#HeelFree Campaign: Going a Year Without High Heels

How do you feel about high heels? Does the thought of ex-naying them from your wardrobe for a year sound daunting?

If not, kudos! I admire you, just as I admire the women who were turned away from the Cannes Film Festival for wearing dressy flats instead of heels.

That news angered me, but I was in also awe of those women for arriving to a world-renowned upscale event in flats. FLATS! I’m embarrassed to admit that for me, that would have taken courage.

HeelFree

A bit of personal history:

Until age 16, I felt pretty neutral about height, mine included. My parents’ heights vary by about a foot, and my siblings and I all fall about midway between. While I’m considered tallish, there was never any emphasis on one height range being superior to another.

I’m grateful for that, particularly considering my other insecurities. I deemed my naturally thin, small-framed body chubby from about ages 5 to 25. It’s called body dysmorphia, and it’s no fun.

During my sophomore year of high school, I started modeling—a shift that stunned, delighted and terrified me. When my agents didn’t mentioned my perceived extra pounds, I wondered for the first time if I’d imagined them. Maybe I was just fine, attractive even, as I was.

That all changed after my first editorial photo shoot. At the end of a long, gratifying workday, the photographer looked me in the eyes and said, “You could be working in Paris….if you lost 10 or 15 pounds.”

In effort to soften the blow, numerous industry professionals and fellow models assured me it was because of my height.

“It’s not that you’re fat,” one said. “It’s just that shorter girls have to appear taller, like an optical illusion.”

Another explained that to give that “hanger” look—as though the apparel hung on a clothes hanger, versus a human—I had to look as long and lean as possible. I couldn’t change my height, she said, but I could alter my weight. Proportionately, it would all work out.

Only it didn’t.

With my insecurities about my weight seemingly validated, I began shedding pounds and my already vulnerable sense of self. Not only was I indeed overweight (by industry standards), but displeasingly short? Both words seemed like F-grades on the exam called Life. So I traded normal meals for restriction and my loafers for heels.

Fifteen pounds and hundreds of steps in heels later, I landed a prestigious contract with a modeling agency in New York City, where I wore heels so frequently, I felt as though I was walking uphill without them.

A few years later, the photographer’s prediction proved true. While living and working in Paris, I nearly died of anorexia. It took nearly a decade, but I’m now fully past the eating disorder and the dysmorphic self-perceptions.

Healing from an eating disorder is often a live-or-die situation. I chose life, which required dealing with demons I’d carried for decades. That process brought me to a place of body- and self- embracement I wish more women experienced. I prize authenticity more than almost anything, and have virtually no negative thoughts about my body or aesthetics. If I fixate on anything, it’s my passions.

So why did the thought of not wearing heels for a year make my palms sweat?

Is this an old wound I’ve overlooked? Lingering insecurity that fell through the cracks? I plan to find out…

I haven’t worn heels as often in recent years, partly because I primarily work from home. But whenever I attend an important event, be it a glamorous night out or a public appearance, I’ve considered them essential. Do I place my sense of self-worth in my height or footwear? No. But I do feel more attractive and, in some ways, empowered by them. To be honest, they feel like a crutch (which is ironic, seeing as wearing them raises my risk for needing crutches…). I’ve also suffered some harsh side effects of the tall, angular shoes, which I’ll explore in another post.

My discomfort at the thought of going heel-less made me so uncomfortable, that I’ve launched a campaign. Whether this will remain my own personal venture or one shared by many, I don’t know. What I do know is that the experience is already strengthening me. I haven’t worn heels since this idea struck me a few weeks ago.

My mission: 

Until June 1, 2016, I will not wear high heels. Instead, I’ll choose comfortable, supportive flats, clogs, athletic shoes and boots. Throughout the year, I’ll post updates on my experience and research here on my blog and on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter), using the hashtag #HeelFree.

Will I wear heels again thereafter? No idea. At the moment, I suspect so. But a lot can happen in a year.

My goals:

I’m doing this in honor of the women who were turned away from Cannes for wearing flats. It’s part social-experiment, part person-growth challenge—one that I hope will benefit others.

One thing my journey has taught me is that the most uncomfortable steps we can take often prove to be the most empowering. We can’t know the rewards, or how deeply (or not) an insecurity is holding is back until we face it, head on. So, off I go!

IMPORTANT NOTE:

I am NOT doing this to shun women who wear heels, or suggesting that everyone should give them upI realize that there are ways to more safely work heels into one’s lifestyle (wearing certain brands/types, lowering the frequency, etc.). I also recognize that some women are criticized for wearing heels for various reasons; I’ll explore that, too, as part of this series—while sticking to my #HeelFree mission. This is simply my journey, which I hope others will learn from. 

If you’d like to support my #HeelFree mission, here are some ways:

  • Join in! If you wear heels routinely, give them up along with me. Post about your experience using the hashtag and including a link to this post and/or tagging me. Feel free to use the above image.
  • Join the conversation online by sharing thoughts and images related to #HeelFree. (Post a photo of your feet in your favorite comfy flats, for example.)
  • Read, comment on and share #HeelFree posts, from me and/or other folks.
  • Send us happy vibes! Those always count. 🙂

How do you feel about heels? If you wear them regularly, could you give them up for a year? Will you? What’s your footwear/height story? I love hearing from you! 

Embraceable Waves: 5 Benefits of Cellulite

“The human body is the best work of art.” — Jess C. Scott

Why is it that we delight in waves that turn still bodies of water into lilting streams, lakes and oceans…

flat wavy water

…and the sunshine, shadows and exploration derived from rolling hills…

flat rolling ground

…yet believe that women’s skin should appear as clear and bump-less as an egg?

woman holding egg

I’m sure you know where I’m heading with this. Some of you may be giggling or rolling your eyes. That’s okay! I get it. My dream for us all to embrace our bodies, with or without wavy skin, is lofty and arguably unrealistic. But if you’ll bear with me, I hope you’ll see that the above comparisons aren’t as wacky as they may seem. For those of you struggling with cellulite-loathing or poor body image in general, I hope that exploring some of cellulite’s perks will inspire you to cut yourself some slack.

Why explore cellulite now?

In a word? Inspiration. Last week I had the privilege of discussing ways to live sensual, pleasure-filled lives on the Loving & Lasting Radio Show with Ande Lyons, the ebullient passion curator of Bring Back Desire. We discussed everything from my very first memory of poor body image to air-brushed images of women, sans cellulite, in magazines.

As I mentioned on Ande’s show, most women—and many men—experience cellulite. Over 34,000 cellulite treatments were conducted in med-spas in 2009, according to The American Board of Plastic Surgery. Liposuction is currently the most popular plastic surgery treatment in the world, and cellulite creams (which do little more than moisturize) have been raging in popularity for years.

Imagine if we invested all of the energy we put into disliking or attempting to change largely natural shifts in our skin and other aesthetics into more positive pursuits! I’m not suggesting that we stop caring about physical beauty, but that we broaden its definition. Regardless of where you stand on these issues, I hope you’ll consider the following facts.

5 Benefits of Cellulite 

1. It’s normal. Most women develop cellulite at some point, in varying degrees. We’ve been taught to celebrate skin as smooth as egg shells, but the truth? Perfectly smooth, dimple- free skin is extremely rare, regardless of one’s age, shape or size. And most of the “flawless” bodies depicted in magazines we compare ourselves result from airbrushing and other editing—not special treatments, diets or genetics. Reminding ourselves that in most cases, cellulite does not reflect a serious health problem and that even most models in magazines experience it can help keep our perspective in check. (We’ll talk more about potential health concerns shortly.)

Airbrushing and PhotoShop take the realness out of many many models' bodies, setting standards even THEY can't live up to.

Airbrushing and PhotoShop take the realness out of many many models’ bodies, setting standards even THEY can’t live up to.

2. It’s feminine! Women are designed to have curves—some subtle, others more pronounced. What if we viewed the gentle waves in our skin as embraceable as waves in the ocean, or simply one trait that accompanies womanhood? The subcutaneous fat that causes those waves and dimples tends to appear on our hips and thighs,  which are particularly womanly (BEAUTIFUL ♥) body areas. If fatty areas on your hips or thighs bother you, grasp them gently and say, “I am a woman!” Defining ourselves as curvy, feminine and authentic is far more positive and attractive than fixating on perceived flaws.

3. It can alert us to the need for self-care. While some amount of cellulite is normal, severe cases can derive from poor lifestyle habits, such as eating a restrictive, overly processed or low-nutrient diet or exercising too little. It can also derive from estrogen deficiencies. Lucky for all of us, these issues are fixable! Taking better care of ourselves makes way for healthy, normalized skin and countless added perks, from improved sleep, energy and moods to healthy weight control, cholesterol levels and immune function. If you have difficulty prioritizing self-care, don’t be afraid to reach out. Very often, emotional issues underlie poor lifestyle habits. Seeking greater emotional fulfillment and self-acceptance can make a healthy lifestyle a near given—or at least obtainable.

4. It provides an opportunity for self-strengthening and empowerment. Too often, we wait to live fully  until ____. “I’ll be happy when I lose 50 pounds,” we might say, or “I’ll meet Mr./Ms. Right when I look attractive.” But that’s seldom how it works… Every time we accept ourselves, particularly aspects of our bodies society at large erroneously deems unattractive, we strengthen our character. We stand up taller, physically and emotionally, appear more attractive—because comfort with ourselves is SEXY!—and serve as positive role models in a world that is lacking. Particularly if you’re have or spend ample time around children, displaying self-embracement is a tremendous gift. 

5. Accepting cellulite can help strengthen relationships and make way for a satisfying sex life! Cellulite should never stand in the way of Girl Boner bliss. Chances are, your partner could not care less about your cellulite. If he or she does care, it’s likely only because you find it bothersome and they value your happiness, or in severe cases, because it’s one sign of numerous that you’re lacking self-care. When we embrace our bodies and selves, we’re more likely to desire and prioritize sex, experience sexual pleasure and orgasm and feel intimately connected with our partners. Who doesn’t want that?

For more on body image and sensuality, listen to my interview with Ande Lyons here: Blog Talk Radio: How to Live a Sensual, Pleasure-Filled Life—August McLaughlin or on iTunes. Her series in fantastic, and you can subscribe to the podcasts for FREE!

Loving Lasting

How do you feel about cellulite? Do you think we should embrace moderate amounts as “normal” or even beautiful? Which of the benefits above most struck you? Any perks to add? Or burning questions you’d like answered? I always love hearing from you. Speaking of which…

SPECIAL REMINDER: Don’t forget to join me, Ande Lyons, Pauline Campos and many more tonight for #BodyThanks—a Twitter party celebrating positive body image just in time for Thanksgiving! We’ll be starting up at 6pm PST. Simply enter the #BodyThanks hashtag in the Twitter search window to watch and join in! ♥ More details are available on the Facebook event page.

Broken Mirrors: Lessons in Self-Perception

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” – Marianne Williamson

I learned a lot about fear from anorexia. It’s a terrifying disease that robs the sufferer of the ability to think or feel as herself, lies to and for her and, if given the opportunity, swallows up her entire life. Not until I reached my own full recovery did I realize how horrific its scariest moments can truly be.

I was living in Paris, weeks before a loss of consciousness led me to diagnosis and proper care, and working as a model. One day while working out at a local gym, I became mesmerized by a woman’s legs. Reflected in the mirror on an adjacent wall, they were long and thin—so thin that her knees bulged out like burls on trees. I felt an odd mix of envy and concern as I watched, part wishing I had the genes or “skills” to obtain such a physique, part worried for her wellbeing. From the angle, I figured she was running several treadmills to my right, and longed to see the rest of her. Instead, I continued exercising, fixating on fat and calorie burn as per usual.

Once finished, I stepped off of the treadmill, walked toward the drinking fountain on the mirror-topped wall and spotted the woman again. Those legs! Those long, lithe legs… Drawing closer, I observed bruises on her knees, like mine—exactly like mine. I stopped walking. She stopped walking. I started again, as did she.

In a fraction of a second, reality struck—or my sickened version of it. The woman wasn’t thin at all. Her thighs bulged outward even more than her knocky knees, below a round, bloated abdomen. Approaching the mirror, I confirmed the now obvious. The woman wasn’t thin; she was just plain, chubby me.

Perception_August McLaughlin

Had I imagined her? Wished so hard to be her that she’d appeared? Deep in my gut, I knew, or at least suspected, that I’d watched my own legs, and that my “reality” wasn’t real at all. It was a sickening, frightening thought, but not as scary as I found my body. A glance down at my flesh assured me: Whether I’d seen her or not, there was zero chance that Ms. Thin had been me.

Self-perception is a powerful, potentially terrifying thing. I’m grateful that when I look in the mirror today, I no longer see shape, size and mistakes. I make it a point to peer into my eyes with respect, whether I feel at my physical best or not. Most often, I simply see me—a soul in a body I’ve learned to embrace.

I don’t know if I see myself physically as others do (does any woman?), but I’ve learned not to care. I want to feel and appear attractive, like most folks, but the scale no longer measures my self-worth. And my thoughts and energy fuel worthy pursuits. These are some of the gifts healing from an eating disorder can bring—a realm of self-acceptance I feel too few people reach.

At its core, anorexia isn’t about aesthetics, but a desperate need to achieve and succeed, to compensate for inadequacy, to maintain control amidst chaos or to simply disappear. Like all eating disorders, it’s a complicated illness, influenced heavily by cultural standards and the role models we have or lack. Sadly, these issues have grown universal, and reach far beyond the grasp of full-fledged disease.

I was reminded of my Paris/mirror experience last week, when a friend alerted me to a video produced by Dove. I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen it. I can only say WATCH IT! Please. 🙂 I have a feeling you’ll not only relate, but feel inspired.

A mere four percent of women worldwide deem themselves beautiful, according to Dove. I imagine that many of the remaining 96 percent of us aren’t merely shunning our looks when we look in the mirror, but our selves.

Throughout my recovery, I’d often look in the mirror and spout affirmations, whether I believed them in my heart or not. I love you, You’re beautiful, and so forth. Over time, they felt less like lies, and more like promises. Eventually, they felt true. I can’t help but wonder if most women would benefit from similar practices, not simply in regard to physical appearance, but life. Many of us see ourselves as “less than,” flawed or not fully capable. If we let them, doubt and insecurity can really hold us back.

I’m grateful to Dove for reminding me that no matter how wonderful others might perceive us, it matters little if we fail to see the wonder ourselves. Simply knowing that, reminding ourselves of that, can go a long way toward personal empowerment. If there’s one thing that help heal our broken “mirrors” and allow us to reach our full potential, having a blast in the process, I’m pretty sure it’s that.

What experiences have led you to ponder or shift your self-perception? What’s your take on the Dove experiment? I love hearing your thoughts. 

The Blurt Diary: Bralessness and Nipple Love

Do you ever sit down to write a particular thing and something entirely different pops out? (I’m not talking about nipples—yet.) That happens to me often, being a pantser, and to varying degrees. This post took on a blurt-style alien life form. (I plead jet lag.) Rather than trash or “normalize” it, I’ve decided to launch a new series that will appear at its own sporadic will. Welcome to my blurt diary…

Entry #1

I spent the greater part of the past week in Minnesota, and had a wonderful time. As I ease back into the “usual” (whatever that is) grind, I’d planned on sharing profound thoughts and words that struck me throughout the trip. And I probably will, soon. Today, however, I have bras on the brain. Here’s why:

I was at a cafe today, wearing my least comfortable bra. (It’s laundry day, so I made do.) As I squirmed about, one hand on my latte, the other on the digging-into-me strap, my friend Katie shot me a “go out in public much?” look. “I hate bras, especially this one,” I told her.

“So take it off,” she said.

So I did. With a swift move, I undid the clutch in the back and slipped it through out the bottom of my shirt then stuffed it in my purse—in all of three seconds. “Ah… Better.”

“You didn’t,” she said.

I flashed her the crumpled Hanes in my purse.

Her eyes widened. “How the heck did you do that? Must be a modeling trick.”

Everyone guesses that, I explained, but it’s more like the opposite. Growing up in a modest family and community, I was pretty shocked to learn that in the fashion world, most models simply strip. Sure, you might have a dressing room, but more often than not, numerous folks are nearby as you bare it all. Runway shows in particular leave little time for modesty. I learned this while being prepped for my first show in Minneapolis. My dresser, to my shock and horror, was Mrs. Bigsley—a woman from my parents’ church. Her head was inches away from my sheer panties when she looked up and introduced herself: “I just saw them at Prayer Circle the other day!”

AGH! I’m sure I spoke back, but I don’t recall the conversation. How can one chit chat comfortably when someone who recites scripture with your parents is all over your nakedness, arranging your nylons and taping your bra in place?!? I got over the strip-down eventually. And a few months later, after I’d moved from Minneapolis to New York, I was grateful that Mrs. Bigsley had de-virginized me.

One of my first jobs in the Big Apple made me blush like one—the male models, worse so. In the name of Calvin Klein undies, 12 of us stood smashed together in a tiny area, the six guy models behind us gals. We all wore only bottoms, and the guys’ hands were our “bras.” To maintain the underwear, um, smoothness, cold fans blew on the guys. (Perhaps that’s why the males seemed the least comfortable.)

Back then, my breasts had shrunken down with my body size. And regardless, I’ve always had muscular breasts—more medium than large, making bralessness easy. The undergarments soon became a needless accessory, and an article of clothing seldom seen on shoot sets. I wish that that had carried over into all circles in my life. If I were to show up at a professional event sans bra, it’s easy to guess where eyes would land—not because female nipples are bad or unusual (obviously), but viewed by our society as risque and off-limits in public.

This more recent shot was featured in a Brazilian mag. Sad that I'm inclined to cover parts that Brazilians celebrate.

This more recent shot was featured in a Brazilian mag. Sad that I’m inclined to cover parts that Brazilians celebrate.

I was reminded today of how liberating and refreshing it is bid the boob-holster farewell. Sometimes, it’s necessary. (Just ask Natalie Hartford.) I’ve yet to find a bra that fits so wonderfully that my not-huge breasts are happier with than without. Honestly, what’s the point of nipple covers? Somewhere along the line I developed sneaky ways to to away with them as needed. If our culture wasn’t so dang nipple phobic, I’d go sans brassiere all the time.

I realize that bras are essential for some and for most women at particular times. I just wonder why we have to be so darn nipple conscious. Nipples, to me, are beautiful—mens’ and womens’.  I love their shape, their sensitivity, the way they enlarge and harden when aroused. I love seeing and feeling them through shirts—um, not in a stalker/gawker way.

For those of you who agree with me to some extent, prepare to be aggravated. State reps in North Carolina introduced a bill this year that would make female nipple exposure a criminal offense, worthy of jail time. With the exception of nursing mothers, the proposed bill would make it a felony to  expose “external organs of sex and of excretion, including the nipple, or any portion of the areola, of the human female breast.”

I’m not suggesting that women should run around topless, but I do think that a bit of nipple respect is in order.

How do you feel about bras? What about nipples? Do your breasts long for breathing room as much as mine do? Ever removed uncomfy underwear in public? How do you feel about the nipple bill in North Carolina? All respectful blurts welcome. 😉

Empowering Facts About Beauty: A #BOAW Wrap-Up

Dior quote

If I had any doubt in Dior’s assertion before, the Beauty of A Woman Blog-Festers wiped it full out. I can’t express how grateful I am to everyone who participated. Your stories, remarks, interaction and exponential, far-reaching support lit up the blogosphere, inspiring thousands. If you haven’t yet done so, please give yourself a huge hug, tell yourself how freaking beautiful you are and know that you done GOOD! I hope you enjoyed it at least a tenth as much as I did.

Before the fest, I shared thoughts on Miss Representation, a powerful documentary that explores the media’s portrayal of women. The starting statistics I posted struck me as sad, eye-opening and motivating. We can’t make positive changes if we fail to recognize the problems, or take pride in the differences we’re making (by for example, telling stories) if we’re unaware of their significance.

Fueled up with gratitude, I’ve decided to highlight positive facts regarding beauty today. Rather than see the glass as half full or empty, I prefer to consider it no longer empty, and rich with potential. Focusing on uplifting facts and positive changes underway instills hope. Without hope, there’s no glass at all.

glass

5 Empowering Facts About Inner/Outer Beauty

1. Happiness breeds beauty. Happiness makes us vibrant inside and out. “When you’re happy your skin will appear healthier, and your hair and nails can actually grow faster,” says dermatologist Richard Fried, M.D., Ph.D. Positive folks also tend to stand taller, he says, and take greater measures of self-care. Studies have also shown that emotional fulfillment and confidence make us more attractive to ourselves and others. So happy people are not only more kind, energetic and grateful, but hot!

2. R&R beautifies. Spa days, vacations and therapy  arguably go further than makeup or chic clothes in terms of beautifying. Stress contributes to everything from low-moods and relationship turmoil to skin problems and unhealthy weight shifts (gains and losses). Real beauty, as so many blog-festers pointed out, relates to personal spirit, gratitude and inviduality. Don’t let stress taint those.

3. Self-acceptance increases sexual satisfaction, making way for increased attractiveness.  Multiple studies indicate that embracing our bodies as they are enhances sexual desire, ability and pleasure. A happy sex life facilitates inner and outer beauty in various ways, by reducing stress, increasing that healthy post-sex “glow,” boosting energy and improving hormone levels.

4. Smiling helps us feel and appear lovelier. “When you smile, even if you’re upset, it feeds the brain signals that make you feel more positive,” explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a happiness researcher at the University of California, Riverside. People who appear happy are more likely to be perceived as beautiful by others, according to her research, and exhibit happiness physically, which cultivates more of both.

5. People are standing up for real beauty and speaking out against demeaning media. And there’s tremendous power in numbers. Over 87,500 people have signed the Miss Representation pledge, supporting fair, empowering media. All over the world, people are tweeting harmful media, using the hashtag #NOTBUYINGIT—and you can, too. Our voices can be heard. What’s yours saying?

depositphotos_7562021_xs

We teach and attract what we believe and reflect.

Last but not least, the winner of a Kindle Fire or Amazon equivalent gift card is…. *drum roll* Jess Witkins! If you missed her uplifting post on what makes a woman “REDHOT,” be sure to check it out. Congratulations, Jess!

How do you celebrate or perpetuate inner beauty? What makes you feel beautiful inside and out? Any highlights or thoughts to share on the fest? I love hearing from you, and am crazy grateful for your support. ♥