A Body Image Journey // Lauren Neat

Lauren is the youngest of four in a hilarious, goofy family. She has been trained to be the entertainer from day one. There is nothing Lauren loves more than making people laugh. She loves to read, watch movies (none of that violent stuff!), and spending time with her incredible friends. Traveling is her favorite thing to do. It's one of the only things she will justify spending money on, besides food.  She is a creative soul who dislikes structure and commitment, and prefers having control of her time. 

 

Alwaysm: Tell me about a time you had a negative thought about your body.

Lauren Neat: “One time? Wow. There are so many.”

Alwaysm: Or, was there ever a time you have felt bad about your body or a specific feature that lasted more than a year?

 Lauren: “Oh yeah. Well, I’ve always been self conscious about my weight. I’ve always been, just, a bigger girl. Also, a taller girl. When you add those two together, you kind of stand out more than other girls. Then, there was also my really curly hair. So I was not only big and tall physically, I also had big and tall hair. *laughs* I’m thinking back specifically to elementary and middle school. Back when everyone’s hair was board straight, that was ‘the look’, you know? I just couldn’t do it in a million years, there was no way. So, for a long time I was really self conscious about my hair. And my weight? That’s been for literally as long as I can remember.  I remember one time in seventh grade I was trying out for the volleyball team. To try out we had to run a mile in under a certain amount of time. I was so self conscious about the way I looked running, that I just quit the team immediately. I didn’t even try. You know, that’s so not me. That’s not something I would do. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of letting my issues with that take control for a moment and dictate the next steps of my life. I wonder how different my life would have been had I played volleyball that year. As silly as that is, that could have led to a totally different school career. Or even, who knows? I still love volleyball. I was a volleyball coach as an adult. So it’s a passion that’s never died. I wonder how life would have been different if I didn’t quit because of that. That time really sticks out in my mind.”

How did you, at the time, respond to those thoughts?

 “I listened to them. I heard the thoughts and thought, ‘Oh, those are true.’ And if that’s how I feel, then that’s how everyone feels. You know, if I’m embarrassed to be seen running, then I must look embarrassing to other people. I was so quick to believe anything negative. You know? Like, ‘My hair is so big today. Everyone must think that.’ It’s so crazy, how you just assume everyone is as harsh on you as you are on yourself.”

Yeah. So what has led to overcoming that and embracing the things that you once really hated, or disliked about yourself?

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 "Well, I’ve grown-up. Which has helped a lot. You know what else helped? Everyone else finally got taller. *laughter* Leaving home helps a lot. Realizing that you are not who you’ve always been, that you don’t have to believe the things you’ve always believed. And meeting other people who might have the same issues that you think you do. Maybe meeting another girl who’s heavier, and you see how she carries herself. And you start to think, ‘If she can be positive and happy, and she likes the way she looks then I can too.’ Then you kind of learn to, in a way, ‘fake it ‘till you make it.’ Also, with the hair thing. Something finally switched in me. I was seeing all these girls with straight hair and I would start to play with my curls and be like, ‘Oh! Well, that’s fun.’ ‘Look how that curl does that. These have attitude!’ *laughs* And I would pick a favorite curl for the day. It was such a small thing to do. It wasn’t even intentional. It wasn’t like I was doing this to make me feel better. I started learning to enjoy that my hair was different. It wasn’t going to look straight and perfect like Jennifer Aniston’s hair. But also, her hair was never going to look like mine. It was like, ‘Oh. I’m different, and that’s a good thing.’ Growing up, being different was the scariest thing ever. But as I’ve gotten older, being different has become the goal. I don’t know if that’s a sign of the times, or if that’s just a sign of growing up. You know what I mean?"

Definitely. So, in regards to your style, what’s going through your mind when you get dressed in the morning? Like, how do you want to portray yourself?

"Well, honestly the first thing I think of is ‘Is this flattering?’ And it’s not so much, at this point, a worry whether I will be flattering in the eyes of other people. It’s more the worry of, if it’s unflattering I’ll be thinking about it all day and I won’t enjoy my day. I won’t be comfortable, and it won’t be worth it. So that’s usually the first thing I think of. Also, I love it when people say to me, ‘You never wear the same thing twice. You have so many things.’ So I love to do odd mixes and matches and make people second guess if they’ve seen me in something before. I love that. I love simple things, but then adding funky jewelry. That’s my favorite. Something that doesn’t quite go, but it does because you’re wearing it. I usually forget to do my hair until about two seconds before I walk out the door. It works. I have a boho messy look, because it’s what I look like." *laughs*

Having worked through all of your insecurities, I want ask you, what do you like about yourself?

 "I love my eyes. I used to think my brown eyes were really boring, because everyone has brown eyes. I feel like they are very warm, and they invite people to be themselves, so I’m very grateful for them. I also love, this sounds weird, but I really love my face. I love it because…." *pause*

It’s beautiful!

"Oh, thank you. *laughs* It’s beautiful, and because it’s very expressive. I can make people laugh with it. Which, at the end of the day, is what I love doing most. I can make people laugh with funny faces and silly reactions. It’s fun. It is a tool I’ve learned to utilize. As strange as that is, a well-timed weird side-glance at someone can make them laugh harder than the perfect joke. I feel like as I’ve aged, I’ve learned to ‘work my face.’”

*Laughter*

Love it.

 "Also, my hair. I love it now. It’s become an accessory I never have to take off. I have become known by my hair. I also like my shape, now. I used to hate it. It’s so funny to grow up, and your body changes. You become so much more aware of like, ‘Oh, it’s okay for a woman to look like this. We’re meant to look like this.’ That’s been a fun realization. So basically, I love myself from the bottom to the top.” 

*Laughter*

Yes, I love it! I love it so much. Do you have any advice for other women out there who are unhappy with any part of their appearance? Or any part of them that they can’t change?

 "My advice, first off, would be to stop following people on social media who make you feel bad about yourself. I think that does more damage than people realize. It think it is possible to get to a place where it doesn’t bother you. If you’re not at that place though, that’s the first step. Take out the desire to compare, because the truth is we are always going to lose that battle. We aren't comparing real flesh and blood to real flesh and blood. We are comparing touch-ups and beauty teams to a normal person. Then, on the flip side, I would start following people that are aware of their imperfections and don’t worry about hiding them. People that make you laugh. Don’t do it at others’ expense, but I would say spend time with people who don’t aim for perfection. Whether that’s digitally online, or in your life. Because that’s when I find that I struggle with myself. It’s when I am spending time with people who are valuing appearance more than other things. Like that ‘one girl at work’ who’s got fake nails, spray tan, lip plumpers, botox, and laser hair removal. I’m not dissing any of these things at all. But when I spend time with that person, I feel myself starting to feel bad about myself. By her I mean a collective ‘her’ who aims for perfection. I start to feel bad because I start to think, ‘I can’t win this game. This is a game I’m losing already.’ I look down at my unpolished fingers, my hang nails, and my rogue eyebrow hairs all over the place.  But then I think about all the things I get to do with my time that don’t involve perfecting my imperfect self. That’s when I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s alright.’ I do think that until you’re at a place where you can mentally get over those hurdles, it’s okay to distance yourself from those people. As harsh as it sounds, I think it is necessary because you become like the people that you spend your time with. I also think, ‘If she’s so concerned about what she looks like, is she concerned with what I look like?’ Then it’s got me thinking about it again…. I think I forgot the question….”

*Laughter* 

 

*This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity