Arming ourselves with body positivity

Last weekend Hip Circle Empowerment Center hosted its third annual body positivity photoshoot.  This year’s focus was arms, with a dress code of sleeveless tops and dresses.

Having just made two sleeveless dresses, it didn’t occur to me that some women are self-conscious about their arms. Then on July 14 going sleeveless even became a political issue in congress with women striving to change the dress code that doesn’t allow for sleeveless dresses in the Capitol’s House of Representatives lobby.  

I like my arms, especially now that they are toned from wire bending and Moxie Boxing. We had a blast striking various poses in front of the new Main Street Station Mural (more will pop up on Hip Circle’s web site). The fabulous Zinta Jauntirāns-Vogel took all our photos.

I knew I would bump into friends and was pleased to meet new power-women. Some are studio regulars, and others just found out about the shoot and decided to join in. We even tried to get passers-by in sleeveless outfits to take pictures with us (they declined).

Unlike the bikini shoot that sparked this annual event, I had no jitters during the day. It was more about deciding which dress to wear! One person had bought a top especially for the occasion.

A little girl who had been made self-conscious of a farmers tan refused to join. She later wanted to be part of some photos, but the rule was that she had to remove her cardigan. As the shoot progressed and we asked her about Wonder Woman’s power poses, she warmed up to the ladies present. Just as the group session wrapped she decided to join in after all. Now she is happy to leave the cardigan at home on hot days.

Here’s to the next empowering activity. I missed the shorts photoshoot last year, which also has fabulous messages.  Check out the various classes, workshops and events Hip Circle Empowerment Center organizes and see if one or more of them resonate with you.

Photos copyright Zinta Jauntirāns-Vogel

Hip Circle Empowerment Center just turned non-profit. Their mission: “Through dance, fitness, and community we empower ALL women to believe they are strong, beautiful, and worthy of attention.

Vision: The Hip Circle Empowerment Center is a safe space for women of all ages, backgrounds, and economic status. It brings together women from across societal boundaries for shared experiences. Through dance and fitness, women are empowered to joyfully inhabit their bodies. Through personal and professional development, women are empowered to courageously accomplish their goals. Through involvement in the studio community, women are empowered to confidently make their voices heard.”

A body positivity photo shoot

It seems that body advocacy has become more prevalent over the past few years, or maybe I just follow like-minded people who agree that photoshopped imagery in magazines is an impossible standard to uphold. But instead of sharing and liking these links on social media, I was called to do something more substantial about it in June.


Inspired by this blog post about normal-size women posing as Victoria’s Secret swimsuit models, Malik of Hip Circle Studio posted the following invitation:


Within the week, she had scheduled a formal event invite that called us to wear our favorite bathing suit and show up at the beach.


I tried on a few the night before and realized that it had been a while that I’d been bathing suit shopping. Comfortable me gravitated toward the tankinis, but I decided to do the scary thing and put on the two-piece that fit. At the beach, I saw photographer Kerry Ben-Joseph checking the light.


Soon my friends from Bellydance and Moxie Boxing classes appeared. A few new-to-me ladies also  came to the shoot. We were asked to line up and strike poses.

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The power pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The jumping pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The chatting pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

We were also asked to pose individually. Initially I wasn’t going to, but then it seemed everyone was game, so I played along. The hardest part was not contracting my belly the whole time. I feel like I could have posed better, but the photo is posted on Malik’s insightful recap blog post so you can see it there.

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

I didn’t see ‘models’ like me in the media growing up, so if this shoot is enabling one teenage girl to accept herself as she is, rather than looking at air-brushed and ‘skinnified’ images of women she will never look like, then the mission of this shoot is accomplished.


Malik hopes to make this at least an annual event, and I am all for it. We need more initiatives like this to showcase that everyone is beautiful just as nature created you. It was fun in spite of the initial awkwardness!

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

Radvent 2012 2: Self-worth

“My value is greater than my body.” 
~ Princess Lasertron

On the heels of Artful Giving weekend, where I was praying people would like and purchase my new Maraviglia pendants, Princess Lasertron posted a Radvent about Self-worth.

This post is flashing me back to last year’s Radvent on Style and Wrapping. And like last year, my gut response to her post surprises me.

1. Consider the origins of your self-worth.
My primary origin of self-worth is the nuclear family, which builds its self-worth on generations past. This year I’ve re-assessed those relationships, and it has been quite a process to determine who is ‘allowed’ to hold power and who is not.

Self-worth was measured in being ‘good’: getting A and B-equivalent grades, not doing drugs, being home by curfew, and doing as I was told. Body image was also quite prevalent: “You would be so pretty if you lost weight in a certain area of your body.” I am learning to deconstruct that, but it isn’t easy.

Another part I am struggling with this year due to not having a 9-to-5 schedule is the ‘worth’ of productivity. In my old job, putting in a lot of hours was a badge of honor: “look at me, slaving away for 12- to 16-hour days.” Yet I know a lot of hours in a cubicle were UN-productive. On global projects I spent 7 a.m. to noon being productive, then waiting around until the next time zone woke up around 8 to 9 p.m. Not to mention all the office chit-chat, hour-long meetings and other corporate rituals taking away from ‘real work’.

Yet I still have a hard time feeling worthy of honoring my circadian rhythm. Most pieces of art I’ve created are done between 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. Still, I feel guilty for not being ‘up’ at 9 or 10 a.m. the next day, and not having a ‘normal’ work day. Princess Lasertron is very helpful in sharing her pattern, but I realize that in spite of my need to be unique and a solopreneur, conformity is a measure of my self-worth.

“I love the beauty in all people
and wish for them to accept their worth.”

~ Princess Lasertron

2. Consider a compliment you received recently. Did you believe it?

Like Princess Lasertron, I’ve learned to pick outfits I feel good about, rather than what I ’should’ wear. I’ve loaded up on sweater dresses for the winter, because the muffin top my pants generate will make me want to crawl back under the covers. When I wear an outfit I am happy in, I get more compliments, and I do believe them because I am happy myself.

But I also know I and many others haven’t been trained to accept compliments graciously. “Oh, it’s just something I threw on,” “It’s only from Target” (like a brand/boutique name would make it look better), “This outfit is so old,” and “Well it’s what fit this morning” really are scripts to downplay our inner beauty, which also diminishes the generous comment you’ve just been gifted with.

When I feel nudged to tell a total stranger on the street that their outfit flatters them, I do so. Their responding smile makes my day as much as theirs. A simple “Thanks!” is plenty of acknowledgement. So don’t make excuses for being beautiful!

“Nobody has to share a kind word.
That people do say kind things is marvelous to me,
and it inspires me to see others opening up to offer such positivity
expecting nothing in return.”

~Princess Lasertron

3. Watch the people around you today at work, or on a walk in your neighborhood, or while shopping for gifts, whatever you’re doing in you routine.

When I look at others, I see their generosity of spirit, the success they have achieved, their fantastic talent or skills, the wisdom in their thoughts and actions, their radiant smile, the bright color or pattern of their outfit, their cute shoes, their fabulous hairstyle, their creativity with their wardrobe.

Yet when I get ready to make a first impression somewhere, I look at flaws flaws flaws in the mirror. Strictly the body parts. Forget the smile I get complimented on a lot, forget my eyes, my dentists’ envy teeth, forget my brains, forget my skills, forget my talents and achievements.

As I mentioned in the Style Radvent, I need to remember that others might admire exactly the things I negate. Some people would love to be shorter, and envy the curves I happen to have. Health is paramount, and all beauty consciousness fades when something isn’t working right.

“Think about the subjectivity of beauty
… Recognize how profoundly individualistic
and subjective beauty really is,

and appreciate the unique-self worth of those around you.”
~Princess Lasertron

4. Realize you affect others.

I am one of the smallest in my family, but forget that genes do predispose one to a certain look and style. I am learning to wear what feels good, rather than what the fashion magazines tell you you should fit into.

An empowering moment a few years ago happened when I shopped for a nice dress to wear to a wedding. The sales person took a peek in my dressing room and said: “You need to wear Spanx with that.” I told her: “No, I don’t need to buy this particular dress.” I refuse to girdle myself into discomfort for the sake of looking a size smaller.

Slowly I am re-training myself that my belly ‘is allowed’ to be round in spite of the fact that I’ve never been pregnant. I learned long ago that I would never have a six-pack, and I’m stopping the negative self-talk implying I would prettier with washboard abs. Being a size 10 is OK. I was a size 8 once (after being size 12 to 14 for many years), but maintaining that is un-natural/un-realistic for me. So like Kelley Rae Roberts, I pledge to be realistic in 2013 and remove the pieces I no longer fit into, that start those bad movies in my head, and to honor the 3-decades-and-beyond healthy body I have been gifted with.

“Know, first, who you are;
and then adorn yourself accordingly.”
~ Epictetus (via Princess Lasertron)

Self-worth is indeed beyond looks, beyond work, and beyond a paycheck. Character, spirit and influence matter far more, and are tools we hardly actualize because we are too busy focusing on looks, checklists and material things.

The good news is people do like my Maraviglia. You can see their out-and-about page on Facebook, and I sold Center of my Heart to a man visiting from Greece during Artful Giving.

“The truth is that we don’t need everyone to like us,
we need a few people to love us.
Because what’s better than being roundly liked is being fully known—
an impossibility both professionally and personally
if you’re so busy being likable that you forget to be yourself.” 
~ Jessica Valenti in She Who Dies With the Most ‘Likes’ Wins? 

Radvent: Style (and being happy with your self)

Princess Lasertron’s Radvent on Style has a fabulous opening:

“Ladylike dressing is making a comeback,
opening the door to beautifully defined silhouettes,
exciting accessories, and life with grace and style in all the details.
The exciting thing about being a modern example of style is that
we don’t have to look a certain way
–there’s no correct blouse or skirt or suit or pair of jeans, but
we should leave our house every day
feeling like we simply did our best.
~ Princess Lasertron

Radvent 18 on Style by Princess Lasertron

Image re-blogged with permission from Princess Lasertron.  

I love the egalitarian notion of this post. Style icons have gone from curvy (Marilyn) to scrawny (Twiggy), and fashion from bodiced to shapeless to padded and everything in between. I was wondering why my thoughts about style immediately shifted to body image when I remembered this quote:

 “Three minutes looking at a fashion magazine
makes 70 percent of women of all ages
feel depressed, guilty and shameful.

Average American Woman: 5’4” tall, 140 pounds

Average American Model: 5’11” tall, 115 pounds.”
~ America the Beautiful movie 

Our body image is defined by advertisers who photoshop their models to sell a product and a fashion industry that considers a size 12 “plus-size.” I am currently that average (though not quite American) woman above. I went from size 14 to 12 over three years and since 2008 fluctuate between sizes 10 and 8.

We get so obsessed with the number on a scale that we do not appreciate how we look as we are. My home scale indicates I’m 10 pounds lighter the same day I get weighed at the doctor’s office, so how does that help? I love Alexandra Jay’s notion of putting a smiley face on your scale where the numbers are supposed to be. Celebrate your body because it is YOURS!

happy scales

I know absolutely beautiful women who wish they were born with slimmer hips, a rounder tush, larger or smaller breasts. But when I look at these lovely ladies I see:

  • the glow of their personalities
  • their shiny hair
  • a beautiful smile
  • the sparkle in their eyes
  • the graceful way they walk
  • their intelligent insights
  • their lovely vibrant outfits

Whatever “flaw” they consider themselves to have has no significance to our interaction.

No one who matters ever said: “I’d like you much better if you lost weight.” It’s really the media who do that (and sometimes one pesky person in your life whom you shouldn’t listen to anyway).

We should take a cue from those guys who are sexy and know it!

“My motto is that there are no bad bodies, 
only bad clothing.”
~ Gwendolyn Evans in Where Women Create Magazine Summer 2009

standing tall in pretty shoes photo by Maike's Marvels

 Standing tall in pretty shoes

A big eye opener for me recently was this belly project, a gallery of photos real women submitted of their unphotoshopped bellies. My best (lightest/most toned/smallest) shape was when I was rehearsing every day of the week for a bellydance performance—incidentally to “Move your belly” by Said Mrad–but even then my belly had a jiggle. Looking at XO Jane’s images made me realize that even though I might be ‘pillowy,’ my belly and the rest of my hourglass body is blessed to be healthy, non-scarred, and in pretty good shape for my age.

MarvyMaike before the Move Your Belly performance

Best shape of my life, in 2007,
yet still sucking it in! 

 “You have to consider yourself to be your own style icon.
You were born with a body, and you get the fun of dressing it!” 
~ Princess Lasertron

I haven’t found a style icon in the fashion pages for my particular body shape (my abs will never be flat enough). As much as I love the outfits in her movies—Funny Face in particular—Audrey Hepburn’s look wouldn’t work on me (Did you know she was self-conscious about her lovely swan-like neck? GO FIGURE!).

I take my cues from European Royalty Magazines, where women my age like Princess Máxima wear stylish outfits that are definitely not size zero, and the queens age gracefully without nips and tucks.

What I love these days is to see how fabulous my friends dress. I won’t necessarily be able to pull off the outfits that they have on, but the way they select colors and accessories inspires me to look at my closet and see how I can repurpose the same outfit into three new ones. Pairing colors or patterns you think ‘shouldn’t’ go together can garner refreshing results (something Princess Lasertron does with flair on her weekly outfit page).

my fun closet to play dress-up with

My fun closet to play dress-up with

Style is about personality as much as the clothes we wear. As long as we dress true to our character anyone can be an icon. The key is to find what flatters us, whether it is a size bigger than before or if you have to take in (or out) the hemlines, waistlines and other parts to best flatter the radiant you that you are. That is where the only nips and tucks should be, on the fabric, not your person. The most important accessory is pride-holding your head high (yes, posture is key) and owning that you love your outfit and therefore others should too.

Mike Dooley posted this on Facebook the other day, and I added it to my new years resolutions:

“What if every time you put on a piece of clothing,
you said something really nice to the part of your body being dressed?
‘You rock, toes.’” 
~Mike Dooley

Let’s all rock our toes, sway our hips, move our bellies, raise those arms and cheer our totally unique, sexy and perfect bodies on every day of the week.