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.