Bravery for Breakfast: The “Small” Acts That Change Our Lives

Three years ago last week, I launched Girl Boner® on my blog. I heard a range of reactions when folks first learned of the series. “OHMYGOD, you’re doing porn?” asked one woman. (Um…no. But good guess!) “Girls get BONERS?” asked others. (Yep! Learn more here.)

Numerous others told me how brave I was for openly discussing sexuality. I appreciate that sentiment, trust me—but to me, Girl Boner® has always felt natural and exciting. So while I’ve certainly had my share of giddy butterflies along the way, I’m not sure brave is the term I’d use.

There are many definitions of brave: possessing or fearless, exhibiting courage, daring beyond discretion, to defy. To me, brave doesn’t mean an absence of fear, but moving forward in spite of it. A brave soul lets something greater than fearfulness drive them, often accepting scariness as part of the deal.

I’ll tell you about a time I really felt heroic.

I was in my early twenties, and had decided to turn my life around amid my struggle with a severe eating disorder. I’m not talking about the day I collapsed in Paris many of you are familiar with, but the morning I woke up after an intense binge, having consumed enough to feed a small family for a full day in one sitting. Stomach distended and palms sweating, I sat at the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal, struggling to put spoon after spoon in my mouth, reminding myself of the commitment I’d made the night before:

I won’t let you live this way anymore… Try something new.

As I savored these banana pancakes and veggie sausage the other day, the ease wasn't lost on me.

As I savored these banana pancakes and veggie sausage the other day, the ease wasn’t lost on me. #savoredeverybite

To end the binging/starving cycle and heal from the disorder that ruled my every moment, I knew I had to wake up that morning and eat a post-binge breakfast. No attempts to “compensate” through starving. No excessive, self-punishing exercise. Just…breakfast. The seemingly simple act billions of people around the world do daily without much thought seemed to shatter my heart that day, as much as it would begin to make it whole again.

Forcing thoughts of I love you…You’re going to be okay, I made it through the meal I, for once, hadn’t measured or over-analyzed, finding a smidgen of light on the other side. It would take months (upon months) of such efforts, but eventually the “love” I’d professed felt authentic and I wasn’t merely okay, but more vibrantly alive.

Not long after, I began to recognize the link between my body image issues and a lack of sexual empowerment, changing the course of my life and eventually leading me to Girl Boner®. I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had I let E.D. win and skipped that meal that day. Sometimes it’s the seemingly smallest of steps that have the most profound impact.

I’ve had bravery on my mind a lot lately, much thanks to some very special women.

Very soon, I’ll release my first non-fiction book, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality. It features not only my own story of self, body and sexual embracement, but those of over fifteen other women who’ve fought their way to the same.

One common thread throughout the book is bravery. It’s tragic to me that embracing our full selves—including our sexuality—has become such a rare and bold act, particularly considering the devastation that can derive if we never do so. All of this, I feel, makes this book and these women’s stories particularly important.

I can’t thank you all enough for sharing in my Girl Boner® journey thus far, and hope you’ll stay tuned for more details on the book. In the meantime, as the incredible author Cheryl Strayed shared at an event last week—on Girl Boner®’s third birthday, as chance or fate would have it—stay brave! I’m cheering for each and every one of you. ♥


When have you felt brave? Has a seemingly “small” act made a huge different in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

Body Image Language, Changes and High Heels: A Chat with Dr. Megan

There’s little I love more than exploring empowering topics with kick-ass folks who have not only learned to embrace their bodies and selves, but pay it forward by inspiring the same in others.

The other week on Girl Boner® Radio, I had such chats with two fabulous ladies: Emily Nolan of My Kind of Life, who moved past a decade of disordered eating and now inspires women worldwide with her activism, and sex and relationship expert Dr. Megan Fleming, who’s been featured on the OWN Network, Anderson Cooper, Cosmo Radio and more. She’s also Girl Boner®’s current relationship expert, answering listeners’ questions with warmth, wit and grace.

Dr. Megan was kind enough to answer a few follow-up questions for this post. I love that she not only speaks as an experienced clinician, but as a real woman who knows these trials (and how to move past them) herself.

To stream the episode on cultivating “belly-out” self-confidence,  click one of these links:

My website        iTunes      Stitcher Radio

Dr. Megan Fleming quote 1

Body Image Language, Changes and High Heels:

An After-Chat with Dr. Megan Fleming

August: Why is the language we use about our bodies so important? 

Dr. Megan: It’s simple. What we focus on expands. What we resist persists. If you choose to focus on your belly or butt and how you want them to be smaller, it will feel very different than if you practice saying with warmth and loving energy, “I love my belly, I love my butt!” Or as Madonna so aptly put in her song 4 Minutes, “If you thought it, it better be what you want.”

We invite energy that’s constricting or expanding with our thoughts. Constricting energy is stress and not healthy for you or your body. Accept your body as it is in this moment. Know that as you pair loving, expansive energy with positive thoughts and small behavioral changes, you will be inviting and creating more of what you most desire.

August: I loved what you shared in our interview about deciding what you want to be known and respected for—your appearance, or your work (helping people)—and that you chose the latter. What does such a decision require work-wise? Is simply deciding enough?

Dr. Megan: Wow…great question. I don’t think there’s a simple or one-size-fits-all answer, except that we first need to know what we truly want, then envision and invite it. Then we need to make a commitment to move toward that picture through our thoughts and actions. We should all slow down and ask ourselves what we really desire. We have to give ourselves permission to cultivate the answer and really show up in our lives, staying fully present and, with the best of ourselves, take action on behalf of that vision.

August: Height and how our legs appear are sensitive areas for many women. How can we tell if we’re wearing heels for our own enjoyment or something negative, like insecurity? 

Dr. Megan: Love… To me, the question we all need to ask ourselves is who are we wearing the high heels for? Yourself and how it makes you feel? Or to be noticed, get attention or impact how we imagine others might feel about us? If it’s for you, is it to feel as though you’re enough? Or because they make you feel sexy and you pick shoes that are high but also comfortable? I’m not sure how anyone feels sexy in shoes that feel like sticking your feet into a torture chamber. Honestly, some of the most exclusive brands feel that way to me. It’s not worth it to me, but I think it’s a question every woman must honestly ask herself to make her own decisions.

Maybe you love the sexiness and choose on special occasions to suck up a little torture (wearing comfortable shoes to and from the event that you carry in your bag) or maybe you decide to go #HeelFree. Learning to love yourself and your body without any accessories—shoes, bags, clothes, etc.—is something I wish every woman everywhere could experience.

We are enough. We were born enough and whole. I think it’s time we reclaim our sexy wholeness exactly as we are!


See why I adore Dr. Megan? For more of her brilliance, follow her on Facebook ( and Twitter (@MeganFlemingPhD).

To learn diet don’ts that can damage your sex life and body image, check out my blog post on

What struck you most about Dr. Megan’s thoughts? What’s helped improved your body image?Any questions about sex or relationships you’d like answered on Girl Boner® Radio? I love hearing from you! ♥

Going Green is the New Sexy! My Chat with Alexandra Paul

“As consumers, we are so powerful. Every day we have a choice with what we buy to do the right thing.” — Alexandra Paul

A few weeks ago, I was streaming Ted talks while cooking dinner when one stopped me in my tracks. Alexandra Paul, the actress internationally known for her portrayal of lifeguard Stephanie Holden on TV’s “Baywatch,” shared a story from her childhood—the moment the rapidly increasing population prompted her decision not to have kids.

“I felt alone in my beliefs,” she said, ” and thirty-seven years later, I still feel alone in my beliefs.”

She went on to explore the human overpopulation crisis, why virtually no one discusses it and impactful steps we can take to preserve this beautiful planet we call home. This was only a glimpse of her awesomeness.

The star of over  75 TV shows and feature films is a prolific, award-winning activist who uses her skills as a speaker, writer, producer and huge-hearted human being to educate others on causes she holds dear, most prominently human overpopulation and animal rights.

She also glows, literally radiates, with the rare kind of beauty that shines from within. Based on our chat, I can only assume much of that light derives from living authentically, passionately and inline with her values.

Last week Alexandra joined me in the studio for what turned out to be one of my most insightful episodes yet. We discussed her acting career, our shared history with eating disorders, powerful ways to preserve the planet, simple ways to shift toward an animal-friendlier lifestyle, veganism and more.

To download or stream our chat, visit this link on iTunes:

Girl Boner Radio: Going Green is the New Sexy with Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul_GirlBonerRadio_August McLaughlin

It’s also available on Stitcher Radio. To learn more, visit and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Watch her powerful TEDx talk here: Overpopulation Facts – The Problem No One Will Discuss.


#BOAW2015 Don’t forget to sign up for the 4th annual Beauty of a Woman BlogFest! For tips and updates along the way, RSVP through the Facebook event page once you’ve registered. As a participant, you’ll have chances to reach hundreds, perhaps thousands, of readers and win fantastic prizes, such as artwork, organic intimacy products, a gorgeous bathing suit and stylist consultation, gift cards and more.

A Special Freebie: In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Month, my novel inspired by my experience with anorexia, In Her Shadow, is free on Kindle until February 5th. If you’d like to check it out, hop over to Amazon. Derivative sales support eating disorder awareness and prevention.

What did you think of Alexandra’s insight? What steps are you taking to lead a planet- or animal- friendlier lifestyle? Has overpopulation influenced your decision to have kids? I love hearing your thoughts! ♥

6 Ways to Make the Web an Empowering Place for Girls and Women

No matter how we engage online, we send a message to ourselves and others. What does your social media mirror reflect?

Empower hashtag mirror

I’ve just returned from the National Women’s Studies Association annual conference where I mingled with and learned from brilliant feminists from around the world, presented on a topic very dear to my heart, explored Puerto Rico for the first time and, oh yes, had my first empanada. *swoon* By far, the biggest highlight was the people, who’ve inspired me to carry this conversation on.

In no time throughout history have we been so photographed and seen or had such intense exposure to damaging messages about our bodies and sexuality. All of this raises the risk for self-criticism, disordered eating thoughts and behaviors, resultant health problems, such as depression and obesity, relationship tumult and poor self-esteem. Positive alternatives are available, thankfully, but less readily so. We can all take steps to change that—and trust me, it’s worth it!

I’ll be sharing more takeaways and highlights from #NWSA2014 in upcoming posts and on my show. In the meantime, here are just some of the ways we can make the virtual world a brighter, more empowering place.

6 Ways to Make Your Web an Empowering Place for Girls and Women

  • Choose who and what you follow, like and share carefully. We’re so bombarded by negative imagery and ideas online, it can be easy to grow blind to it. Take an inventory of what you’re exposed to. When you spot damaging online media, such as a demeaning ad campaign, report it by tweeting the link with the hashtag #NotBuyingIt or through The Representation Project’s free app. If you’re a parent, discuss it with your kids. And support the heck out of positive alternatives.
  • Share your passions and personality—not just your looks. I love sharing my life and photos online, but there’s a big difference between sharing our selves and sharing our looks. Research shows that females with low body image and self-esteem tend to post more appearance-centric photos, as though seeking validation. They also tend to fixate on how people respond, energy that could be invested elsewhere. Set a healthier example, one that doesn’t imply that our looks matter more than who we are.
  • Kick perfectionism to the curb. We’ve all had photos appear of us online we’re not particularly thrilled with, and there’s something to be said about putting our best foot forward. Part of that, though, in my opinion, is sharing our authentic selves, including how we really look—sans Photoshop or waiting until we have the “perfect” shot before sharing. Embrace flattering photos, but embrace what society deems “imperfections,” too.
  • Don’t discuss your weight or weight-loss plan. Focusing on weight or following a restrictive diet or harmful “lifestyle plan” brings loads of risks, but that’s another topic. If you want to feel and become healthier and inspire the same in others, don’t talk about your weight or efforts to change it online—or anywhere. Similarly, don’t give power to negative self-talk about your body or sexuality, by vocalizing them around others (unless it’s a therapist helping you overcome it).
  • Don’t support demeaning humor. It’s incredible how much demeaning “humor” is available online, particularly about appearance, age, gender and sexuality. Don’t support it. If you’re inclined and deem it appropriate, respond by pointing out the falseness or negativity. In many cases, people simply don’t realize how damaging such “humor” is, either because it’s so commonplace or because it reflects their personal negative (typically false) beliefs.
  • Override shame. I’ve heard many women say that they love reading sex-positive and feminist posts and articles, but are afraid to support them publicly for fear of what others might think. That kind of fear is paralyzing and only perpetuates hurtful myths. Hopefully we’re all in process, on a perpetual journey of personal growth. If you’re not yet comfortable supporting empowering messages publicly, take smaller steps, such as sharing them with close friends or posting an anonymous comment. You’ll soon find that the fear is far larger than any adverse potential consequence.
graphics NWSA draft 1

Graphics from my presentation at #NWSA2014, Broken Mirrors: Technology, Taboos and Body Image

How does social media influence your body image and self-esteem? What steps have you taken, or will you take, to make your social media mirror more empowering? I love hearing from you. ♥

The Truth About the “Bikini Body” (And What’s REALLY Sexy)

Since when did swimwear become so bossy? Not to mention misleading.


A little history:

Did you know that the bikini dates back to Ancient Rome? Oh, yes! Archeologists have found antiquated illustrations of Roman women wearing skimpy two-pieces during athletic events. Like all clothing back then, their sole purpose was functionality. (No one wants to be whacked in the boob mid-game!) Much later, in 1946, Louis Réard, an automobile engineer introduced today’s bikini, naming it after Bikini Atoll, an island in the Pacific Ocean where postwar atomic bomb testing was happening. (Ah, the irony…)


Bikinis gradually gained popularity in Western cultures, stirring up lots of controversy. Considered sinful by the Vatican and scandalous by countless others, they were banned from many countries and numerous states in the U.S. Even so, they grew continually more common, largely because women wanted to wear them. Then in the sixties, Bond Girl Ursula Andress famously emerged from the sea sporting a white bikini in the film, Dr. No, stimulating a heck of a lot more bikini fervor from both genders.

Olivier Saillard, a fashion historian, called the bikini the most popular female swimwear because of “the power of women, and not the power of fashion.” Woman power, eh? So what the heck happened???

Today, bikinis are the bane of many women’s existence and an unhealthy fixation for others. Thanks to the ginormous dieting, “fitness” and weight loss industries paired with societal ideals that tell women we have to look a certain way to feel and appear beautiful, billions of dollars are invested into “bikini body” marketing campaigns, turning the formerly empowering garments into high-octane fuel for poor body image, harmful weight loss measures and complications galore.


If you follow me on Facebook, you may recall that I recently turned down a good-paying feature article on “cleansing your way to a bikini body.” (Did I mention…UGH?) I’m so grateful that another publication, Sexual Wellness News, was receptive to a healthier take on the topic! I interviewed a dietitian who specializes in disordered eating and a woman whose daughter’s desperate desires for a “bikini body” landed her in the hospital before her wedding, and explored ways to achieve true sexiness this summer—which thankfully has nothing to do with dieting.

Here’s a clip from my article, The “Bikini Body” Craze: Turning Body Angst Into Sexy Gains:

Bikini Body diet tips

To read the full article, visit this link on Sexual Wellness News.

I say it’s time to take the power back, into our selves and away from “bikini body” angst. If you want to wear a bikini, awesome! If you don’t, awesome! Just don’t let unhealthy attitudes about your physicality determine your goals, desires or shopping decisions. Life is too short and precious to waste our energy in such ways. Given the choice, I’d much rather be emotionally fulfilled and comfortable with myself than beat myself up in the pursuit of society’s perception of beauty. Wouldn’t you?

How do you feel about bikinis? Do you wear them? Dig them? Loathe them? If you wear them, how much do you prioritize comfort versus how you’ll look? I love hearing from you! ♥

Gratitude is the New Sexy!

“If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
 — Oprah Winfrey

You are beautiful

What do you think would happen if you shifted every negative thought and belief about your body into genuine gratitude? Think about that for a minute. Can you imagine it? Have you accomplished it already? Having been there/done that, I can assure you that doing so can brighten your entire world.

This week on Girl Boner Radio, I shared one of my personal experiences overcoming body hate through gratitude and a fabulous chat with Millana Snow, a Top Model-winner, actress and entrepreneur who’s made it her mission in life to cultivate positivity through manifesting gratitude and connecting with others.  I also read Girl Boner fans’ and Facebook friends’ responses to the question, “What about your body are you grateful for?” All so inspiring!

To listen, check out the iTunes link down below. First, here are just some of the SEXY benefits of grateful living.

Gratitude is a super power that…

….boosts self-care. When we embrace and respect our bodies, we take better care of them. We don’t brutalize them with risky diets, excessive processed foods or weight loss products or skip our annual physical exams. We treat our bodies as we want to be treated: as worthy and lovable.

…makes us healthier. In addition to other benefits, research shows that grateful living lowers our risk for common infections and chronic disease. It’s like soul echinacea, only stronger.

…makes us lovelier. When we cherish our bodies, we’re better able to live full, authentic lives. That invites mega happiness, which radiates outward, making us appear more beautiful to ourselves and others.

…stimulates more satisfying sex! If we’re lying in bed, criticizing the shape or size of our abdomen or thighs, we’re not likely to feel aroused sexually. If we aren’t grateful for our partner’s affection and physicality, we experience the kind of mind-blowing intimacy that makes sex orgasmic and then some.

…makes for happier relationships. If we aren’t grateful ourselves and our partner(s), we’re likely to get caught up in negativity. Less stress and more positivity makes us more joyous to be around. And much like negativity, it’s contagious. Next time you feel agitated toward yourself or your partner, consider counting your blessings instead.

For more on sexy gratitude and to listen my chat with the magnificent Millana Snow, visit this link on iTunes: Sexy Gratitude.

Millana Snow quote

What are YOU thankful for about your body? What about your sexuality? Any sexy affirmations to share with Millana and me? We’d love to hear your thoughts! 

The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest III: Original Edition

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.” — Sam Levenson, “The Beauty of a Woman”

beauty of a woman

Welcome to our third annual Beauty of a Woman BlogFest! I started this fest two years ago, after readers were beautifully responsive to a post I shared about moving past my eating disorder. Thanks to remarkable readers and writers like you all, it’s become a positive light in the blogosphere and a gift to may each year. You are all ROCKSTARS!

This week is also National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, making the theme and stories even more meaningful. As you read contributors’ words, I hope you’ll consider ways to further embrace your own inner and outer beauty. You deserve it! If the notion seems selfish or less important than other responsibilities in your life, remind yourself that the most powerful work we can do for others derives from self-nurturing. If there’s one thing our world could use more of, IMO, it’s positive role models. 🙂 Thanks, with all my heart, for joining us!

How to participate and potentially win fun prizes:

Click on the links below to read participants’ stories between Thursday, February 27th and Sunday, March 2nd. Prizes will be awarded by way of a drawing, one for each category, next week. (To read stories from the Girl Boner category which ran earlier this week, visit this link!)

To have your name added to the prize drawing:

  • Comment below this post, based on the prompts at the end = 1 entry
  • Tweet this post, tagging me @AugstMcLaughlin = 1 entry
  • Share this post on Facebook, tagging me or my author page = 1 entry
  • Participate as a blogger = 5 entries
  • Read and post a comment on all of the posts below, then let me know you did so (in a comment on this post or via Twitter) = 10 entries

PRIZES: Winners from the drawing for each fest category will receive Starbucks and Amazon gift cards, valuing $5 to $50. I’ll also select two BOAW Girl Boner posts to read on Girl Boner Radio.

Bloggers: If you signed up for this category and your post is missing below, I haven’t yet received your link (or somehow missed it!). Please send it to me via email or Twitter and I’ll add it promptly. Thanks!

Beauty-FULL Contributions:

1. Kathryn Chastain Treat: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest 2014

2. Patricia Sands: Beauty of a Woman 2014 ~ Hear Us Roar!

3. David W. Walker: The Beauty of a Woman

4. Kassandra Lamb: Beauty: A Matter of Mind Over Matter

5. Barbara McDowell: Beauty in Stages:  Reflections on My Younger Self

6. Jess Witkins:  Beauty of a Woman Blogfest: 1 Billion Rising

7. Susie Sylvester: Beautiful Woman, God’s Design

8. Kourtney Heinz: BOAW: The Beauty of a Body in Motion

9. Catherine Johnson: BOAW BlogFest: Kat Apel

10. Ashley: Positively Body Image

11. Audrey Kalman: Three Beauties and a Redefinition

12. Lynn Kelley: Beauty of a Woman 2014: My Morphing Body and Mind

13. Marcia Richards: BOAW BlogFest — Where Your Beauty Lies

14. Kate Wood: Beautiful Goddess

15. Elizabeth Mitchell: BOAW The Most Beautiful Woman I Ever Met 

16. Ingrid Schaffenburg: The True Beauty of a Woman

17. Kecia Adams: Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest III: In Praise of the Selfie

18. Scott Moon: Touched by Fire for BOAW 3

19. Jenny Hansen: What Are YOUR 21 Layers of Beauty? #BOAW3

20. Mike Sirota: Redux: When Art Creates Life

21. Marla Martenson: The Beauty of Following Your Bliss

22. Dana Myles: Beauty of a Woman Blog Fest, 2014 – This one’s for YOU!

23. Shan Jeniah: The Beauty of a Woman Blogfest III – finding Beauty in a Life of Lovely Chaos

24. Sheri Fink: Embracing the Beauty of Your Dreams (Despite Fear and Doubt)

25. Eden MaBee: BOAW — Us

26. Katy Brandes: The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest III

27. Eli Pacheco: The Beauty of a Woman: Giving Props to My 3 Favorite Female Olympians (and Ashley Wagner)

28. August McLaughlin: How to Gain Beauty by Embracing Your Body — An Interview with Dr. Jane Greer*

*My entry is an interview on Dr. Jane Greer’s radio show, Let’s Talk Sex!, via YouTube. Feel free to tune in for as little or long you like. 🙂

How do you define beauty? What makes you feel beautiful? Any thoughts to share on this year’s fest overall? Remember, you have 4 days to check out and comment on all of the posts for 10 extra chances to win a groovy prize! If you do so, let me know via a blog comment below or Twitter (@AugstMcLaughlin) by next Tuesday, March 4th. Thanks again for participating! 

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. 

Body Image Mirrors: What Does Yours Reflect?

“Beauty is not caused. It is.” — Emily Dickinson

If only we all saw it in ourselves…

The first few times I spoke publicly about my eating disorder, I shared photographs of my former emaciated self. Most people gasped at the sunken in cheeks, sharp bones and skin that looked too small for its skeleton. Others, sadly, were impressed.

One day, after speaking at a university in Minnesota, I received an email from a woman who’d attended. “I looked at that picture and all I could think was, I wish I could be that thin. Why don’t I have that discipline?” she wrote. The words threw a brick at my heart and opened my eyes.

Based on the woman’s email, I figured she was A) anorexic and body dysmorphic B) affected by another eating disorder or C) generally healthy physically, but riddled with disordered eating thoughts and behaviors—a state far more common than diagnosable eating disorders, and no less worthy of addressing. I didn’t need to know which; my reaction would’ve been the same regardless.

I wrote back, apologizing, offering support and reiterating some of what I’d shared in my talk. I thanked her for showing me how irresponsible I’d been, and meant it. Even if masses of people were horrified by the photographs, sharing them wasn’t worth it if even one used it as a measure of her self-worth. Needless to say, I’ve been much more cautious about sharing them since.

Whether we realize it or not, we are role models and example-setters. Our attitudes and behaviors regarding food, eating and our bodies can empower or hurt others—even when our intentions are good.

Positive body image reflects empowering light on others.

Remarkable things happen when we accept ourselves and stop trying to whittle ourselves away or morph into people or shapes we’re not. We stop judging others’ shapes and sizes. We see people, not body parts or competition. We see fuel and enjoyment on our plates, rather than numbers or damage. We eat healthfully and exercise because it feels good, not for calorie burn or scale shifts. And photographs of skinny models don’t motivate us or fill us with envy; they simply make us sad.

Study after study has shown that unhealthy attitudes and behaviors regarding food, weight and appearance negatively influences our peers and loved ones. Research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in 2011 revealed that peer and parental fixation on appearance and weight control significantly increase teen women’s likelihood of binging and purging. Children of dieting parents often develop poor body image and self esteem, struggle with weight control and hold increased risks for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, obesity and depression during youth and adulthood.

But fear not. There’s good news. 🙂 Many steps can be taken to improve our own food and body-related attitudes while safeguarding our loved ones from these complications.

8 Ways to Boost Body Image in Others

1. Make self-acceptance a priority. Perhaps it’s obvious, but the best way to inspire positive body image is by example. For more on this topic, and tips on boosting your own body image, feel free to visit my post, Body Image Myths: Exploring Myths & Walking the Walk.

2. If you’e not feeling it, fake it. Reversing poor body image seldom happens simply or quickly. But talking about body parts you loathe can give those thoughts power and negatively influence listening ears. If you have thoughts about your “huge thighs” or “imperfect” skin, keep them private. Why does Coca Cola continue to advertise when we’re well aware of their products? The power of suggestion. It works—sometimes too well.

3. Don’t diet. Dieting, including following rigid lifestyle plans geared toward weight loss, wreaks havoc on our bodies and minds. It also inspires similar problems and complexes in our peers and loved ones. Poor body image, self esteem, eating disorders and obesity run rampant in children of dieting parents. They may be small, but they’re highly absorbent sponges.

4. Make healthy lifestyle habits a family affair. Forcing kids to eat healthy foods seldom works. Even if only one member of your clan has a weight or dietary problem, involve the entire family in physical activity and healthy eating—and make it fun. Enjoyment is a huge factor in developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles longterm.

5. Don’t comment on others’ weight. If a friend has shed excess pounds and looks great, tell her she looks healthy and happy—not thin “and what’s your secret?” Celebrating weight loss places emphasis on body size. What if she lost weight through starving? Would you celebrate that? Our loved ones need to know that we care about who and how they are, not their pant size.

6. Talk positively about food and your body. Rather than discuss your weight or physical “flaws,” talk about the strength of your body, gratitude for your health or how great you feel when you self-nourish with healthy foods. Describe desserts as “decadent,” not ‘damaging.” Viewing foods in terms of calories, carbs and grams can zap pleasure and perpetuate negativity. Save numbers for your accountant, and away from your plates.

7. Give body image-boosting gifts. Affirmation cards, empowering books and films, massages and even counseling sessions make wonderful, uplifting gifts. Rather than a gym or weight loss center membership, sign you and a friend up for fabulous dance classes or hiking events. Instead of fitness-geared magazines, give MORE, Oprah magazine or others that promote inner/outer beauty. Or give a gift related to a friend’s passion. Happiness breeds inner-beauty, outer-beauty and self-acceptance.

8. Set loved ones straight. If you catch friends or family members dissing their bodies or partaking in harmful weight or diet-related behaviors, call them out. Tell them you won’t allow them to bash or hurt themselves around you, that you love them too much. And ask what you can do to support positive changes. It’s not always easy, but it’s worthwhile.

What do you do to set a positive body image example for others? Any challenges or success stories to share? 

Body Image Myths and Walking the Walk

At the gym the other day I overheard two women discussing the importance of inner-beauty. Minutes later, their topic shifted to a fad diet one was following in hopes of landing a “guy like this.” Perhaps she was referring to the guy’s wit and intelligence. But judging from the half-naked celebrities they were gazing at in a magazine, I had to wonder.

Many of us claim we value inner-beauty and health over appearance. But if our values mismatch our words and behaviors, which speaks louder?

There’s nothing wrong with admiring physical attractiveness, and for all I know, the women weren’t terribly serious. But their ellipti-chatter got me thinking. While there’s no shortage of “how to boost body image” information on the web, I’ve noticed some holes.

5 Myths About Low Body Image

1. It’s normal, and thus “no big deal.” Common, yes. But poor body image isn’t any more “normal’ than having a perpetual cold or flu. Also like illness, cases range from mild, short-lived and annoying to severe, chronic and life-threatening. Chalking body dissatisfaction up to “normal insecurity” makes us less likely to seek solutions and more likely to fuel the growing epidemic.

2. It’s a female (only) thing. Not anymore. Recent research shows that over 500,000 men in the United States undergo cosmetic surgery each year—many opting for more than one procedure. Magazine covers routinely feature men’s “rock hard abs,” and “miraculous” ways to get them. In any given week, the latest Hollywood “it” guys likely boasts a physique as unattainable for most men as super model physiques present for women. And the stats on male body image issues are low-ball, because men are far less likely than women to reveal these insecurities.

3. It’s less important than weight control. Imagine if rather than resolving to lose weight or bulk up next New Year’s eve, we resolved to embrace our bodies as is. Sound foolish? It isn’t. Self-acceptance makes way way for self-care. Healthy weight and muscle tone are common by-products. But many of us believe that if we just lost those 5, 10 or 100 pounds, or grunted our way to a six-pack, we’d feel better, look better, be better. On the contrary, countless studies link physique fixation and dieting with binge eating, increased stress, anxiety, sleep problems, weight gain, depression and obesity.

4. It’s the fashion/entertainment/advertising industry’s fault. It’s easy to point fingers, but it’s more complicated than that. If we didn’t support these industries’ ideals, they’d change. They can’t function without our support ($$$). Some argue that we’re brainwashed. In my opinion, that’s passing the buck rather than sharing it. Stronger contributors to poor body image include the diet and weight loss industry (another public-reliant machine) and our upbringing—such as the behaviors and attitudes modeled by our parents and other role models.

5. “If I accept my body as it, it won’t improve. I’d probably go off the overeating/weight gain deep-end. And besides, I can’t accept a body that looks like…this.” If this sounds like a quip from your mental diary, I empathize. But I also know what it’s like to prove these beliefs wrong. Little is as empowering as turning self-loathing into respect. And unless we flip that dark coin over, we’ll never know what we’re capable of. If this myth applies to you, imagine taking all of the energy, time, money and thoughts you invest into disliking, shrinking or sculpting your body into your wildest dreams.

12 Effective Ways to Boost Your Body Image Here’s the good news. With awareness, desire and effort, we can improve the way we feel about ourselves and bodies. Not sure where to start? Consider the following.

1. Make a list of wonderful things your body does for you. Keep it on your refrigerator, your dining table, in your car—where ever you tend to experience negative self-talk.

2. Look away from the mirror and into yourself. The more we fixate on our appearance, the more we judge ourselves and others. Spend as much time as you need before the mirror. Smile at yourself while you’re at it. 🙂 Poor body image often symptomizes a deeper problem—work stress, loneliness, perfectionism, fear… Addressing underlying issues makes way for improvement.

3. Trash your scale. Weighing ourselves can seem like a useful way to track physical health and weight loss progress. But weighing-in often is risky. We’re likely to mistake normal fluctuations for undesirable loss or gain. And health is far more complex than our weight in pounds.

4. Trade fashion and fitness mags for something better. Yes, there are exceptions. But by and large, the images, ideals and tactics presented in popular magazines aren’t helpful. Read empowering non-fiction and fantastic fiction instead. Get your news from magazines and health tips from qualified sources.

5. Just breathe… In effort to present a flat stomach, many of us have learned to “suck in.” This interferes with breathing, which can increase stress and other problems—including body image. Breathing exercises, on the other hand, promote emotional well-being. To learn more, check out Harvard Medical School’s Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response.

6. Give back. Volunteering can go a long way toward keeping our personal complaints and stressors in perspective. When we fixate on our bodies and appearance, we are highly self-involved. Becoming others-involved provides a positive means of distraction and emotional gratification.

7. Fight negative self-talk with gratitude. Counting blessings is more fulfilling than counting calories or body fat ounces. Every time a negative, judgmental thought enters your brain—about you or others—jot down something you’re thankful for. Gratitude is powerful medicine.

8. Swap porn for empowerment. There are many way to celebrate and nurture sexuality while enhancing body image. Generally speaking, hardcore, mainstream porn isn’t one of them. Read the Vagina Monologues. Practice self-pleasure. Try something new with your partner. If all of this is way out of your comfort zone, seek guidance from a qualified sex therapist. (If you do watch porn, consider feminist porn or consider these tips.)

9. Eat a healthy, happy diet. Eating well provides a broad range of benefits, including positive body image. Avoid dieting. Instead, aim for a healthy, balanced diet that contains a variety of foods. Pleasure, flexibility and “gentle nutrition” are important parts of a body image-boosting diet.

10. Exercise, but not too much. Physical activity helps the brain produce feel-good chemicals, improves overall physical health and guards against low body image—immediately, according to studies. And you don’t need to spend hours in the gym. Over-exercise can detract from body image as much as staying sedentary. Seek exercise you enjoy. Hike. Dance. Walk your dog. Play with kids. For most people 30 minutes or more most days is plenty.

11. Pursue your passions. A sadly common thread among people with severe low body image is a lack of passion. We can’t fix body image issues and recognize or our passions when we are enraptured by self hate and illness. Even mild body dissatisfaction can hold us back. The more we focus on our passions the less likely we are to view body shape, size or muscle mass as top priorities. And the happier we are, the more attractive we are to ourselves and others. 

12. Seek support. Body image issues are contagious within families, classrooms and communities. Surrounding ourselves with people who over-value physical appearance increases our likelihood of the same. Seek friendship and support from others with positive values you hold and desire. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Self-help books, support groups and therapy are valuable resources.

So what do you think? Does your body image walk match your thoughts and talk? Any trials or triumphs to share?