The War on Girls: Battle of Body Image

These images a part of my series 'The Secret Lies of Men & Women' | Bonnie Rose Photography © 2007 - 2013 All Rights Reserved

I grew up on magazines.  In fifth grade in Italy I got my first issue of Teen magazine. In seventh grade after my move  to Germany I found out about teeny-bopper magazines like Teen Beat and BB.  For several months my walls were covered in two by four posters of Devon Sawa, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Then in 9th grade after moving back to Italy my favourite magazines grew extensively to include anything talking about fashion, beauty, or celebrities. I was swayed at the checkout aisle in stores by the attractive covers of pretty models with perfect hair and makeup and svelte bodies in beautiful clothes. I think it is important for this post to state that I did not grow up in a house with six foot tall super skinny models who looked perfect 24/7.  I instead invited them into my house by way of monthly magazine subscriptions. It was not my mother who I judged what I should look like as I became an adult but the unattainable idea of perfection from people I had never met. I modeled my version of perfection from the girls in my magazines.  

"I used to cut out magazines ads that I liked and tape them together to make strips of wallpaper in which I covered a wall of my bedroom in our rented house.  My bedroom and closet doors were a collage of magazine cut outs creating a visual piece of art.  Anything I saw that appealed to my eyes or represented what I was feeling would be meticulously cut out.  It was a creative outlet in a tangible experience."

As a teenager I set this bar that I had to be pretty.  People are attracted to pretty shiny things and I was already looking at myself in that regard.  My goal was to be beautiful and sometimes my version of beautiful was on the verge of sexy. To be honest I did not fully understand what sexy meant. Nor did I really understand the fact that men and women’s brains work differently when it comes to how we look at the opposite sex. I never quite comprehended why my more conservative friend would tell me to pull my shirt up when my neckline started to plunge too low. What did it matter? The girls I saw on television wore the same clothes and no one was telling them they were immodest.  It was the same clothes I saw in my mail order catalogs.  Growing up in Europe the girls on the billboards wore far less clothing and I was living in a world that was more sexualized and open to the human form.

"I cannot look at my teen self, now in my thirties, and judge her because I have forgotten what it means to be sixteen.  Even the girl I was at twenty one has changed from the woman I have become.  I look at myself reflectively."

I never felt I was able to achieve that status of perfect as a teenager.  I never felt thin enough, tall enough, fit enough, or pretty enough.  My hair was not long enough or blonde enough.  I had to wear contacts or glasses to see and even had my rite of passage of wearing braces in my younger teen years.  In University I found I was able to relax a bit more.  I met my husband my freshman year and we soon became inseparable.  I do not remember focusing so much on my body during those first two years.  I am not sure if it is because I went to a very conservative school with strict rules of modesty or because of the security I found in my college boyfriend.   Perhaps it was because I hung out more with him than I did with other females. So I never had to compare myself to girls to feel I was competing in  competition of perfection.  While my friends went to the tanning booth, I felt secure in my skin.  If at least for a while. 

After my first child was born, my body issues returned and continued unnoticed through till after my second son was born.  As I was now wanting to get my figure back a what I liked to call a dysmorphia resurfaced and this time with an eating disorder I could not ignore.  It festered and grew with an obsession I had of looking at my ideal body type online.  Photos of celebrities who were just skinny enough or too skinny.  Photos of real girls, like me, who were working towards attaining their ideal body type.  I found my online friends to be my biggest support network.  Girls who could respond to me with empathy as we were all part of the same club.  Where like fight club, no one talks about the eating disorders in real life, but hides behinds screen names online.  There was this 'diet' (the name I have decided would be best to omit) where every day for a certain number of days would have a certain calorie count.  From all over the world we would encourage each other online in this competition to keep to the calorie count restriction. I won one month and my online friend sent me a package of shirataki noodles that contain 0 calories. 

Self Portrait series | Bonnie Rose Photography © 2007 - 2013 All Rights Reserved | 
There was a time in my early twenties where I could tell you the exact calorie count of almost every food item in our kitchen. A talent I was able to achieve by constantly looking up an item of food by its quantity and how many calories that held.  As I would recall the same foods over and over again, I could put together combinations in my head quickly.   To add up which items I could eat that would stay under 100 calories as if I was a eating mathematician.  While I was not hiding my new obsession from my parents, I was hiding it from my family of my husband and kids.  If I knew my husband would be cooking and would make sure I ate, I would starve myself until then and then say I was full before finishing my meal. I may have my days were I slipped and ‘overate’ in a matter of minutes as I scarfed down food. I would then punish myself with days of fasting to get back on track. I do not want to say that fasting is not healthy because I believe the opposite.  However, the way I was doing it and at this point of my life was not healthy. This was the time of my life where I was a slave to my scale.  I would stand in my shower and scrub my skin raw in the attempts to feel clean and think that it would help me weigh less.  The days the scale went down I rejoiced and the days the scale stayed the same or got higher in number I would feel the weight of the world crashing down on me.  I wanted to be perfect like the girls I saw online. How else could my husband love me if I did not look like the best me that I could be?

It was my boss at the salon that drew my attention to how I was letting my body shrink away unnaturally.  Who helped me get into doing crossfit and yoga with my coworkers to get onto the path of finding my own happiness in life.  My weight since then has done the yoyo up and down, give or take fifteen pounds.  Depending on how much exercise and what kind of food I eat.  I have gotten near to how small I was before but this time weighing significantly more because I was eating and doing weight training to build muscle.  I am still obsessed with food but this time in eating organic, buying from local farms, and not feeding my children processed food.  If you would like to know more about what kind of a Paleo diet we model our eating style after look up The Bullet Proof Diet.  It is not exactly Paleo but based off of of science. 

My story is not over and I will still obsess over my body and how it looks.  I struggle with wanting to be perfect so I take one day at a time.  I do not weigh myself because muscle weighs more than fat and I judge my body by how well my clothes fit.  I try to stick to a  paleo diet of food that is mainly protein and vegetables and keep away from anything processed, with sugars, or carbohydrates.  I have nicknamed my diet as a ‘flexiterian’ because I allow a 85% rate of keeping on track and 15% to cheat foods.  I enjoy food and flavours and let myself fully experience passion of eating when my husband who loves to cook makes us meals.  I do not want to trade my body fat for less of it but in exchange for more muscle tone.  To be fit skinny and strong and not squishy skinny and unhappy because I am slowly starving myself over time.  I try not to fixate on perfect models and celebrities but to look at friends who have built tight bodies of strong muscle tone and and rejoice in the fact that there is another version of beautiful that is healthier than before. I love to look up fitness images that will restructure how my mind looks at beauty and strength and motivates me in my fitness journey.  You can follow along with my Fitspo Board - Pinterest

"I know I am not alone in this war on girls and the battle of body image.  I am just thankful that I now eat to live. Not live to eat...or to eat less and have my whole day devoted to that goal. To value food and the type of food I eat as fuel for my body to do what I love to do."


Meet Elspeth
For anyone who is struggling with body image I wanted to introduce you to one of my friends I met while we were both working in the salon in Hawaii.  Her name is Elspeth and she is a personal trainer and a fitness ambassador.  I met her when we were both working at the same salon in Hawaii.  She has been an influential person in directing me towards a healthier way of looking at body image.  She recently posted a before photo for the first time.  

Her caption to this was:

"I've never posted this 'before' picture, but I hope it inspires someone! The before was taken at a time where I was doing at least 7 plus hours a week of cardio, no weights, and barely eating. I weighed about 90lbs & was completely unhappy with my body and my self esteem was low. The second picture is from this month- doing roughly 90 min of cardio a week, strength training 4-5 days, and eating 5-6 small meals a day. I weigh now about 103-105 lbs and am so grateful for my journey. Not only has fitness changed my body, but its changed my whole life! Like so many people I struggled with body image issues and terrible eating habits. (And that's not to say that I don't have a bad day here and there-I'm human! But overall, Fitness has empowered me and has been a driving force for me to live a healthy, happy life. *Never set limitations on yourself!" - Elspeth 

I think this is a great testament to how we should approach not only body image but our whole concept of fitness and achieving your goals.  I end this by giving you three women who have influenced my view on food and fitness and hope that if you feel you have an unhealthy view of yourself and are fighting the battle of body image you will find these women as positive role models.

*Photography belong to Bonnie Rose Photography © 2007 - 2013 All Rights Reserved |
** The model in the title image has been photoshopped towards fitting the 'anorexic' role in the conceptual photographic piece for the series 'Secret Lies of Men & Women' by Bonnie Rose Photography. 


  1. What an incredible post! I think that most women in this world suffer with some sort of body image dysmorphia. I know I do... there are times that I look back at photos when I thought I was "big" and it makes me sick, because I was nowhere near big. I was tiny. I was itty bitty. And now as I get more pregnant, I look at photos of myself last summer and have to laugh - how could I have thought that I looked bad on the beach?! I think i look GOOD as a pregnant girl on the beach, so what does that say about last summer's body? That I looked amazing... I just wish I could go back and tell myself that.

  2. Caitlin I can totally agree. I look back at photos now with a whole different look than how I felt when the photo was taken. It is so surreal to think how we see ourselves and how others see us in actuality and then what the reality of it all is. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this post and comment, thank you Caitlin. x

  3. What a great post Bonnie! Body image is a huge issue for women and I think too much focus is put on how celebrities and models look, rather than on the important things like healthy living and exercise (especially weight training!)

  4. You're amazing for writing this. I have had certain issues with accepting my weight/body image. I try not to let my eating habits flip to the wrong side of the scale to where it becomes a disorder but I am trying to be aware of what I put in my mouth. There was a time I too counted calories and looked up everything I ate but that phase has luckily passed and I can now say I enjoy food and try to make healthy choices by eating organic, as little meat and processed food as possible and of course doing my yoga.

    Thank you for writing this, I hope many (young) girls read this and realise they are not alone in their battle with self image. I truly hope they realise they are perfectly OK the way they are and there is no need to be super skinny.

  5. This is great post. I feel like talking about body image issues is 'not done', but it's very real for women. I know I feel very conscious about my body, but I never really have the guts to talk to anyone about it because people tend to say that I don't have a reason to complain.
    Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us :)

  6. Such an awesome post Bonnie ! I loved it . I have been through quite same experience but I never said/wrote such stuff! So happy that you did . GO ON GIRL.
    Noor @ Noor's Place

  7. Um....YES TO ALL OF THIS! I am going to have re-read this post because it's THAT awesome,but thank you so much for putting this out there because there is a definite war raging on how girls see themselves. We have to remember that those girls become women, and those women affect tomorrow. You are such an inspiration and thank you for sharing!

  8. I have never been small and I am plus-sized, and would love to see women of my shape and size being more positively shown in media (it is getting there) but I also know that it will never be fully accepted as to be fat is automatically thought of as ugly. I found that preconceived idea of fat = ugly had really settled in my head as I was growing up and still affects me to some degree now as society has not changed enough to be completely accepting of women and people of my size. I really hope that more changes for women of all sizes and that beauty is not measured by dress size and our contribution to the world is not measured by how beautiful we are (Marion Bartoli being a recent example).

  9. Terrific post! This fascination we have with trying to be skinny is totally at odds with what we should be striving for in terms of fitness, so I absolutely love that you and Elspeth shared her before and after - it really shows the contrast between skinny and healthy, fit, and beautiful! I love that you got into CrossFit as well - CF has really done wonders for my perception of health and for my body image. I can't say enough good things about it!

  10. I think that there should be a greater emphasis on 'my body is a temple' efforts to be healthy, rather than thinking about appearance! His is certainly what I try, but it is hard in this world of stick thin models! Instead of reading mags, I now read blogs! And the blog world is filled with characters of all shapes and sizes. Real people who are nonetheless inspirational. I look to these people now, instead of celebrities!

  11. What a great post! Thank you for sharing. While my situation is different from yours, I can understand where you're coming from. I've been wanting to write about my body image issues but have never quite built up the guts to do so. After reading this, I just might get started.
    You are truly inspiring Bonnie!

  12. As I mentioned yesterday, I really needed someone to have the courage to post something like this first.
    I've had my post on my own issues with this written as a draft for 3 weeks and I just kept changing it from scheduled back to a draft again. But you sharing this has helped me and I feel additional sharing is only going to help open people's eyes to the fact these things happen. Or maybe help someone in a similar position?

    Well done for having the courage to write and share about this Bonnie, did it make you feel better? Although not shared yet, mine made me feel better just for writing it down!

  13. I was very lucky when I was younger in that I could eat anything I wanted and still be supermodel skinny... and then I turned 30 and put on a couple of pounds... and then I moved to France! I've struggled a bit with my weight here until I realized that while I weigh more than I used to, I'm by far more healthy than I have ever been. Since that lightbulb moment, I've strived for health rather than skinny :)

    Thank you for your honesty and putting yourself out there like this Bonnie, it's a subject that women need to be more open about.x.

  14. I needed this post, as a push. I was debating on whether or not to review Unbearable Lightness by Portia De Rossi on blog. I really think I need to and that will be my next book post. This is something that needs to be talked about more, something that needs more attention on it.


    Fashion and Happy Things


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Bonnie Rose

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