Fuck the Thigh Gap. Celebrate Beauty.

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Being almost 32, I'm pretty sure I miss out on a lot of the social media trends circling the twenty-somethings universe. 

When a friend was visiting a couple of months ago we walked into a store we had no business being in (but we still totally shop there). Every single tee shirt was emblazoned with something we didn't understand. I'd give you an example but I can't even remember what it was.

I felt so relieved to not "get it."

So when Jacki texted me about this "belly button challenge" last week I immediately headed to the interwebs to see what this shit was about. (God bless Google, especially for future parenting.)

For those of you not in the loop I'm going to my best to define two things - bellybutton challenges and thigh gaps.

The belly button challenge consists of people trying to touch their belly buttons by twisting their arms behind their back. If you are one of the few who can accomplish this, it means you have a "good figure," the trend claims.

Oh, and then the thigh gap. A thigh gap is a gap that emerges between a woman's inner thighs when she stands with her knees together.

Okay, so now we've defined these two things that are no doubt inspiring eating disorders, low self-esteem and bullying. These are real and harrowing things, even if bellybutton and thigh gap envy is something that doesn't exist in your world.

I grew up being told I was beautiful, smart and could do absolutely anything in the world. I was pretty positive all of the above was true. I had legs the size of string beans, almost always had a giant fanny pack on and glasses the width of Coke cans. (See photo below for proof. And yes, that's me on the left. My brother on the right. People always get confused.) 

And so despite the fact that I was pretty (okay, very) dorky, I was confident. I was constantly creating clubs in my neighborhood, a newspaper for every grade I was in and had a handful of friends. I'll never forget that steep decline into middle school when something became clear - this was not going to be easy.

Fast forward to a few years of some intense bullying (you should never get the same Doc Martens as the most popular girl in the 7th grade, even if everyone else has them), a whole lot of tears and the beginning of an eating disorder. To say, it wasn't "easy" would be a huge, huge understatement. It was to the point where waking up every day became almost too hard to do.

I cannot even imagine if I'd had the added pressure of social media during this already tough time. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here right now. If I could high-five ultra-awkward eleven-year-old me for being so confident, I sure would. I'd give anything to bear hug sixteen-year-old me and give that poor girl even a glimpse of the life ahead.

The sweet gift of age, perhaps in consolation for the effects of gravity and a sprinkling of wrinkles, is to be able to recognize this pressure as nonsense. At least most of the time. 

But it continues. These pressures continue to infiltrate our psyche. How many times have you overheard or been a part of a group of women bashing themselves? Making themselves the butt of a joke?

Doing this is committing violence against ourselves. Our women. Our girls.

Instead of speaking/posting/creating from a space of lack, can we celebrate all that we are? 

How do we heal ourselves as women and then heal our "girls"?

I asked some of the most inspiring women and role models in my life, my mama included, about what they find beautiful.

Beauty is the feeling of being well rested and well nourished, when my skin glows because my heart is glowing.
 Elena Brower

Beauty to me is rest. It's also health and youthfulness. When I say youthfulness I don't mean looking young but young at heart. This is a change from the way I felt before. At 36 I now see beauty when I am happy, calm and taking care of myself.. regardless of hairstyle, weight and clothing trends.
 Jess Davis of Folk Rebellion

BEAUTY IS...confidence, vulnerability, compassion, self-love, acceptance/embrace of YOU, not giving a damn about what others think. The biggest shift in my adult life in perspective to what's 'beautiful' - beauty for me is all about how you are living in your skin and how much confidence you have in THAT.
 Bonkosi Alyssa Horn of Vibrant Workshop

As I am getting ready of my 45th class reunion, I had to laugh at the question of what is beautiful. Every stereotypical reaction to body image an clothing came barreling back to me. But the great thing is, after a bit of stressing out, I laughed. And counted my blessings. Because I am strong, focused and so very, very grateful for my family, marriage, friends and faith. These are the reasons I feel beautiful.
 Linda LaRue, my mama

I promise: you're beautiful, whoever you are. We all are. What has changed for me: I've learned that no one who matters judges you as harshly as you might judge yourself. The best thing you can do is to treat yourself the way you would a dear friend. And, believe it or not, people generally believe what you tell them – with your words and your actions. If you feel beautiful, you'll be seen as beautiful. Beauty is an inside job.
 Lindsay Jean Thomson of Women Catalysts

At this point in my life, I consider people who are truly real and heartbreakingly authentic to be the most beautiful. Those women that just radiate light and have the spark behind their eyes, are the most beautiful to me. Not because of their outer appearance, instead, because they are rooted and grounded within their very own unique expression of self without the need to be anybody else's.
 Rachelle Tratt, the Neshama Project

How crazy that in reading this question, I go directly to the physical body and what beautiful means. Okay, Jacki, let's get real, what is all encompassing beautiful?  

Today, right now in my life, I consider beautiful to be the radiance of acceptance. The acceptance of your heart now, your mind in all its glory and chaos now, your physical home that is the skin, now. Seeing and loving yourself right now, not tomorrow or later or when you are at that goal or when it might be easier, I am talking right now. And holy wow, it is vulnerable, raw and real - that courageous action right there, that is beautiful. And it is a practice day to day, moment to moment.

Everything has changed and will continue to change - as our only constant, I am learning to ride that wave. In my life, with wisdom (every so slowly) allows grace. Where in the past I would compare, look to someone else to tell me what beautiful was, a magazine or TV show, I would beg to be shown me the way. Now I listen to Fleetwood Mac and go my own way and define beautiful my way. I can breathe now. I can see now.
 Jacki Carr, Rock Your Bliss