I’ve existed in a lot of different versions of my body in Austin, TX. I’ve lived in high school Madie’s body, toned by hours of tennis practice and a tendency to overthink my eating habits. I’ve lived in mono Madie’s body, aesthetically about the same but much weaker. I’ve lived in Austin Fit Magazine Madie’s body, carved out by living gluten free and hours at the gym every week. Depressed Madie’s body was the largest version, and mostly dealt with by putting on sweats and denying my inches gained. Most frequently, I’ve lived in chronically ill Madie’s body, soft from frequent weeks of bed rest. Now I live in my body that is strong from workouts a few times a week but not chiseled because my days of counting calories are over.
What all of these versions of my body have in common? Not a single one of them looked like the “Austin woman” I see on the cover of our magazines, on our billboards or on our commercials. Hell, scrolling through our most popular Instagram influencers there are only a few noticeable exceptions in beauties like @flashesofstyle. As America’s “fittest city” we have this obsession with thinness that we conflate with health and happiness over and over again. Women who do not fit into this one very narrow body category are pretty uniformly overlooked.
I, myself, may never have noticed the unseen gorgeous women of different sizes if I hadn’t worked in a boutique. In my to-be-nameless store, we only carried up to a size 28 inch waist in most pants and a large in tops. One of the most absolutely devastating experiences for me was watching a GORGEOUS girl come in excited about a date she had with a cute new partner, and knowing that none of our clothes would fit or flatter her body.
I tried to tell her that none of the clothes in the store fit me, either. I tried to explain that it was a place with exactly one type of person in mind (ie. wealthy white women with enough disposable income for a personal dietician, trainer and medical spa membership). I tried to find something in my store that would make her feel the way I saw her. But I could see the same messages I’ve walked away with all over her face: I don’t belong here. My body isn’t built to be pretty. There’s something wrong with me.
Women like me and that customer are ALL over Austin. I know because I see them running the trails with me. I see them sweating their asses off in dance class with me. I see them in Sephora with me and out on Saturday nights with me. Where I don’t see them: in boutiques with me. In photoshoots. In music videos. In casting calls.
P For example, among other communities that exist here, I love our acceptance of all genders and sexualities. The queer community is so strong in Austin that I often forget what a safe haven it is until I go out of our city limits. But where are the curvy queers on our signage? Where are the queer men and women who can’t fit into the clothes in our local shops? Why are we telling them to love themselves but not letting them see themselves in our city’s media?
My argument is this: We cannot be America’s #1 city to live in if we use our media to perpetuate the idea that proudly living here requires a thin body. At my very healthiest and happiest I am nowhere near the lean frames of yoga instructors and triathletes and fitness models consuming every square inch of signage we have for our beautiful running trails and lakes and hiking spots. I am tired of feeling like I don’t belong with all of the people outside working out with me because I don’t have that body type. I am tired of feeling like I need to tell people how much weight I’ve lost to validate the fact that I’m exercising. I am tired of going into a casting call and knowing I won’t be chosen because I am a pear and not and hourglass or straight line.
My message to the women like me is this: we are here and we are beautiful. Keep finding clothes outside of local Austin shops that make you feel like a goddess. Post more pictures of yourself outside doing your thing. Don’t hide away from the world because you feel like you need to hit a certain number on the scale before you deserve to be seen. No matter where you are on your journey to health and happiness, you are stunning just as you were created.
When you show the gift of your body to our city, you’re showing more women and girls that your shape has nothing to do with your shine. When we adorn ourselves with brands that honor real women, we show shop owners all the income they’re missing out on by not offering realistic stocks. When we shamelessly exist as real women with real curves and scars and stories, we slowly tear away at the idea that only one type of beautiful is right.
How can you help change the image of beauty in Austin? Post pictures of yourself using the hashtag #realaustinwomen . If you’re naturally thin, use the hashtag! If you’re pear shaped, use the hashtag! If you’re literally a green alien woman with three arms, use the hashtag! We need more women to see women who look like them! If you’re a shop owner, think about your stock and what you’re saying by only catering to one body type. Use models of all shapes and sizes in your ad campaigns. If you’re an influencer: don’t airbrush your images. I know, it’s so tempting. But let those dimples on your thighs and that little belly button dent in your shirt have their moment in the sun. I’m not asking you to post unflattering photos. I’m asking for honest photos.
We can change how women feel about themselves in our city, and I hope we take the chance to do so. I hope the next generation of #realaustinwomen grow up with images of women who look like them. I hope they know they are beautiful.