Leslie B

“You look great! Have you lost weight?”

By: Leslie Barrett

“Oh my gosh. Look at you, Skinny Girl!”

“Thanks. Um, I mean, I haven’t really been to the gym in a month.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t go,” my loved one laughed.

I stayed silent because the situation wasn’t right for a verbal challenge. But as I forced a smile and looked around the small party, my thoughts grew angry. Are you kidding me? I shouldn’t go to the gym because I look “skinny”? I’m sorry, but I would rather be strong than look “skinny.” The fact that I haven’t gone to the gym upsets me because I have lost muscle. I have lost strength. I couldn’t care less if I’m “skinny.” I want to be strong enough to lift my 50 pound suitcase with ease and strong enough to run up the stairs without losing my breath. I would rather be strong and muscular and athletic than “skinny” any day. If you think that looking frail and “skinny” will lead to a long and healthy life, you’re wrong. And if you are not after a long and healthy life then you may want to re-evaluate your priorities.

All right, so maybe in that moment I didn’t think those thoughts verbatim, but the comment ignited passionate anger leading to a strong reaction along those lines. I decided it was time to spread the word.

Over the past few days I have been to numerous parties where friends and family are reuniting for the holidays. I have noticed that more often than not, people comment on each others’ appearances.

“You look great! Have you lost weight?”

“She lost some weight too. Good for you guys!”

“Oh my god, did you see her? She’s gained so much.”

Frankly, I’m sick of it. Neither my weight, nor my sister’s nor my friend’s nor my mother’s nor my brother’s, should be of importance to anyone else. “Complimenting” each other upon reuniting has become so acceptable that, unfortunately, many of us dread coming home expect the comments each time we come home.

“Complimenting” belongs in quotes because these comments are not purely positive; they can even endanger people. One of the dangers of making such statements is that we don’t know how our loved ones lost weight. If they did not do it in a healthy way, we are doing nothing but reinforcing negative behaviors, which could be detrimental to their health. In addition, what people convey when they say these “nice” things is a message that you are now good enough. Before you lost this weight, you did not look great. You were not as good. We didn’t value you as much. And now, we would like to welcome you into the club! You have joined the other side where people look great!

These comments create associations between outward appearance and self-worth. When you look “great” you are better, and when you no longer look “great” you are no longer as worthy. Family and friends have good intentions and think they are doing their loved ones a service by saying “nice” things to them, but they are unaware of the effect their comments have. They have no idea they are teaching their children to value appearance above all; they have no idea that they are instilling fear of weight gain with each word; they have no idea the long-term damage they are doing.

So, this holiday season I would like to invite you to take a pledge with BARE. We have pledged not to comment on the appearances of our friends and family. We have pledged to instead ask questions about their accomplishments, comment on character, and compliment in ways that will positively affect them in the long run. We have pledged to stand against fat talk whenever we can. I am a Beauty Advocate with Realistic Expectations and I intend to spread the message.

If you notice that someone else looks “great” you are welcome to tell them, but find a way to focus the comment on their health or happiness. Comment on how they are holding their shoulders back more or how they are radiating confidence. Comment on their beautiful smile or their sense of peace. And, if you were not aware of this back-handed “compliment” trend before reading this post, I would like you to pay attention next time you go to a party or reunite with someone. I would like you to listen to the amount of times people comment about bodies. If you are someone who is on the receiving end, I want you to remember that you are more than your appearance. You are more than the weight you lost or gained. Your inner beauty will always shine through if you let it. Do yourself a favor and try not to take people’s words to heart; you will be much happier.

Even if you choose not to take our pledge for whatever reason, please just become more aware of the issue. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking out, at the very least, don’t participate. You will be doing absolutely no one a service by commenting on someone else’s body.

BARE wishes you all a happy and healthy holiday season. Find your inner beauty and celebrate yourself.

Leslie B

The Beauty of Bell’s Palsy: A few words with Leslie Barrett, McKayla Maroney’s inspired fan

By Leslie Barrett

My experience with Bell’s palsy was life changing even before a photo of me dressed as McKayla Maroney went viral this past week. I have spent the majority of my three months with partial facial paralysis joking about my condition to make others around me more comfortable and to help myself see it as a source of entertainment rather than oppression. I want to be honest that the entire experience has not been funny and I have been challenged every step of the way; there were even a few days at the beginning when I couldn’t get out of bed and let myself mourn my inability to smile. But, I decided very early on that I had two choices: I could waste months of my life by hiding in my room and crying, or I could continue to live my life normally, embrace my funny face and be as happy as possible. I chose the latter and the following is a guest column I wrote for my school’s newspaper this week about one of the most important things I have learned.

The Beauty of Bell’s Palsy: a look inside

Eleven weeks ago I wrote a guest column called “Would you still be my friend?” about my first week and a half with Bell’s palsy, a condition in which an inflamed nerve causes temporary facial paralysis. In that initial week I learned about gratitude, embracing insecurity, and looking for beauty in imperfection. At the time of the column I did not understand that not only would I learn about beautiful imperfections, I would learn the meaning of inner beauty first hand.

We throw around the term ‘inner beauty’ so frequently it has become cliché. It saddens me that it has lost its power, because who we are is so much more important than what we look like. And nothing teaches the concept better than developing a condition that compromises your physical beauty.

Despite my confidence, I can recall moments during my first week of paralysis when I considered trying to lose weight so I would still feel desirable. After a few weeks with a drooping face, I looked in the mirror and actually saw myself. I didn’t see a girl with a collapsed face, but the person I know myself to be. I saw my ambition and my strength. I saw my positivity and awkward sense of humor. I noticed my drooping smile and unblinking eye, but I didn’t look at them. I looked at the person in front of me.

These days I constantly make appalling faces (ask me to see my crying face), but I have never been called beautiful more times in my life than in the past three months. It wasn’t until the day when I looked in the mirror and saw myself that I realized other people also see the positive, awkward comedian that I do. In that moment I developed an unparalleled level of confidence and let go of my fear of judgment. I understood how liberating it is to see your inner beauty. And I understood that we all have that choice.

In my last column I asked readers to appreciate their abilities to smile instead of criticizing how their teeth looked. Now, I want you guys to do yourselves a favor. Next time you look in the mirror look past your blemished skin and frizzy hair and see yourself. I bet whatever you see will be a whole lot more beautiful.

Leslie G

Combating the Marketed Image of “Real Beauty”

Usually I don’t get super fired up by my Consumer Behavior class, but the last class was surprisingly different. Everyday is pretty routine. We talk about what pages we need to know in the text, what we can skip, blah blah. As I was zoning out and updating my LinkedIn profile, my ears perked up a little when my professor announced we would be talking about self-esteem  in regards to consumer purchase decisions and habits. Just as I was about to revert back to my social media happenings, I stopped when I heard him continue with:  “Did you know that 72% of men and 85% of women say they’re dissatisfied with their body?”

Shut up, that’s insane. More than half of us don’t like what we see every single day in the mirror. Alright, touche Professor Roberston you’ve got my attention. 

He then proceeded, ever-so clinically, ” The primary cause of body dissatisfaction is advertising.” Boom. He said it. It was like a criminal admitting to a crime. I am by no means insinuating that my professor criminal, it was just eye-opeining to hear an expert in the field admit to the shortcomings of his profession.

Studies have shown that women’s (and men’s) self-esteem dramatically drops, after seeing advertisments where the model’s body is the main focus. The problem is we’re all looking and aspiring towards airbrushed, slimed down images that are completely unrealistic.

The average female in the United States is 5’6 and 160 lbs. Fashion models vary by company, but specs usually float around 5 ft. 10 in. and 100-110 lbs. The ideal size in the fashion world seems to be the coveted zero, or better yet the double zero!!! Women rarely see anything other than tiny and tall; and when  do it’s a big ol’ controversy about how some “plus” sized model made it big. I think this is just crap. I’m a size six. So, if I’m a plus sized model hell yeah, that must mean I’m extra awesome.

Embracing what we’ve got and ignoring the hyper-skinny illusions we see is obviously easier said than done. I can admit that there are times when my own self esteem has been hurt by an advertisement or even worse I’ve secretly searched “How to get a flat stomach” into Google. Sigh….Shame on me. However, I’m lucky enough to have education and the surrounding BARE network encouraging me to ignore what I’m seeing. My main issue is that a lot of women, especially younger women, do not have these resources to teach them about the fallacy of ideal beauty.

Think about the most popular doll in the world, our girl Barbie. She’s destroyed everything that is realistic about beauty. No, I’m not referring the irony that is her plastic frame, but her measurements, her shape, and her stature. If Barbie was real she’d be a 38′ chest, 18′ waist,  and 34′ hips. That’s what a majority of young girls are playing with on a daily basis. Interestingly enough young boys are also exposed to this hyperbolized ideal body. If a Batman action figure was a real human being, he’d have a 57′ chest, 30′ waist, and 27′ biceps. Are you kidding me? His biceps are bigger than Barbie’s waist. So much for natural beauty.

The pressure to reach this standard of  unobtainable perfection is undeniably affecting the younger generation of women as:

  • 80% of 10 year old girls say they have been on a diet.
  • Among 5–12th graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures
  • Given three magic wishes, the majority of girls aged 11-17 would include one wish about losing weight.

Even more upsetting is the research that  Elementary school aged girls said they would rather be handicap than be obese. Pair this statistic with the 57% of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat.  Around 10 million females in America have suffered from anorexia or bulimia and chances are you know someone who has. American women have a legitimate fear of being fat that has turned into an unhealthy obsession with being skinny. So how do we help the younger generations move past  this societal norm that advertising has set before us? The question was a burning and my hand popped up on auto-pilot.

 How do you propose we make this better? 

My professor responded so quickly it was as if he was expecting the question–education. Teaching girls about positive body image is the first step, because the thin-ideal is a cultural value that requires work to change. Seeing more realistic bodies in the mediascape, may be a long shot, but individuals have the power to affect our country’s limited perceptions of beauty. We can all be educators or, even less burdensome, we can all be advocates of real beauty. We can skip the fat-talk, complement one another, and love every inch of ourselves.

I’m apart of BARE because I want to be an advocate of real beauty. I want to challenge these unrealistic expectations we see everyday and teach people that beauty isn’t just about your body it’s about your heart, your actions, and your legacy.

Phew feeing good.

All of the statistics  above are directly quoted from a lecture on November 5, 2013 in Consumer Behavior. Kim Robertson is a distinguished Associate Professor of Business Administration at Trinity University in San Antonio. His bio can be accessed through the Trinity University website.


BARE Exclusive Interview: Claudia Garate with GENaustin

by Taylor Rubottom

Claudia GarateI is a 25 year-old who works for GENaustin in Austin, Texas. GENaustin (The Girls Empowerment Network) began in 1996 as the brainchild of 12 women, each raising girls in Austin. The creation of GENaustin spawned after they read “Reviving Ophelia” by Dr. Mary Pipher which centers on the upsetting tendency for middle-school aged girls to have a marked decrease in self-esteem, sometimes leading to epidemic levels of eating disorders, self-harm, mental stress, reduced academic achievement, and drug abuse.

GENaustin works to prevent such devastating outcomes. Their mission is to “support and guide girls to make wise decisions as they navigate the unique pressures of girlhood.” To do this, their core curriculum focuses on healthy relationships, healthy communication, and body image. This curriculum is then used in educational events such as clubGen, an impressive afterschool program with weekly meetings that is held in over 20 middle and elementary schools. Beyond clubGen, they also host Girl Talk workshops, an annual statewide conference called We Are Girls, and 180, a program the works with court-ordered girls.

I recently had the opportunity to correspond via e-mail with this amazing beauty advocate. Take a look at what she told me!


Claudia (right) with Wendy Davis, Texas politician and advocate for women’s rights

Taylor: What do you do at GENaustin?

Claudia: “I started out at GENaustin as an Americorps VISTA Program Outreach Specialist. I got to work and do direct service with all of our programs and worked to expand our visibility, build connections in our community and improve our recruitment efforts. Now I am a campus coordinator for clubGEN, our afterschool program, and I go to 5 schools a week with our program.”

T: Can you tell me about your journey towards working with GENaustin?

C: “I feel so grateful to have found GENaustin. I ran into a blog post that talked about them and their work one night and when I was going through the website reading about the mission and work, it was a huge “AHA!” moment that shook me to my bones. Thankfully, they were hiring at the time and I applied on the spot, rushing through the application because I wanted nothing more than to work there.

Reading over everything, I just had this very strong feeling because I would’ve loved to have had something like this [GENaustin] growing up that encouraged me, empowered me and let me know that I could do or be anything I wanted- that it wasn’t my job to be pretty or desired.

I really didn’t think that I was qualified for the job or that I’d be any good at it, but I recognized that that thinking was exactly what GENaustin was fighting against and that I should just go for it. I’ve chosen to remain there because not only is our work amazing, but the women on staff are just the strongest, wisest, hard-working, supportive and loving that I’ve ever encountered. It takes that harmful “catty and competitive” stereotype and just demolishes it and throws it out the window.”

T: What do you think is the greatest issue facing young women in the world today? 

C: “I think the most disempowering thing is the fact that so many cultures define women and don’t give them room to define themselves. . .This can go from defining beauty to defining what it means to be a woman and what they can or can’t do. We grow up hearing “oh don’t be such a little girl!” or “you throw like a girl!” It embeds in everyone’s minds that there isn’t anything worse than being a girl. And that’s so unfair and so untrue. It sets us up for struggle, suffering and unhappiness.”

T: If you feel comfortable sharing, tell us about your relationship to your “body image” in the world of today.

C: “I always struggled greatly with my body image and it started at a very young age. It’s really hard to fight it, especially when you’re young, when you get the messages to look a certain way and to be a certain size ALL THE TIME- from the media, school and often at home. I was never happy with my body and it became a huge source of anxiety and self-loathing for me. It’s this big thing we often drag around and causes us to get in our own way and in some ways, live for others. I’m 25 years old and though I’ve made remarkable strides in the past two years, it’s still something that creeps up once in a while when I’m caught off guard. It’s a constant practice for me to recognize the negative messages, see their roots, and reject them entirely.”

T: What advice would you give to young woman who are struggling to find confidence in their physical bodies? 

C: “Think about all of the women you know and love and think are beautiful and ask yourself ‘Why do I think they’re beautiful?’ It will always be because they are: loving, fearless, kind, funny, compassionate, smart, hard-working. I’ve never picked my friends and role models for the size of their jeans so why the hell should I worry about that? I take those qualities that inspire me and motivate me and I work on them and recognize them in myself above all else. I try to see myself as my best friends see me. I would suggest that young women do the same—define beauty for yourself. It’s also so important to watch your self-talk. If you talked about your friends the way you talk about your body, chances are you wouldn’t have any friends.”

T: Thank you for sharing that with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

C: “Love yourself and support those around you. Don’t shame. And remember that the patriarchy affects EVERYONE- men, women, trans*, queer, etc. Notice not just the gender role boundaries, but all of the other privileges and –isms and check yourself. Listen. Remember we all get to define who we are and we should all have that power, no matter who disagrees or thinks otherwise. It’s a long battle uphill, but there’s nothing more worth it than self-love and support of diversity.”

BARE would like to thank Claudia Garate for being a beauty advocate with realistic expectations, and for the amazing work that she is doing in the local Austin community. YOU GO GIRL!