I had a recent encounter with a woman who shared how 'unbeautiful' she felt with the weight she gained after pregnancy. In my eyes, she was a beautiful woman, but she was convinced that with her weight she cannot be beautiful. I am always amazed at how we allow popular fashion magazines or beauty contests to shape our view of ourselves. Social media platforms complicate the issue even further as we race to present ourselves as close to an ideal 'thin' image as possible, with photo edits and the right poses, posting only what we perceive as the 'perfect picture'. The conclusion, 'thin is beautiful', is prevalent.
For some of us, motherhood changes our bodies and it takes dedication, hard work and patience to get back to our pre-pregnancy weight. It is quite easy to “leggo yourself” with the added responsibilities of parenting. And the truth is, some of us just never return to pre-baby weight. But as a matter of fact, do we even need to?
I have not been a fashion model size for a long time, and resolved to be comfortable with this stage of my being through fashion. I simply stopped wearing Euro-American clothing that tended to hug me closely, and shifted to wearing designs created for women like me. I chose to wear African prints and designs which allow me to celebrate being a black woman. I wore my first kaftan to my daughter's christening and was able to enjoy the ceremony without the preoccupation of concealing my post-baby tummy. My friend Lorna lovingly teases me about the amount of cloth I wear, which, interestingly, is what I love most about wearing African/African inspired designs. The layers of cloth are glorious, and I feel like I am folded in my rich ancestry and the feeling is phenomenal.
To be beautiful is to be comfortable in your skin. It helps that you take care of yourself too, from what you feed your body to what you put on it. I call it self-love. It is the most important relationship you will ever have. This relationship shapes all the other relationships you will have in your life — with your children, partner, and everyone around you.
Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Woman is an ode to women everywhere, assuring us that regardless of our shape or size we are beautiful. It serves as a powerful reminder that beauty is how we choose to see or present ourselves. For me, it is the flow of my dress. For you it could be how you wear your hair. Beauty really is how we feel about ourselves. It is the confidence we exude. It is how we choose to see ourselves.
Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Comparisons serve no other purpose except to make you unhappy. Author Rosie Molinary shares some words of wisdom in her book A Radical Guide to Self-Acceptance. “What purpose do the comparisons serve? If your barometer for greatness is based on comparing yourself to other women, you are setting yourself up to be unhappy. Why? Because none of those women are you. None of them have your genetics. None of them have your life experiences. None of them face life in the same exact way that you do.”
Celebrate your uniqueness. There is no one else in the world like you. Treat yourself as you would treat the ones you love — with kindness and compassion. If there is something you are uncomfortable with, change it. Physical beauty is so subjective that it hardly makes sense becoming preoccupied with it.
Always remember, to be beautiful is to be comfortable in your skin and to be yourself and not crave acceptance from others.
Coleen Antoinette is a lover of culture and people. She is currently the Director of Marketing Communications at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Share your experiences with her at email@example.com.