you so much for the support and hopefully one day this will all be a NON-issue!! xoxoxoxoxox

  • Laura

    Thank you Lily <3

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      <3

  • Jennifer

    This is beautiful!! It is making me tear up because I have had the same struggles, thoughts and roller coaster ride my entire life. (I'm 31) It's not easy. I was just at a beautiful beach in Thailand over the weekend and was laying on my lounge chair thinking all of these thoughts. I than thought to myself this is so ridiculous I am on this gorgeous beach with warm clear blue water, no waves and I am afraid to get up off my lounge chair. When will I be here again? I overcame my fear and enjoyed the beach, but it wasn't easy. Thank you for this, It was beautiful!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      Thank you! So happy this resonated. And I admire that you let go of your fears in Thailand!! Go girl!

  • Thank you so very very much for this. I'm almost 6', I feel huge. I hate that the only tall women that are considered to be beautiful are models that wear size 0. I hate that there exists no acknowledgement to the fact that when you're taller your proportions get bigger too. I used to think those ridiculously thin women are beautiful, I don't anymore. I like my body. I wish people would design clothes for me to feel beautiful in. Most stores in Germany do not sell my size. I am very thankful that I learned to sew my own clothes. Which has made me realize that it is indeed possible to make my body look good. I don't know wtf is happening in the fashion industry. It needs to change big time!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      FEEL YOU GIRL!!! I too used to idolize those girls but now I learning to not so blindly see beauty that way. So glad that you like your body now and are making your own clothes! So amazing! We'd love to see what you do! And I know, I get so upset when clothes aren't made in my size at a shop. Or I just feel so disconnected from fashion shows because I don't feel I can imagine how the clothes might look on someone like me. It definitely needs to change big time! Thanks for your support.

      • You just made my day! I hope that one day I will be confident enough to write about my own journey like you did and maybe show off some of my clothes. I'll let you know 🙂 I wish you all the best

  • I am really proud of you for sharing your journey of accepting and loving your amazing beautiful body....I am inspired...encouraged and enlightened.....you are Fiercely brave in your body......as you should be....:)

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      i love you Shine!! You are fiercely brave and so gorgeous too

  • Dear Lilly. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. The decision to reclaim the right to be ourselves and care for our selves with compassion is a radical act as it also gives inspiration for others to do the same thing. I hope you will share more of your journey.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      thank you! i will xoxo

  • Such an eloquently written piece! Namaste, sister!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      <3

  • Fiona O'K

    I am so in love with this post. My path somewhat mirrors yours. At the moment I am actually the heaviest I have ever been - but for the first time I feel like I can accept and love my body for what it is instead of being on a CONSTANT mission to slim down. It can be so hard to stay confident when there are so many skinnier people being paraded and glorified, but it is ultimately just so empowering to realize that I/you/we can be happy just the way we are.

  • Laila Gohar

    this is so great love you lils

  • kidkaroshi

    This is a really beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. We all have body issues, sometimes it's not about the size, but the shape. I have no waist, just up and down, whatever my size. But you have to learn to love yourself, and be grateful for a healthy body, which is a blessing. I loved the quote; 'In America, your bodies are just pictures to you. Here, we live in our bodies, they serve us, they do our work.” I think true 'embodiment' of our bodies is something so vital, and something we need to fight for if it goes amiss.<3

  • Lisa

    i have the same way like you. horrible, that so many women have it. and horrible, that it takes such a long time to figure out what it means to love your own body like it is. and to do so !
    i have the feeling that more and more women turn away from beau ideals given by society, and that they try to find harmony and love with their bodies. keep you head and heart up, boys and girls! we are all beautiful! and thank you lily for this brave post!

  • Jolene

    🙂 thank you for sharing.

  • Monstadada from Santa Monica

    What an incredible, revelatory piece, and what a gorgeous person you are in every way!

  • Monstadada from Santa Monica

    What a brave revelatory piece! U r gorgeous in every way!!!

  • Raquel

    Lily, this was truly inspiring. It feels like we're living parallel lives!

    I'm also in my twenties, and i think i'm learning to respect my body and feel confident about it. I even think that the way i interact with people or how i feel about sexuality has totally changed, its all about self-steem and self-respect. I remember being really inhibited , although i'm not a shy person. But it was really hard for me to express myself through my body. I was accomplished and I thought i had to strike a pose all the time.

    For me, the main problem was that I didn't find a role model to look up to. I didn't have a realistic reference, i wanted to be Kate Moss even if it was impossible, and it was frustrating. It may be obvious, but I thought that being a thin woman was the only option, and now I know I was wrong. I mean, in magazines we can't find women like you and me (we have a very similar body shape) and nobody told us we could be however we wanted.

    Now that i've learned to love myself, i like all my imperfections. And now, I don't want to be anyone else, just the best version of myself.

    Thanks for writing this, and do not ever feel unconfident, because you're beautiful and that's something you have to know!
    xxx

  • Ioni.macleod

    Your a stunner!!!

  • Ioni.macleod

    I'm 16 I have actually managed to start challenging these beliefs because of people like you, sharing their stories on blogs ect. thank god for the internet and fashionable ladies like you who are happy with their bodies. Weyyy!!

  • Leta

    Thank you for sharing, you beautiful, inspiring, woman, YOU!

  • I am truly inspired and in love with this feature. I am going through alot with my body lately. I have put on a good 20 lbs and although I look ok, I dont feel ok at all. I feel unhealthy but I am not... I dont care about what I look like for the fashion world but Im upset that I dont seem to be working as well as I can because of the shape of my body... just like the African girl..... I need my body to serve a purpose and be able to serve me

  • marka

    thanks lily

  • D

    Reading this was (kinda) reading about a part of my life. The last part of what you wrote it's trying (from my perspective) to control the way you perceive your body/steem/weight. I'm always making up some ''steps'' or ''things-to-do'' just like you did, but if I could name something I learned is that if I want to end up with this ''once and for all'' I should stop making up steps of what I will do with the things I want to stop focusing on. Nothing will be created from my body thoughts, instead, I try to focus my energy in the things I would focus it ''if my body were perfect''. If you don't have a body, or a fitness/nutritional issue to focus on ¿what would you spend your time on?

    Love.

  • srlucado

    "...or do I need to unlearn a fabricated societal notion that beautiful and slender are synonymous, while having curves implies that something is broken?"
    That one. Beauty has no single definition. The whole starvation-beauty thing is fairly recent, you know. Men who have real taste know that women of any dimension can be very beautiful.
    Personally, I've always found that women who are "overweight" are more fun, anyway. I had a scrawny girlfriend (5'10", 103 pounds), and that cured me.

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