On the morning after returning to the United States at the end of the World Race, I woke up in a hotel room in Queens. I was sharing the room with a few of my squad mates, and someone had turned on the TV. For the first time in nearly a year, I was able to watch American news. The anchor on this particular 24 hour news channel was talking about the Boston bombing suspect. Immediately after finishing that report, she transitioned into the next story, “Coming up after the break, it’s a llama on the loose!”
Welcome back to America, Jen. Welcome back.
That’s not to say the rest of the world has a better media system. In fact, in Tanzania, the morning news was some guy literally reading straight from the newspaper.
But for the first time in eleven months, I could actually understand the messages that those in the media were trying to send me.
And I was overwhelmed.
One of the most difficult parts of transitioning back to “normal” life has been the commercials on TV. For a while, I simply couldn’t watch them. I couldn’t stomach the messages they promoted.
One ad that especially caught my attention was for a product called “Amazing Arms.” It’s basically a set of very thin long sleeves that you are supposed to snap on under your sleeveless dress so that your arms can “go from flabby to fabulous in seconds!”
The commercial is so absurd that it is actually quite hilarious. I had a good laugh while waiting for my Hallmark movie to come back on.
I’m pretty sure most of those “As Seen on TV” commercials are made to be hilarious and ridiculous, whether their creators know it or not.
But there was one line in this ad that did bother me a little. One woman claims that she was “humiliated” by her arms, and thanks to this new product is now able to go about her life with confidence.
And then there’s that ad for an acne cream, where the woman goes about her life but everyone else has mirrors instead of faces. She’s certain that everyone she meets is looking at her acne, not her. When she walks into a room she sort of cowers in shame and embarrassment. How dare she bring her acne into the boardroom? How dare she.
And while these are just commercials, scripted to sell a product, I do believe they reflect, and in some cases perpetuate the harmful way in which so many of us look at our bodies.
I remember the shame I felt as a freshman in high school, digging to the bottom of a box of cheerleading uniforms, hoping, praying, that I would find one that fit my frame. For whatever reason, the company that makes the uniforms did not realize that they would be worn by teenage girls with fragile self-esteems. As such, my normal size would not fit and I needed to find one several sizes larger instead.
I felt like the whole room was looking at me as I dug through this box. Voices in my head told me there was something fundamentally wrong with the way I was designed. I was humiliated. It was a terrible, terrible feeling.
And it was all based on lies.
Because there isn’t a flaw in my design. And goodness, ask any of my former cheerleading friends and they will probably not remember that moment at all. Like the woman in that acne commercial assumed about her skin issues, I assumed those around me were deeply concerned about my size. When they weren’t at all. But I let the lies in my head affect me. Damage me. Change how I saw myself.
And that’s why those commercials bother me so much.
Because there’s so much truth in them. They accurately reflect the shame so many of us feel about ourselves. About our bodies. Our skin. Our age.
They tell us that people are looking at us and judging us. That we have to live in fear of exposing our imperfections.
This is an absolute lie.
The truth is a lot of us have too much going on in our lives to pay any particular attention to your acne, or notice that your arms are supposed to be humiliating, or that your midsection is whatever size it is. And the rest of us simply don’t care. I mean we care about you. But we know you well enough to know just how beautiful you are.
You run no risk of shocking us with your arms, whatever shape they may be in. We know that those arms have helped you raise your kids, feed the hungry, clothe the poor. Those arms have comforted, delivered much needed hugs. Maybe they have saved lives, helped you teach piano lessons, or showed off some incredible moves on the dance floor. Your arms are amazing, even without a lightweight sleeve product you can buy for $19.95 plus shipping and handling.
I just think it’s time to get rid of the shame. Because the lies hurt my heart.
Especially some of you moms out there. The way your body has changed since becoming pregnant or having a baby? Those stretch marks or whatever else that you are so bothered by? Woah, your body is INCREDIBLE! A LIVING THING CAME FROM YOUR BODY! DO YOU REALIZE HOW CRAZY THAT IS?! What I’m trying to say is you are stinkin’ gorgeous, okay? No more frowny faces in the mirror.
No more frowny faces in the mirror for any of you reading this. You get to go around with confidence, knowing that you are a beautiful masterpiece. That’s the truth, whether you choose to believe it or not.
Shame is gross. You are beautiful. Okay?