A Body Image Journey // Ginni Beam

 Ginni—26, is a Christian, native Texan, and about to graduate from UTD (Arts & Performance major, Creative Writing concentration). She's been married to her "saint of a husband for almost eight years," and they have "two crazy kids." She works as a copywriter/social media manager/research grunt and she loves "making words do what she wants." She's struggled with mental illness since she was 13; if you’re interested in that story, you can hear her testimony here. Ginni says, "There’s always hope!"

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

Ginni Beam: “I thought I had trouble accepting my body all through my teenage years. But then, of course, you always realize how good you had it. So, after having two kids was when I had the most trouble. After I had my son, my second, I found that the muscles in my abdomen, or my rectus abdominus, had separated. That causes the internal organs to sort of bulge out and it gives you a ‘pooch’ in your stomach. I was so insecure about looking like that. I hadn’t gained weight or anything, but I felt like I had done all the right things and I still looked twice my age. I felt like my body was ruined at age twenty three. It did improve. It took a combination of time and doing the right exercises, and better posture. Things like that helped but it also just took getting used to it. I had my whole life to get used to the body that I had, and then suddenly, really quickly, I had to get used to this new body. I’ve had it for a couple years now and I feel a lot more affectionate towards it because it’s mine.”

Tell me more about the process of becoming more affectionate toward your body.

 “For one, trying not to indulge it when I start feeling that instinct to criticize and to put down. Sometimes, I can. This, I think, ties back to mental health. I can’t control the instinct coming to me, but I can control if I indulge it or not and how I respond. Often, I see myself wearing something I used to wear and it just doesn’t look flattering like it used to. Instead of feeling anger toward myself, instead of feeling sorry for myself, or seeing my body as something bad I’d just say, ‘No, it’s just different. It’s not bad, it’s just different.’ I used to weigh myself every single day, but I haven’t weighed myself in four years. I get weighed at doctor’s appointments. When Alma was about a year old, every morning I would climb on the scale and I started to notice that she started climbing on the scale after me and looking. She didn’t know what she was doing. She was just mimicking me, she was a year old. But, I was like, ‘She’s watching and she’s seeing.’ Every time I have that instinct and I go to criticize my body, I have to think first. She’ll sometimes ask me if she can put on my makeup, or get dressed up. She puts it on and says, ‘Am I beautiful now?’ and I’ll say, ‘You were already beautiful, now you’re just colorful.’ Or she’ll put on a dress and say, ‘This makes me pretty.’ And I’ll say, ‘No, you’re already pretty. The dress is pretty too, though. I try to think about the way I’m talking to myself about my body. Even if I don’t say it in front of her, kids are smart. She’s going to pick up on it. Is this what I want her to grow up thinking is normal for women to think about themselves? I get dressed in front of them. I don’t think that’s a big deal and I want them to know. I don’t want the only naked bodies they ever see to be the ones that are airbrushed, that are perfect. I think it’s important for them to know what people look like.”

For sure. Every single human body is different. That’s really powerful. It’s crazy how kids really do pick up on more than we realize.

 “And you know we knew how our moms felt about their bodies.”

Yeah, for sure. It’s kind of a generational thing that gets passed on. Whether you intend to or not, it does. You said you worked hard on the positive mindset about your body after pregnancy. Tell me little more about the physical health aspect of it.

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 “Part of it was education because it was a totally new thing. I had been teaching yoga for a couple of years, so I thought I knew about getting shape. But this was an injury that I didn’t know much about. I couldn’t do the things that I already knew how to do because those things weren’t going to help it. If I did the exercises that I already knew how to do that required full core strength, I had to start from the bottom with very, very small movements without my rectus abdominus taking over. They weren’t strong enough to do anything. This would strengthen my transverse abominis, which is like a corset of muscles that’s under the superficial muscles that are there. It was really sad. It is really hard to be a beginner again in something that you feel like you you’re so good at. Anytime somebody saw me the first thing they’d say is, ‘So, how’s the yoga going?’ And I would be like, ‘Well…’ and it sucks to be back at the beginning to be even farther than when you started. If anybody else is dealing with a diastasis recti, there’s a program called Mutu that I got that has instructional videos and step-by-step instructions for exercises that will improve it and it will strengthen it without making it worse. Crunches and planks and all kinds of stuff just make it worse. That was something that helped. But ultimately it’s like, you can do all the right things and it might get better and it might not. I had to get to the point where I had to think, ‘If it doesn’t get better, am I spend the rest of my life hating my body?’”

Tell me about how all this affected your sense of style.

 “A lot of the things that I used to wear weren’t flattering anymore. I used to wear a lot of things that were tight around the waist and suddenly I didn’t have as much of a waist as I used to. So, I was like, ‘How do I wear the things that I like, and still not completely dress like a mom. Especially as I was still healing postpartum, I had areas that I didn’t want to call attention to. Even at a place of acceptance of my body now, where I feel like I can wear tight stuff, I don’t necessarily always do it because it’s not the best look for me. I’ve been trying to figure out how I choose that best look. I don’t know that I’ve totally nailed it. I have kind of transitioned into baggier tops, and with that it’s like, ‘Okay, so how am I going to wear this so that I don’t like a big sack? Where am I going to balance it out with something tight? Can I show my back with this one?’ Trying to still be in my twenties.”

Right. How would you advise other women who may not like the way their stomach looks? Is there something specific that worked for you? Made you feel good about yourself?

 “Yeah! There is something that changed my perspective like nothing else ever has. The natural hair movement. You know, I’m not African American, I didn’t know anything about black hair. I remember, back in my ignorant youth, I saw a black woman with chemically relaxed hair and it was straight. I thought, ‘Oh that looks really nice. Why don’t all black women straighten their hair like that?’ Then I watched the documentary, ‘Good Hair’ by Chris Rock and I was like,’Holy crap! Wow, they’re doing awful damage to their skin to their hair. They’re spending lots of money when there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it comes out of their heads. And yeah, I spend a lot of time as a teenager straightening my hair because I have this really thick, frizzy curly kind of hair.’ It just hit me like a lightbulb going off. ‘Wait, my hair isn’t bad. Just because somebody at some point decided that you have to have really straight hair to be good hair, my hair isn’t bad.’ That train of thought sort of cascaded into, ‘My body isn’t bad just because it doesn’t fit the mold.’ I had never thought about it that way. I know that it’s one of those things that you hear a million times, and you just have to get it. Because, how many times have people told me that, and how many motivational posters….but who really gets to decide what bodies are good bodies?”

I know exactly what you mean because I had an experience earlier this year where it hit me all of a sudden, and I was like, ‘I have never loved myself.’ It’s one of those things you hear all the time, like your whole life. Then in that moment it was like, ‘That’s it?’ But then, ‘Oh, yeah! Oh my gosh, yeah!’ You have to have that lightbulb moment. People hear it all the time, ‘Oh, I’m beautiful the way I am’.....

 “Yeah, they were just words then....”

Yeah! It has to mean something to you.

 “I have a ton of cutting scars. They sometimes bother me, but not a lot. I got just one or two stretch marks after I was pregnant. I was freaking out, and my best friend was like, ‘Hey, I don’t want you to take offense to this, but why do you care about getting these itty bitty stretch marks when you have tons of scars?’ I was like, ‘But I had a say in those. And I don’t have any control over this. This just happened to me.’ I think that’s a big thing with pregnancy and aging and anybody with a slow metabolism, or genetics that don’t favor being thin. Not being able to control it is hard. I think that sometimes can be more of an issue than not liking your body, is not being able to control your body.”

That’s so true. I had never thought about it that way, but that’s so true. So what about this outfit do you like?

 “I like that it is casual without looking, what’s the word I’m looking for... ‘bummish’? or frumpy. It’s not like sweatpants and…”

It looks relaxed yet not too relaxed.

 “Yes. It looks a lot more effortless than it actually is. I think that is achieved by this being a very casual top with a dressier bottom. I like that it’s comfortable. That’s a big thing for me. If I’m wearing a pair of gorgeous heels that look amazing on me, or a pair of skinny pants that make my butt look amazing but it’s not comfortable, then I can’t wait to go home and get it off. Like, I can have it all and I demand to both look good and be comfortable. I feel like this is perfect because it’s stretchy material that doesn’t look like yoga pants, but it’s basically like a yoga pants dress. And these boots are super comfortable. So, none of it is going to cause pain or feel unnatural. But I wouldn’t just walk around in this every day. It’s a little bit more elevated, and I’m wearing it to a poetry reading so I feel like it’s artistic. It’s a little different and I think Sylvia Plath would approve.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*This interview was lightly edited for clarity and brevity