Let's Keep It Real About Our Bodies
By: Lauren Fleshman
Published: February 12, 2014
A few months ago, I posted a blog that went viral. It didn’t go “McKayla’s Not Impressed” viral, but close to a million people read it in over 200 countries (apparently I’m a big deal in Iceland and Turkey). The blog was one of my shortest blogs ever, and all I did was tell the truth about my body. And yet people called me a hero.
But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t like I just posted pictures of my thigh cheese, no big deal, and went on about my day.
Last fall, as New York Fashion Week and my runway show with Oiselle approached, I watched my body in the mirror the way any woman does, seeing my imperfections, sucking in this or that, trying to imagine myself taking a step under the lights in a world dominated by thinness and muscle atrophy, and feeling OK about it. When it came time to take the stage, I had to treat it like a race instead of a fashion show. Balls.
After NYFW, I was full of mixed feelings. On one hand I was really proud. Our designer, Sally Bergesen, had made the bold move of putting muscles on the runway, and each of us runner/models had conquered our insecurities to do it. I had whipped my body into shape in the three months post-partum to take advantage of this rare opportunity, which was no easy task. And when we thumbed through the photos, each runner model had one that made us say, “Dayum! That one looks good!”
And that photo was everywhere the next week, and it made me feel good and guilty at the same time. Because, on the other hand, that photo was fantasy. That photo was me, but it was me at my most excellent. A moment in time. The point of the stride free from gravity. The angle of repose. I was acting the part of a superhero in a Marvel movie. It showed no evidence of all of my imperfections. That picture was what we all want to feel about ourselves, myself included. I spent my teenage years looking at fantasy photos like that and feeling inadequate. And now it was my body in that photo.
When I got home from New York, I went back to work as a pro runner, running, lifting weights, doing drills and strides, posting pictures of everyday practice on social media. As I was looking through my photos from practice I caught myself doing my usual thing: “Ugh, skip, delete, my butt looks big in that one, my stomach is pooching out there. Oh there’s a good one!” And then my finger swiped over to the runway shot. Wow. That was me last week. And this is me now. I wonder what Christy Turlington sees when she flips through her phone? Or Jennifer Lawrence? I bet they see this. What if someone shared the pics they hate the most alongside the pics they love the most? God that would be refreshing to see. Maybe I should do it…
I typed a blog right then and there and uploaded the photos. How brave! “Keeping it Real” was created to show the full spectrum of what a body can look like in a week so readers could have real context when viewing other fantasy images in the media. Context is a powerful thing. It can serve as a protective shield when images are hurled at us, deflecting them into the fantasy category where they belong, to be appreciated as art rather than reality. My experience walking the runway put me in a unique position to tell this truth.
Except when I put my cursor over the “Publish” button, I couldn’t seem to click it.
Two months and six revisions later, I still hadn’t published it. And if it hadn’t been for a friend, it would still be languishing in the blog graveyard full of unfinished drafts. She convinced me this blog needed to see the light of day. I was telling her on a run that I was finding it difficult to publish it. She said quite simply as the trees whipped by us on the trail, “Women will really appreciate it, Lauren. You have to do it.”
I could objectively see the positive impact it could have, but when it came to actually posting it, I felt so vulnerable. Totally sick to my stomach with insecurity, my finger hovered over the mouse, unable to click.
And then I got pissed.
What the hell is wrong with us? We have this one body we are born with, live inside of, and move through the world in. Why aren’t we walking around naked, like “Booyah! Look what this body can do, bitches!”
Blame the Puritans, blame Glamour, blame Photoshop if you want, but at some point we have to stand up and own the body we’re shakin'. We have to make a statement that “THIS IS REAL” and move forward.
Forget the readers. Suddenly I realized that the ability to share this was important to me. I clicked the mouse.
Taken the same week as the runway shot
And there it was. My thigh cheese and belly roll on the internet, right below my runway shot. And I felt totally free. I wasn’t embarrassed anymore; I was f---ing proud. I felt like I owned my body completely for the first time. Ever.
And it turned out to be a far more powerful truth than I could have imagined.
I was floored at the number of comments and Facebook shares and personal messages I received. People were sharing it like crazy, commenting with emoji fist bumps on Twitter, and leaving hundreds of comments on the blog. Moms said, “I needed this!” Dads said, “I showed this to my teenage daughters.” Men showed their girlfriends, and women shared it with their homegirls. People called me brave. Their hero. My fan club doubled. And then, strangely, several negative comments rolled in, ranging from accusations of doctoring photos, to lying entirely, to a young man being utterly horrified that his entire view of women was a lie.
Understanding a truth is one thing. My fashion week experience helped me understand an industry that brought me suffering as a teenager. Embodying a truth is another, much more powerful thing. So with this discovery, I have a challenge for you. Nearly a million of you were moved to share my previous blog post because it spoke to you in some way. You called me brave. What would happen to the people you love if you did the same? And what would happen to you? And what would the collection of our efforts do? Let’s find out!
The Challenge: Everyone keeps saying how powerful social media is. Let’s use it to redefine beauty. Post an unflattering photo of your body on Facebook or Twitter and spread the word. Add the hashtag #keepingitreal. When we click on that hashtag we’ll be able to see a collection of photos from real people that represent truth. How refreshing will that be? To be included in an upcoming slideshow on runnersworld.com, submit your photo here.