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Beauty Isn’t a Size

Once I realized that there is no universal standard and saw the futility in trying to achieve something that didn’t exist, my world changed.

Beauty isn’t a size, and there is no universal standard. What a revolutionary statement. My entire life I assumed that beauty equated to being a slender, toned, hair-free, tanned, flawless woman. It was that woman I thought would attract the partner of my dreams, that woman who would be happy and fulfilled, and that woman who would know success. She would breeze through life, without a care in the world. Smaller, in my mind, was definitely better.

That’s a little Disney, isn’t it? It was only after years of failed diets and eating disorders — cycles of starvation, binging, purging — and substance use disorder that I realized I was trying to achieve the unattainable. I was too tall to be that thin; I was too curvaceous to fit in those clothes; and my heritage means I won’t have oil-free skin — I’m part Italian! This somewhat Disney standard of how we’re conditioned to regard beauty is entirely false. Rarely do women of those airbrushed standards exist — without excessive dieting and exercise, that is.

The advertising industry has conditioned us to believe in that beauty ideal, and anything less means we are not worthy — we’re less than. And it is from this position of unworthiness that we have an innate hunger to constantly change the way we look. “This diet is the one!” we’ll say with palpable excitement as we run home from the store armed with the latest glossy women’s magazine claiming to contain the secret to drop 10 pounds in three days or reduce sugar cravings by drinking some magic potion. Sounds crazy, but we buy into these promises every single day. If we didn’t, these magazines wouldn’t exist.

Re-enforced from every angle, magazines, TV, food packaging and major advertising campaigns constantly show that women can and should be thin and flawless. The reality is that we will rarely achieve this false standard, and even if we do, we won’t sustain it because we cannot survive on the restrictive diet or punishing exercise regime required to achieve that body.

Photo by: Hannah Grace

Once I realized there is no universal standard and saw the futility in trying to achieve something that didn’t exist, my world changed. I started to see me — all of me. I saw that my height was beautiful, that my eyes were so blue that they sparkled in the light. I saw that my wavy hair reflected the quirkiness of my personality, and I finally saw how womanly my curves made me look. And from that place, I could see and appreciate the beauty and unique qualities in other women around me instead of constantly comparing and generating jealousy that they were thinner or more beautiful than me.

Photo by: Ariana Prestes

This idea of being worthy just as I am crystallized at the She Recovers conference I attended in May 2017, when Glennon Doyle Melton talked about the distorted beauty standards in the world. She encouraged us to change our conception of beauty — to revolt against how we’re conditioned — and to know that we absolutely are enough. She says this on her website: “Beautiful women glow. When you are with a beautiful woman, you will not so much notice her hair or skin or body or clothes — because you’ll be distracted by the way she makes you feel. She will be so full of beauty that you will feel some spill onto you. You’ll feel warm and safe and curious around her. Her eyes will twinkle a little, and she’ll look at you really closely … because beautiful, wise women know that the quickest way to fil l up with beauty is to soak in another human being. Other people are beauty, beauty, beauty. So, you will notice that the most beautiful women take their time with other people. They are just filling up.”

Photo by : Elijah Henderson

You see, once we reject this false standard, we gain true freedom to be and to love ourselves — our whole selves — exactly as we are. Because we are not flawed; we are not less than. We are already the beautiful womanly human we were destined to be. Let’s begin rejecting these standards by leaving the magazines that make false promises on the shelves, by refusing to punish our bodies with crazy diets and excessive exercises, and by celebrating the women around us for them being exactly as they are.

Stop searching to change yourself to be that woman — she is already here.

Photo by: Omar Lopez

To incorporate this message into your daily life, take a moment to reflect on its meaning to you. Then, answer the following questions: What are some of the ways you’ve been trying to attain the standard beauty size? What would it feel like to let go of those efforts? What could you do right now to be more accepting of how beautiful you are?


Writer and wellness advocate Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is in long-term recovery. Pennelle passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Pennelle, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share and love. You will find Pennelle featured among top recovery writers and bloggers, published on websites such as recovery.org, The Fix, Intervene, Workit Health, iExhale, Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, Transformation Is Real, Sanford House, Winward Way and Casa Capri.

Written by Olivia Pennelle

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