3 Generations of Women on Body Positivity

Body image plays such a huge part in women’s lives, whether we want it to or not. While body image can be a somewhat sore topic of discussion, our millennial generation has lead the new body positivity movement; a movement, where we’re encouraged to love ourselves no matter what we look like.

Millennials are typically the most outspoken about this topic, but I was curious to find out how other generations interact with and perceive their own bodies. I talked to my mother, grandmother, and little sister about what how they perceive their bodies, deal with insecurity and what advice they have for girls who are learning to love their own bodies.

Jeana Barber, 45

Q: What struggles did you face with how you perceived your body and the things you were insecure about?

A: Growing up, I was always very ashamed of the way that I looked and I was always insecure about the way that I looked because all of my friends were so skinny. [They] were skinny and I wanted to be skinny because I thought it was pretty. But I wasn’t skinny; I was athletically built. I wasn’t fat, but I thought I was, because that was ingrained into my head. So I was always trying to not be what I was, because I didn’t know any different.

Q: How has your perception of your body changed over the years?

A: So over the years, after having two kids, I’ve realized a couple things. Depression plays a big role, for me, in being overweight or being unhappy with your body. Because when you’re unhappy mentally, it’s easy to let your body become unhappy as well. But also, you can become unhappy with your body when you’re mentally happy, because you’re eating and you’re having fun and you’re doing all these things. So the perception changes because you know what you’re doing, you’re aware of what you’re doing, and I feel like you have more control over your body as an adult than you do as a child.

Q: How did you overcome those insecurities?

A: Age. I think that realizing that part of having control meant that I could work out and I could make a difference. When I went to college, I sort of had a period where I was rebelling and eating everything you’re not really supposed to eat because I had been on these diets my whole life. And I was rebelling but after a while you realize you’re only rebelling against yourself.

Another thing, is looking your best. Like when I try to go to work and even today, and even at this age, -- I’ll be 46 this year -- I’ll see someone who I perceive to have the perfect outfit or has the expensive shoes or the really expensive whatever-it-is, and I do internalize it; I make it negative about myself, but then, I know me and I would never spend the money on those things, and I know I don’t need those things to feel good.

Q: How would you describe your relationship with your body now?

A: It’s mostly okay. It’s mostly fine. Right now I’m 8 pounds heavier than I was at Christmas, so it’s kind of bothering me, but I look back and think, “but we had a lot of fun.”

But typically, it’s okay. I think it’s important to learn about yourself and what you like. Like for me it’s my hair. I get highlights but what I’ve learned is that I really like it when I have more than highlights. So instead of just getting highlights, even though I hate sitting there -- I hate sitting there -- I do it, because I know at the end, I’m gonna be thankful that I did, so that I don’t have to stress about it later.

Q: What are some things that you like about your body or are grateful for?

A: All of the things I like about my body now are the things I didn’t like about my body when I was a kid. Like being strong, being athletic, having muscle definition. Now I can embrace those things, and I like that I’m not super skinny. I like the strength. I like knowing that I can play any sport, no matter what it is.

Q: If you could go back and give your younger self advice on dealing with a negative body image, what would you say?

A: Well, I have to do that, because I have two kids. For example, with your sister, she says the same things that I was saying: “why are my legs so big?” Her legs aren’t big. “I don’t want to wear these shorts, because I don’t want anyone to see my legs.” So I say, “Why? You have great legs.” Because she’s athletic, she’s strong. But her friend is like, a twig. So that’s what you’re next to and comparing yourself to, and that’s kind of what I lived through. She knows she’s different and it’s the same thing: that at a certain age, everyone will fill out and be whatever they are. So the advice that I give her, and the same advice I would give myself, is that if you don’t like the way you look, you can do something about it. So I give her the education to know what will happen if you eat certain things. And not because I want her to be skinny, but because I want her to be happy with the way that she looks and let her know that she is in control of those things. We never talk about losing weight -- we talk about being healthy and strong. It’s not really about what you look like, so much as it is the shape you’re in.

Linda Monts de Oca, 70

Q: When you were growing up, how did your perception of your body play into your life and affect you?

A: Well, I didn’t think about it until I was in seventh grade. And then you went to a different kind of school and you were older and your hormones were going crazy and you started being interested with what other people thought of how you looked. You didn’t really realize it; you still rode bikes and played like a tomboy, but you started to worry about how you looked. Not too much, though, because we didn’t really have tv or commercials to compare ourselves to.

When you got to eighth grade, the clothes thing started to be important. We all had to have a white blouse with a round collar, and a friendship pin, and you wore loafers with a penny in them, and gathered skirts. You were looked down upon if you didn’t have certain things, and I don’t think that’s really changed.

I didn’t know about bras until I was in the fifth grade and my babysitter said she was going to take me to the dime store and get me a bra because her sons were looking at me. And I didn’t know what that meant, but I did what she said. She was a nice lady; she didn’t mean any harm, but that’s the first inclination I had of boys looking at girls.

I remember though, that because a boy chased me around, yelling things about my upper body because I was “well-endowed,” I never wore a low-cut shirt or blouse until I was in my twenties.

Q: Were you insecure about any part of your body growing up?

A: I was insecure about how big my upper body was. I wasn’t too insecure in general, but I never would wear low-cut shirts. And I would never wear sandals because one time my stepfather made fun of my long toes. But that’s about it. We just didn’t have time for it.

Q: How has your perception of your body changed over the years?

A: Well it changes because you age, and gravity takes hold. Everything falls, and you try to keep fixing the gravity situation, and you’re trying to lose weight. I think the losing weight is one of the hardest challenges women face when they age. You’re trying to lose weight for many different reasons: to look better, to feel better, doctors are telling you that you have to, everyone’s telling you that you gotta’ do it, and body parts are falling apart and you’re trying to do it and everything’s falling. It’s hard, but it’s changed. I think more people are becoming accepting of heavier people. They don’t care anymore and I’m glad of that, and I’m glad that they’re more comfortable with themselves. But my picture of my body has changed a lot -- now, I’m 70 -- so it’s changed a whole lot.

Q: What are some things that you like about your body?

A: I’m grateful that I can still walk. For 70, I pass, I look all right. I can fool the folks a bit. I’m worried I’m going to be discovered, but I do all right.

But no, I’m grateful that I’ve had good health. When you get to be older, it’s your health that you start to worry about.

Q: What would your advice be to girls who are struggling to love their bodies?

A: I think there are a lot of bigger things to attain [in life] than a perfect body. I think that when you’re happy with your life and your relationships, the happiness with your body comes naturally, but when you’re not happy with those things, you start to blame it on outside things, like your body. You’re wasting your time. You’ve gotta’ get happy with your life first, and then your body will be happy.

Rubye Barber, 10

Q: What kinds of things do you like to use your body for?

A: I like doing gymnastics a lot. I’m working on a front walkover. Well, not a front walkover, a front handspring.

Q: Do you ever feel insecure about your body?

A: Yes. I feel as if my legs are too big.

Q: Is that something that others have made you feel or is that just your idea?

A: It’s a little bit of both.

Q: What things do you like about your body?

A: I like my legs. Well, I don’t like that they’re big, but I like them in the sense that I can use them to do tricks and skills in gymnastics. I also like them for running. I also like my arms for running, because sometimes you have to pull up your pants.

Q: So is it really a problem that they aren’t the size you want them, if you can do all of this cool stuff with them?

A: Well, the thing that really bothers me is that all the other kids wear a size 12 or 14 and I’m over here wearing a 16 or an 18.

But I have one friend who looks like me, and when I’m with her, I just feel like a normal person. Sometimes I think, “maybe we’re the perfect size, and everyone else is just too skinny.”

Q: What advice would you give to girls who are having a hard time loving their body and feeling good about it?

A: Well, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Don’t let people tell you who you are. Be yourself and listen to your heart. Wear what you want.

The answers I got from the women in my family were a little bit different than what I expected. I should’ve known that everyone has a lot of insecurities growing up, but I didn’t expect those insecurities to have such a lasting impact on their lives. In a way, it’s reassuring to know that even these women I’ve viewed as role models my whole life have struggled with body insecurities just like I have.

I’m most proud of the advice my sister gave. She’s only 10 and is dealing with her own insecurities, but she figured out what took me years to learn: Be yourself and wear what you want. It gives me hope that the next generation will be more empowered and won’t feel like they have to worry so much about how they look.