Editor’s note: These posts were written back when my brand name was Remodel Fitness. I’ve decided to include them here without editing them, in the interest of…well… transparency. 😉
Once upon a time, a braless woman in Union Square changed my life.
I’ll never get to thank this anonymous woman, sadly. She was probably in her 40s or 50s, and she was just walking casually through the marketplace. The reason she left an impression on me is that she was wearing a tank top that revealed exactly how saggy and unsupported her breasts were.
I don’t mean that in a judgemental way, either. They were just out there: big, loose, low-hanging, and flopping around proudly as she walked.
This woman’s liberated rack shocked me, because her breasts didn’t follow any of the rules I had internalized as a woman up until that point. I thought “nice boobs” were the only kind of boobs that were allowed to go braless, and by “nice boobs” I mean: unconditionally perky, and either naturally small or containing implants. I felt like unless you had dense, symmetrical, and well-behaved ta-tas, that it was your duty to keep them under wraps. This woman’s boobs were rebels; marching to the beat of their own drums, if you will. And it was awesome.
I was probably about 23 years old, and it had genuinely never occurred to me at that point that any woman had the option to not be embarrassed by her “flaws.”
Let me say that again.
At that point in my life I had never encountered the idea that a woman was allowed to feel anything but embarrassed about her “imperfect” body.
WUT. Oh man. Despite having always been more body-positive than most people I knew, I was still operating under the assumption that loving and accepting your body was still something that applied only conditionally, when you earned it by fixing your flaws. I couldn’t conceive of the world this woman lived in- a world in you could be blissfully unapologetic and unconcerned about what people might think of you or your body.
My first whirlwind of thoughts upon seeing this woman and her inspirational bosoms was all my old programming, like “wow I could never wear that.” But then I realized that a truer version of that statement would be “I could never wear that if I need to continue pretending to be something I’m not.“
I couldn’t wear a top like that and still maintain the facade that my body is “perfect.” I couldn’t wear that top and still manipulate people into believing my boobs are perky and dense and well-mannered. (Hint: they’re not.)
In that moment I realized that many women are living in fear that people will find out that we’re not perfect. This might seem obvious, but it felt profound to me at the time.
If I had had a magic wand (or $7,000 for surgery) at the time, I would have simply changed my breasts into the shape and size that society admired. But I had neither of those things, so instead I approached my breasts as a shameful secret. I spent all my time disguising their shape with push-up bras and tops that made them look perkier and smaller and better behaved. I literally examined every single outfit through the lens of boob-patrol: Does this hide my shamefully big and floppy secrets? My confidence was directly proportionate to how well-kept my secret felt that day.
I didn’t even realize how much time and energy I spent keeping the true nature of my breasts from being revealed, until I saw that one fabulous woman in Union Square and thought:
oh my god, she’s not trying to keep them a secret! Maybe *gasp* she doesn’t care if we find out!
This was revolutionary.
Most women have secrets they spend their time hiding and distracting from, whether it’s belly rolls, or cellulite, or how your tummy gets round after you eat something, or how jiggly your arms are when you wave.
We hide these shameful “imperfections” carefully, because we’ve internalized the idea that anything that make us look different than the social standard of beauty must be kept secret.
It’s not enough that we should just feel bad about our imperfections, but we must also spare other people from ever finding out. This is where so much of our body-anxiety comes from: the pursuit of meticulously keeping secrets.
This secret-keeping is out of control, although it’s so common we never question it. We put skin-colored makeup on our skin so nobody notices we have blemishes. We wear supportive bras so that nobody notices our breasts are too big or too small or too breast-shaped. We wear spanx so that nobody can tell that our bellies bloat, or our thighs have dimples.
A huge part of the female experience is trying to make sure nobody notices what we really look like. (Never mind that these so-called imperfections we spend our energy hiding are usually exaggerated, if not entirely made up in our own heads.)
The big problem with this particular mode of pretending is that it traps you. When you’ve spent all your time and energy creating an inauthentic facade, that facade becomes the prison walls within which you must live. Those walls create a deathly anxiety that someone will find out your secret, so you become even more vigilant and controlling about how you’re perceived. Avoiding vulnerability and authenticity becomes your life, and you forget what it even felt like to just show up truthfully, as yourself.
This was me. Even when I was naked, I still worked to keep people from noticing my imperfections. Being naked became a show of sleight of hand, flattering lighting, and the right angles. I did this even for the people who loved me, who worshipped me, who thought I was perfect. I couldn’t stop; I saw it as my responsibility. I didn’t know I had a choice.
Seeing that woman free-boobing it in union square is what made me realize we have a choice.
Since that day I’ve worked hard to get to a point of unconditional self-love and self-acceptance around my own independent boobs. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it was never easy. It was terrible and terrifying and painful. Sometimes in the process of learning how to “walk my talk,” I would feel too vulnerable, too exposed, too close to revealing my secret, and too weak to handle it. I would think “fuck this is scary shit, I wanna just stay insecure and keep hiding instead”.
But then the image of that woman would pop into my mind. I would remember that pushing myself outside of my own comfort zone is the only way I can ever have an impact like that on others, and that’s what has always kept me pushing. The only reason I have been strong enough and brave enough to bear the pain and fear that unconditional self-love and self-acceptance required is because of… you.
I consider my courage in self-acceptance and self-love to be an obligation I have to every woman who reads what I write.
I will continue to proudly refuse to hide my “imperfections” from the world, in service to every woman I have the opportunity to reach. Because you never know who will be impacted, and also because having this higher purpose helps me be much more compassionate and brave.
Can you assign a higher purpose to the practice of rocking your imperfections?
Can you love and accept yourself harder, in service to all womankind?
Can you be brave, and truthful, as a conscious act of love for your fellow sisters?
I’d love to see what would happen if you did.
<3 Jessi Kneeland Get strong. Feel confident. Look amazing.
P.S. I want to hear your answers to the above questions, and any other thoughts you have on this topic. Come on over to Women Who Empower Other Women, Unite! and join the discussion!
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