Carson Kressley, the fashion guru from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, now has a new show on Lifetime, How to Look Good Naked, which is based on a British series of the same name. In it, he works with women to improve their self-esteem and then talks them through a nude glamour photo shoot.
Of course, the photos are done tastefully: not a Playboy centerfold but an art photo.
I watched the first episode this week and found it enlightening and inspiring.
Carson worked with a woman who was unhappy with her weight, as many women are. She longed for the days when, as a teen for a brief window, she'd been a size where she felt attractive.
When Carson first consulted with her, as she stood in her underwear in front of a mirror, she pointed out her perceived flaws. He pointed out that, No. 1, they weren't as pronounced as she thought and that, No. 2, she had many positive features, as well. As he put it, beauty isn't about being perfect. Isn't that the truth? Just think about all the airbrushing it takes to make perfect photos out of even the so-called beautiful people.
Together they viewed footage of passersby being interviewed about a large photo of her in her underwear, which had been suspended above a city street. All the people pointed out her positive features, instead of commenting on her negatives. Several of the women were thrilled to see a "real woman" on a poster, and a couple of the men were practically drooling.
When Carson showed her this footage, though, she was skeptical, saying that they must have simply edited together the positive parts. He insisted they hadn't had to, that this was how people reacted naturally. At this stage in the process, it's not surprising she was skeptical. That would soon change.
Then he took her underwear shopping, because some of her anxieties were produced by her ill-fitting undergarments. She was so happy with the results that she joked, "Let's walk around town like this." Carson took her by the hand and led her into the store, in her bra and panties, asking everyone, "Doesn't she look great?" A guy who was shopping with his girlfriend certainly seemed to think so!
With this foundation of proper undergarments, Carson then took her shopping to put together outfits that worked best with her body type. They also did further work on her self-esteem issues. Since she was sensitive about her hips, he brought her to a lineup of pear-shaped women and had her place herself where she thought she belonged in the lineup. Going by her measurements, she actually put herself several places higher than she was.
I found this exercise interesting, because based on my measurements, I was just a little smaller than the smallest woman in the lineup!
They did her hair and makeup, treated her to a day at the spa, and she grew more and more confident. A bubbly, excited personality emerged, whereas before she'd been sunk in brooding anxiety. Then, Carson hit her with the whammy: that the photo shoot she would be doing would be in the nude. She hesitated at first, then agreed to trust him and the photographer, and the result was a very tasteful, beautiful shot of her reclining on a fuzzy rug.
The photo was blown up to the size of several stories and hung on a city street, so that she could ask passersby, "Do I look good naked?" Of course, they all said yes.
I think this is a really interesting show, because it addresses so many issues about body image and women in our culture. We are taught from an early age that how we look matters. Men don't get nearly as much pressure in this area, although that's changing, evidenced by a new generation of young men working out furiously to achieve "washboard abs."
We're told to admire completely unrealistic role models, in the so-called beautiful people, who only make up a small fraction of the population. Models are much taller and much thinner than the average women. Yet, even they are not immune. A lot of them admit that, in adolescence, they were picked on for being tall and gangly!
The point is, everybody can find something about themselves to critique. It's when you focus on the negative that you gain a warped view of yourself.
A long time ago, my mom commented that I have the same chin as my dad. Given that she was always remarking that Dad has "no chin," I became sensitive about my chin to the point that I hated profile shots of myself. Of course, until she pointed it out, I'd never considered it a flaw.
I'm happy to report that I've learned to accept my chin. I love my face the way it is, and I even like profile shots of myself. My chin didn't change; my perspective did.
(I'd like to also note that, except for this one remark, my mom has always been a great cheerleader, telling me that I'm beautiful. Even when I was at my heaviest, she never made negative comments about how I looked.)
I do like what I see in the mirror. When I tell people I have a fitness goal, however, they assume that I don't. Primarily, my goal, to lose 15 pounds, which would put me in the middle of the normal BMI range, is twofold: first, to maximize the health benefits from all the hard work I've already done.
And secondly, I'd like to trim down because I'm between pants sizes, which is terribly frustrating. I have to wear size 10 pants with a belt, because most size 8 pants are too tight in the thigh. In most other clothing, I wear either a size 8 or a size 6, although truly, it's not the number that matters. I'd just like to have an easier time buying pants!
One thing Carson teaches in the show is to accept your body, a valuable lesson. I, for example, am pear-shaped, and before I learned to love my body, I wasted a lot of time hating my thighs, hating my hips.
Now, I'm proud of my strong legs. At the Nautilus machines in the gym designed for quads, hamstrings, and inner and outer thighs, I can lift as much as (or more than) most of the men. I like to think I have a dancer's body. Maybe it's from all that Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).
I do, however, have to wear clothes that fit me properly in order to show off my body to the best advantage. I wear A-line skirts and wide-leg or straight-leg pants. It wouldn't matter how thin I got: if I put a pair of skinny jeans on, it would over-accentuate my hips and thighs.
You might say, "Why does it matter what anyone thinks of us physically? Isn't it more important what we are inside?"
In an ideal world, yes. But how you feel about yourself colors everything else about your life. I'm almost certain if I hadn't battled self-esteem issues for many years, I would never have gotten into many of the bad relationships I suffered through.
You've got to love yourself. If you can't, you've got to figure out what's blocking that love. Because really, you're with yourself all the time. If you look in the mirror and think, "What a loser," you're going to sabotage every aspect of your life.
We always think it's about what other people think, but really it's about what we think. We project onto others what we feel about ourselves. And people react accordingly.
Liking yourself has nothing to do with your body shape or size. I was in the grocery store the other day, and as I was loading my groceries on the belt, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between the cashier and a customer, two zaftig African-American women. They might have seen the SlimFast bars in my order, which I eat for a quick breakfast, along with a banana, and they were talking about trying out this or that diet plan.
The conversation took a turn, as the cashier said she doesn't like it when people criticize her for how she looks, because she knows she's beautiful. Both me and the other customer said, "That's right."
She continued: "I don't need to change a thing to be beautiful. I'm beautiful right now."
Sometimes the main thing you need to make over is your perception.