How Does A Woman's Body Image Change With Age? I Spoke To 36 Women, Ages 10 To 70, To Find Out

With the epic body shaming and the pressure to look a very certain way that accompany the warmer months, I wanted to have some real talk about women's body image. Headlines and magazine covers right now are all about eight-pack abs, the most daintily toned calves, perfect peeled-banana blonde hair, white skin with the acceptable glow, and a tiny frame topped by curves for days. Sure, these are things we all "know" on an intellectual level are not attainable for the majority of the population, but what's the day-to-day effect of this conditioning? And how have the body positivity or Health At Every Size movements changed these viewpoints for women?

So I asked! What's the thing you love most about your body? How has your relationship with your body changed? I posed these and other questions about body image, and more, to 36 women between the ages of 17 and 70. Women who have lived through and survived health problems, stigma, childbirth, racism, poverty, eating disorders, self-hatred, plastic surgery, and other experiences that have shaped the way they view and relate to their bodies.

The participants could answer as much or as little as they wanted and, to be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't single them out specifically for their stories and in many cases I didn't even know what they'd have to say. Their words all come from different places in the journey to self-acceptance — which a few referred to as a "roller coaster." Reading everyone's responses solidified that changes in aesthetics and physical ability can affect our understanding of our bodies and disorient our sense of self.

The answers that they shared with me — and you — are honest and vulnerable, true and strong. They are all a reminder that everyone has stuff going on when it comes to living in a human body that's related to so many different factors and influenced by so many outer channels. Due to this, our relationships with our bodies are as unique as our bodies themselves. Something I noticed throughout this process is that we often feel like our "shortcomings" and "imperfections" are the first things that people notice about us. But those things we struggle with or that challenge and strain our relationships with our bodies are invisible and unseen to others.

Ages 10-15

Keira

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Interesting.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Probably this year.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My favorite thing about my body are my legs because they are muscular.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Probably my stomach. I want to get more definition in my stomach.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I don't feel great, but I'm learning to love it.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I never really cared about body image until last year. And then it seemed like that was the only thing on my mind.

Anonymous

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Like.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

I haven't had a problem.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My blue eyes.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Nothing, except my mom won't let me get my tongue pierced.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I like it.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I like that I'm strong and tall.

Ages 15-19

Adi

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Evolving.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Middle/high school, from age 12 until I was around 16. But it's a constant work in progress.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I think my favorite thing about my body at the moment is really just being able to do whatever the hell I want with it. Not everyone is privileged enough to claim their bodily autonomy, and when I'm able to use my body to convey a message about body politics it feels great.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I'm currently working on being OK with my VBO and other similar "problem areas" that the media says to conceal at all costs. I recently wore a bodycon skirt for the first time and it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be, so yay for small successes.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

8.5/10. Overall, pretty happy, dare I say the happiest I've ever been? But there's always room for improvement.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

To put it simply, I started actually liking my body and placing value on it rather than just seeing it as a vehicle and trying to hide it. I used to just compare myself to other people — girls I went to school with, strangers, my friends and be like, "I'll never look like that," or, "I could never wear that." But after discovering a bunch of supportive Internet communities of people like myself and learning about body politics, I started to see myself as more of a person who mattered independently and not in relation to others. That was five years ago. Now I feel confident in my body for the most part and gladly wear things that I would never have dreamed of wearing three years ago (i.e. bathing suits).

Chelsea

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Better.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

I think at age 12, I was constantly bullied and physically altercated in school for not being in the norm. But I guess, I pushed through.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My legs. Hahaha. I maybe large but I have kick-ass legs. Hahaha.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Proportions. I'm from a country that doesn't really cater that much to plus size women. And I have small boobs and butt. But I learned how to deal or put it out there. :)

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I love my body. Not because it's fat (which is already pretty liberating) but because it's mine.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I think I learned to love my body because I realized that even my friends who happened to be more successful (not just body wise) also have their own problems to deal with. And I guess I also learned through the years that no one is going to love your body if you can't love it yourself.

Catherine

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Fluctuating.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

I would definitely say 12-14 years old. The early years of middle school were generally hard, but it's the awkward age where some girls have hit puberty, but others haven't. Educators also mention it all the time, so we were constantly forced to not only think about our own status, but to evaluate where everyone else was at. Forced judgement = not fun for anyone, lest of all tween girls.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My back! I have a long torso, and it's the only place on my body that seems to tan (my mom is sunscreen-obsessed), so I enjoy wearing clothing that shows off that feature, unconventional as that may be.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Muffin top. I realize I'm not alone, but high school girls do love to show their midriffs, and low-rise jeans are freakin' EVERYWHERE.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

It's Satuday, and I'm wearing the comfy clothes I've had since grade 6, so I wouldn't say I'm supermodel-confident, but I'm at a place where I dress for me, don't freak out about leaving the house, and try to be pretty relaxed about my body image in general.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

When I was little I really didn't think about it... that is, until my dance instructors started talking about it. I only thought about it when others made a point to criticize my body. At around 16 (years after quitting dance), my body image vastly improved. There are, of course, days when it's not awesome, but overall, as I've become more confident as a person, my body confidence has grown synchronously.

Kika

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Pleased.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

15 years old/Grade 10.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

Honestly lots of things, I like my hair and my nose and my breasts and my feet, I'm content and feel attractive too.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Body hair that grows so quickly/that poochy bit of stomach that NEVER LEAVES.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Great; I like my body and feel that it is an attractive body, and like it when other people think it is an attractive body as well.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I no longer think of my body as my whole self, I use it in my life and strive to be strong so that I can accomplish things, rather than to compare myself to others.

Ages 20-29

Stephanie B.

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Improving.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Ages 14-19.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

It never lies to me. It's so in tune with everything I think and feel (via mannerisms, anxiety, happiness) that it helps me understand myself.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I've developed acne from going off birth control and it's been hard to feel confident.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I don't always take the best care of it but I do like my body and have long stopped trying to change it.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I've learned to make my body something I work with as opposed to work against.

Ann

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Alrighty.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

High school. All the girls looked the same in their bathing suits during swim class and I didn't. I felt... big and immediately began to pull inward. To make myself seem smaller somehow.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

Its strength. I learned that a big part of my size (heh) comes from how muscular it is. I can carry all my groceries in one trip and that can only be a blessing.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

How it refuses to get with my personal style which isn't "complimentary" to my body type at all, haha.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Accepting. I by no means feel like this is my final form because I haven't been treating my body the best. I need to eat better and exercise so it can reach peak performance level. Size wise, I don't care, I know I'll never be a single digit size and that's OK. It is what it is :)

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I met other girls like me in college. Similar body types but their outlooks were so different. They not only accepted their bodies, they loved them. We banded together to push back against how society taught us to feel about ourselves.

Danika

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Complicated.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

I think now. I've been a very thin, borderline unhealthy person for a majority of my life. Most of this stemmed from poverty and malnutrition. Until two years ago I lived in a small house in a very impoverished area of town with seven adults and one child in one household. I ate once a day from elementary school through high school (and by that I mean either one good meal, or just one meal in general), and since moving out of my childhood home and becoming more financially stable, I've had a weight increase, since I'm able to eat more meals. The problem here is that I have always been thin and "conventionally attractive" since the get go, partially because I have never been one to eat much, and I learned bad habits. There were months where we literally couldn't eat dinner. So now that I've become more independent and financially stable, the weight has started to healthily fluctuate, I'm starting to find myself questioning my own body image in ways I didn't before. I don't think I'm unattractive, it's just strange how my body image has changed now that I can finally be "healthy."

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I love my legs. My car broke down six months ago and I've had to walk, run, and bike a lot, which were things I previously hated doing. I feel a lot stronger. That also has helped with my anxiety a lot. I have time to process social interactions and feelings.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I don't not love my body. There are just those days you know? It gets hard when others are overtly critical of themselves. It gets hard when you're having a rough day mentally. It gets hard when all the shit is going wrong. For me, lately, it's been a combo of my mental health that leads to feeling unhealthy about my body.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Somedays good, somedays bad, sometimes whatever. It depends on my mental state 90 percent of the time.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I feel as though there's almost a missing translation to how I should feel about my body, how I do feel, how society thinks I should feel, and my retaliation against said societal expectation. Like, I want to say "eff society" and for the most part have, but as you get "heavier" or more soft, or less "in control" of your fluctuations, the shittier you often feel. It's not conscious at all, it's just a wake up in the morning kind of feeling.

Patti

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Complicated.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

When I was in my early twenties, my husband and I struggled with infertility. I felt that my body was not only outside of society's expectations, but also couldn't even function as a woman's body.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

Right now? It swims fast and far.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

This middle of the road, still too fat for social acceptance but not fat enough for my fat communities.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

It's just OK.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I was always a heavy kid, bullied for my weight. I always figured it was the reason I wasn't able to have the kind of high school and college life I had seen in the movies. I was a nervous dater, but never had a problem with the guys I dated. Or they never had a problem. I started seeing a therapist when I realized how negative my self talk was, when I was going through infertility with my husband.

My self loathing was affecting my relationship with my husband, who didn't understand how I could dislike something he liked so much. I found body positivity blogs (and pornography) where I found the bodies beautiful. Then it was realizing that mine looked just as beautiful. I owned being fat, and I felt great. I joined a gym and a running team in 2014, and all of a sudden I was finding myself as a pretty capable athlete, but losing my fat identity as I dropped 75 pounds.

People constantly praise me and it drives me insane. I did hard work to love that body and I don't want to lose that. I present as a medium sized person, but I've still got all the psychological baggage of the fat me. Now I don't love my physical body the way I used to, even though it's done so much.

Xochil

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Unhealthy.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

High school.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I don't really have something I like...

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My upper body.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I'm OK... but I feel like I will never be happy and that's scary! As I get older my body looks less and less appealing (in my eyes) and I will never look like I want. Meaning... I will never love my body like I should or be confident as I should. I know that I need to ignore people and live for me... but it's hard when the world tells you the opposite.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

It's gotten a lot better but I never seem to be content... opinions still matter to me. Even when I don't ask for them people still feel the need to state their opinion on my body... they are never the same so it hurts feeling like I need to change to make them stop commenting.

Haley

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Complicated.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Teenage years and beginning of university.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My eyes.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Its inability to change with ease.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I'm unsure. I think I'm telling myself that I feel fine, but really deep down, I don't. I think that when I go on runs, I'm not actually doing it for myself, but for others.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I'm in the midst of trying to love my body more. I've learned to sort of say "eff it" because societal norms suck and make me feel worse. I recognize that if I try to change how I cognitively think about my body, I'll really start thinking that way. I got rhinoplasty (nosejob) when I was 18, during the summer after my first year of university. Unfortunately (but fortunately), the confidence that I gained from feeling more comfortable with my nose — and therefore the rest of my face — made me feel better about my body and myself.

Danielle

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Bipolar.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

It was hard for me since I was young. But the hardest was when I was the largest out of my entire group of friends in university. I have a hard time accepting myself when I go on vacations because it is a new place and we usually go to beaches. That is hard to handle when you are 270 lbs. and only 5'3".

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I love my cute pudgy feet. They're cute. Also, I love my face.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My stomach. It's not that I think it is ugly but more of a major inconvenience.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Currently, I'm satisfied. I get out of whack when I see pictures of myself that I haven't taken. It throws me out of happiness and into stress and depression.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I used to hate my body. Everything about it. Wouldn't want to go out because I thought I was too fat.

Now I am learning to love small things, though some days I love some parts and others not so much.

Adrienne

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Trust.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

From ages 12-17 my feelings about my body averaged out to ambivalence. I wasn’t particularly proud of anything it could do (I could run fast and draw but who cared; I could play the piano but I hated it), or of any feature (I was thin and petite except for my baby-fat cushioned stomach, of which I was terribly insecure; all glasses slid off the bridge of my not-Caucasian nose but I resolutely pushed them back up).

My body was like a discounted substitute for a substitute for the one I really wanted: The one that would come with immunity to my family’s passive-aggressive remarks, and membership to carefree teenage years of endless summer lovin. When I was younger, I’d consciously begun diaphragmatic breathing, which is a more efficient way of extracting oxygen from each breath. But at age 14, I trained myself to breathe shallowly from my chest, like I was wearing an invisible corset, in hopes that people would remember how I looked during my inhalations.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My hands!

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My skin is a doodle pad of burns from stovetop veggie patties, enthusiastic love bites, every cat I’ve ever encountered, acne scars, and an early encounter with an espresso machine. Also, I have terrible vision, which is annoying at the beach and so on.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I try to be constantly aware that my body is able and privileged — in that I am mobile, fairly thin, of average height, and I can look conventionally pretty if I want to. I don’t deny that it is convenient to have these things on my side and be able to move through the healthcare system, job interviews, dates, etc. relatively painlessly. I’m grateful that my body is healthy and adaptable: I have control over my gender expression without worrying about finding clothes that will fit; my body knows what it wants from a partner and how to give a partner what they want; my body can do intricate detail work and also rip a gate off its hinges in a drunken stupor (oops); my body can recover and grow stronger if I need it to. My body does all the things I need it to.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

When my dad moved to another continent a few years ago I filled in some of his roles, such as fixing things around the house, cooking meals for my family, and selling things I had no idea how to use, like a bookbinding machine. Assuming more responsibility for others has increased my sense of agency and trust in my body. I’m proud of my strong hands, legs, and the curves in my shoulders and arms. Modeling, on my own terms, as an artistic outlet, is the activity in which I feel the most watchful of my body. I analyze how I look, but in a completely abstract way, where I think about my body as a composite of shapes as opposed to assigning a value judgement. I’ve also learned to like living in my "othered" body. It’s taken me a long time to look my internalized racism in the face and realize that I will never convince other people, or myself, that I am white — and more importantly, now I don’t have any desire to do so. My skin and my features are part of my identity. People may continue to objectify my Asianness and say racist things, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve recognized that this is their problem and it is not my body’s fault.

Stephanie L.

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Improving.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Middle school (about 11-13 years old) I would say was the time that was hardest for me to love my body. I felt like I was constantly gaining weight while my friends and sister were all staying thin. In my world of sleepovers where we would dress up in each other's clothes or run around in swimsuits, I felt like I was always being judged and teased about the size of my body, which made it hard for me to feel positive about any aspect of it.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

Oh my. Probably my back? Is that weird? I think it's very smooth and there are a couple freckles that I think are perfectly placed.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My stomach for sure is something that's hard for me to love. I definitely still have some residual shame and embarrassment about the fat on my body, specifically my stomach, from when I was growing up.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Right at this moment? Very wonderful. I've been listening to Beyoncé all morning and it's put me in a very "Feeling Myself" mood.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

It has become a lot easier as I've gotten older to be more positive about my body. I've arrived at a place where I'm confident (maybe borderline narcissistic) about myself. This has really been an attitude change more than a physical change. I never achieved the body I thought I wanted as a teenager, instead I've changed my expectations and thought process to help bring about a positive relationship with my body.

Miranda

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Overcoming.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

There really isn't a time where it wasn't hard accepting and loving my body. Ever since I was little I was either too tall, too big, too "masculine," etc. Though I think the hardest time I had accepting my body would probably have to be between the ages of 11-18. I was more aware of how I looked, and how it was different than the others I was surrounded by.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My favorite thing about my body is the strength that comes with it, both physically and mentally. I don't have incredible physical strength, but I have enough for me to personally get by. As for mental strength, I know I am strong because of the things I went through because of my body.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

The thing that's hardest for me to love about my body is how it is affected by things other than myself; how other people view me, or how not many things are catered to people my size. For example, it's hard for me to go shopping because of the judgment from strangers on how none of the clothes or shoes fit me. I don't get upset because I hate my body, but because I was made to feel bad for being me.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Overall, I am getting closer to loving my body. I definitely still need to overcome some more negative feelings I might have, and I have to keep reminding myself that my body is beautiful, but I am on the right track and I won't give up on loving myself.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

My relationship I had with my body before is very different than my relationship now. Before, I didn't own who I was and what I looked like. I tried to hate my body, and sometimes I succeeded. I was constantly told that I shouldn't like the way I look, so why give myself the chance to? Now, I realize that the only person who should have any say on whether to love or hate my body is myself. Even though it gets hard sometimes, I'm getting closer to completely loving everything about my body.

Alycia

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Evolving.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

All ages, but more so during adolescence. To this day I still struggle with accepting and loving my body, but I have improved. I struggled with an eating disorder for years, and I would say those were some of the hardest times. I never loved or cherished my body for being strong and healthy. I hated it, criticized it, and punished it by oscillating between extreme caloric restriction, gorging myself, purging, and hours of physical activity.

Finding a healthy balance has been a long journey that I'm still trying to grasp. There is a big difference between exercising because you enjoy it and it makes you feel better and exercising for an unreasonable amount of hours because you feel you have to in order to adhere to certain beauty standards. In regards to eating healthy, there is also a big difference between eating to nourish and sustain your health and eating to try to maintain an unhealthy body weight. I was exhausting my body. I fainted and felt weak. I was eating the "magic weight loss number" of 1200 calories while working out for a minimum of three hours a day.

During this time, I also allowed the media to have an overwhelming impact on me and control my life. I passively consumed media rather than viewing it with a critical eye. This was mostly during my adolescence, but education really helped me overcome this. Education is a very powerful tool.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I'm starting to love my curves and my stomach. Yet, here I am using objectifying statements about myself pertaining solely to my physical aspects. One of the biggest things I have learned is that I am much more than my body. The mind is by far one of the more superior parts of the body as it is the control center for everything. So, I would have to say my brain. It is capable of so much. I like the trend that women are being recognized for being intelligent and successful in their careers rather than being solely praised for their beauty or the way they look.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My flat chest. It has always been the hardest thing to love and accept about my body.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Overall, I feel loving. I want to love my body and treat it in ways that will help carry me through the years. This means nourishing it with proper food and water, exercising but not overly so, and getting enough rest. It's tough to find balance but very important. When you view and treat your body with love and health in mind it allows you to treat your body in a respectful manner.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

In my youth I was always hyperaware of my body size. I grew up a dancer, cheerleader and performer, all of which contributed to my body awareness. I was also obsessed with magazines. It's difficult to be surrounded daily by beautiful thin girls and not compare and criticize yourself. I always knew I'd never be skinny. My body isn't designed that way and I always felt shame because it never compared to what I felt was an ideal beauty standard fuelled by my media consumption.

This was the relationship with my body for years. I felt ashamed. The older I get the more this changes. I am learning to love my body for what it is. There are certain things I cannot change and I have really been trying to work with accepting myself for the way that I am. Rather than view my body in a hateful way by criticizing what I cannot change, I try to view my body in a loving way so that I can be a happy and healthy person. A more health oriented mindset has helped me overcome a lot of things, like my eating disorder, and created a better relationship with my body.

Ages 30-39

Anastasia

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Functional.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Late teens and mid-late twenties.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

It's full of knowledge and insight. It's got a lot to say, and if I take the time to listen, it's a much better guide than rules and hangups.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Moving into summer, definitely body hair. I'm making peace with the armpits, but bikini line, random chin hairs — those feel harder to accept and reclaim.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I feel like my body is like a stray kitten I've been building bridges with for a little while now. There are moments when she trusts me and we connect, and I feel hope and possibility, but there are still days when I'm scrambling around in the dirt, peering in cracks, waiting for a meow or a purr.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I've seen my body as mainly utilitarian, a vessel that carries me, but not something that I saw as fully part of my self. Becoming more connected with how my body feels, listening to its needs, and noticing what caring feels like in my full body/mind has made me feel more integrated and whole as a human being.

Jennifer H-S

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Tolerable.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Right now...

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My arms.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My breasts.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Depends on the day really. Somedays I am disgusted that I let myself get so out of shape. Somedays it doesn't look so bad.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I think I liked my body better when I was younger than I do now. Even when I was a teenager and gained about 40 pounds it never really bothered me. I was very active so a lot of it was muscular. I don't really remember dwelling on it or feeling bad about it. Unless some jerk made a comment but then I didn't think about it for too long. Now that I am older sometimes I don't feel so good about it but other days I am OK with the way it looks. Sometimes it's more on how I feel than how my body actually looks. I think because I am not as active that I don't feel as good. It's not so much about what my body looks like.

Teri

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Awesome.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Grade 6 when I was being bullied/24-25 when I lost 100 lbs. and felt I needed to be thinner and started doing a lot of bad things to achieve an unrealistic goal (diet pills, extreme fasting, etc.).

What is your favorite thing about your body?

That it continues to function and that I rarely get sick. Is it funny, that I stopped actually looking at individual parts of my body in terms of beauty? I see the whole package now. But to bring it into individual terms, my eyes for my gift of photography, my voice for being OK to be vocal (and when I get sick, I sound like a lounge singer), and my bewbs, because... bewbs.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I have this stupid pain on my left side that the doctors are in the midst of trying to figure out WTF is going on. Also when I get cramps I want to die, so I don't appreciate the dinosaurs that are clearly ravaging my uterus every month. I hate not being able to see what is going down on the inside of my body... if I can see it, I can understand it.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I love it <3 My body is my vessel and it allows me to create some amazing magic creatively. I am always impressed at the human body and its capabilities to do things without us even thinking twice. My body is magic!!!

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

One day I woke up and realized just what a perfect machine our bodies actually are from a biological standpoint. That's when I realized that it needed recognition for how hard it is working when I treat it or talk to it badly. In addition to my body, I have also always had a big personality and felt that I was always trying to change both of these things to be "proper," "quieter," "professional," etc., and every time I would try to change myself, I felt like I was stuck in an airtight box. Eventually I became confident in the fact that my loudness and my personality are what make me awesome... being a tall glamazon doesn't hurt either.

Deanna

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Genuine.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

When I was about 16, I remember going to a female gynecologist as I was having issues with my moon time, menstrual cycle. She made a statement to the male intern, who was in the room without my permission, "Well if she only lost weight she would have regular periods." She never asked me any other questions or inquired fully about what I was trying to tell her. I remember going back to school in tears and talking to my gym teacher, very solid, healthy woman. She looked at me and said, "There is nothing wrong with you, there is something wrong with her attitude." At the time I was 140 lbs., 5'7" and actively played sports. I was not healthy, though. I only ate when I needed to, smoked cigarettes, and drank iced tea. I believed I was "fat." I wasn't. When I laid down, my hip bones stuck out. An example of the messed up medical system, ignoring their responsibility to truly investigate when a person comes to see them with a problem. Lesson learned: Do not listen to the ones who say you are something by only looking at you. They make that judgment because they do not know what they are talking about. We are more than our appearances, complex and simple at the same time.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My legs. They are strong and powerful and always look great. I danced for years and they have carried me along my journey, never failing. I also love my curves and playing with them in different clothing. I have come to accept my curviness in all its wondrous femininity.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My stomach. We have a hard relationship, my tummy and I. Most days, I am ambivalent to her fluffiness. Some days though, when I stand in the mirror, I wonder what I would look like with a flat tummy. I then come to the conclusion, that would be too much sexiness for the world to handle and continue on with my day.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I love my body. It is the vessel for my spirit, my soul. It has enabled me to walk in this world and be me. I am grateful for my vessel, and we will continue to become stronger.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

Well, our relationship is just like any other relationship. We have had our disagreements and moments of bliss. I am now at a point in my life where I accept my body for exactly how it is in the moment. Unconditionally. I can only become stronger, not improve, stronger, because I am perfect the way I am. It has taken a lot of internal conversations over the years to come to this awareness.

Emily

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Improving.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Ages 10-23/24.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I like my shape, which is hourglass-esque (minus the large bosom). I love how strong and flexible I am, and my endurance. I love that I can walk seven miles in a day, and put my palms on the floor in a forward bend, and do a chataranga from down to up dog in yoga.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My arms.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Good to great.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

It has gotten exponentially better post-college. I grew up in a town, and went to a college, where the aesthetic was thin but athletic, blonde, blue eyed, petite, and white. I am none of those things (except white). Getting into the real world and seeing the diversity inherent in the human race, and all the different ways people can be beautiful helped. Working very hard at self-care helped — focusing on eating well, exercising/moving for the joy in it, sleep, yoga, spiritual and mental health minding — all helped.

Over the past several years (I am 38) my body love has skyrocketed — largely through yoga and my involvement in Health At Every Size and fat acceptance movements. It has been work though, no doubt about it. I feel like I should be awarded a PhD in how to develop a love affair with your own body for all the work I've done at it. Or be a millionaire.

Marie

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Longsuffering.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

From as early as I can remember till... now. I constantly heard messages that I was overweight and needed to change. Those messages became so ingrained that my sense of worth hinged upon my physical prowess. And I'm not known for my physical prowess.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My favorite thing about my body is her incredible capacity to heal and be restored. My body is very responsive to sound, and to touch. I hope she is always so sensitive and responsive. Especially as I learn to take better care of my body.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Well, I was recently diagnosed with a serious health issue. I'm working hard to put good, healing food inside of my body but daily, like a petulant child, she screams for ice cream! Nachos! Anything sweet or processed! This probably stems from a fear of the unknown — what if I work really hard to get healthy but the problem just gets worse? So, this acting (eating) out of fear is difficult to love about my body.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Hopeful. I'm looking forward to the day I can look back and say, "Baby, you didn't know your own strength."

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

Recently I learned about the concept of self-compassion, and I decided that I am worth the love and kindness I want others to feel from me. I try not to really think about my weight anymore, choosing to focus instead on my breathing, my gait, taking my own space as I create space for others.

Jennifer S.

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Complicated.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

In my twenties.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I have pretty good bicep muscles. They remind me that I can have body strength.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I actually have very few problems with specific body parts, I just wish I could always find clothes that fit and that I feel good in. On the hard shopping days when I just need a nice light cotton dress to get through the hot summer days, and all I can find is synthetic clothes in plus size stores, or nothing fits right, or when there are no XLs left and only XS on a rack, it overall makes me hate my whole body.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I can honestly say I have been trying to lose weight through exercise. I try to convince myself it is because I want to be healthier, but I do think about how if I lose enough weight and can fit clothes that are a Large of Medium again I would be so happy to get to emulate the style I would like to. I know it is not only about health, and that disappoints me.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I have become more accepting of it over time, being able to see myself as beautiful some of the time, hope to get to a place where I see myself as beautiful all of the time.

Ages 40-49

Emma

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Changeable.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Between the ages of 20-30.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

It does whatever I ask of it/my fabulous big bum.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My hanging stomach from having two caesarians.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Defiant.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

As I've got older (and thanks to my husband's encouragement) I've come to enjoy and appreciate my body as it is more and more.

Victoria R.

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Détente.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Pretty much puberty through my late thirties.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

That it gets me through this life and is capable of so much more than I have thought.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My legs.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Overall, I feel like this is me. This is what I look like right now. I'm never going to look 25 again, but I can take care of this vessel so that I might make it to 85 or 95.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

About 36 or 37 I realized how much of my life I had put on hold because I was waiting for the perfect body to do X. I had adventures and good (and bad) intimate relationships but I still couldn't see myself as deserving of an interesting life or relationships.

Katie

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Conflicted.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Right now. I started to look into HAES and fat acceptance and it has been a greater burden than before when I was always trying to be thin. There seems to be a level of fatness that is accepted even in the fat community. You can be not fat enough or too fat. So it seems there are rules and judgements when you give up the diet train.

It is frustrating and hurtful. What if you are fat but still want to lose weight? Then you can't be a part of HAES or fat acceptance? At this point I don't know what I am supposed to be. With my weight and my health problems I am feeling alone and unsure about my journey to body acceptance. It sucks.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My boobs and my face. I have great boobs. They look like my mom's. I have wonderful freckled skin too.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

That I might always be this fat or fatter. With my health issues I am not sure I will ever be able to get down to a "better" weight.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I don't like it right now. I am uncomfortable and bigger than I like.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I used to ignore my size and had blissfully put myself into a state of not knowing how fat I was. When I started to look at myself it did not result in acceptance, yet. It has just resulted in me taking a look at all those bad feelings I pushed away for years. I am in a very uncomfortable time right now.

Tori

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Curvy.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

16-35.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

It has all its parts and they pretty much work like they are supposed to.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

More weight than needed — aches and pains.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

On a scale of 0-10 if 10 feeling like it's the best thing in the world? I'd give it an 8.5.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

Certainly improved.

Angela

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Proud.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

Probably as a teen.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I haven't thought about that. Maybe my hands, which are so capable and great for helping me do all the hobbies and work I enjoy.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I especially am not liking whatever GI issues I have. They aren't sure yet if it is Crohn's or IBS or something else, but it certainly has taken all the fun out of food and eating for the last few years. (Funny thing is, I haven't lost a bit of weight with it though! Ha!)

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Proud. Comfortable. Loving. The things I really want to do, I can do. I am hopeful that the GI doc will help me with that, and I am hoping to continue working with my chiropractor to build my core strength to help my back and hips. My body has gotten me this far. There is no use in punishing it or fighting with it. We take care of each other.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

As I got older I started feeling better about my body. I had a few boyfriends who seemed OK with it, and then found my husband. I still wanted to lose weight and didn't really feel proud of my body till after having children. But after two pregnancies and two C-sections, resulting in three children, well I am just proud of my body for that! Sure it will never be the same, but look what I did!! I have three beautiful children. I carried my son and then my twin girls to term! They are all beautiful, healthy children. And I can't be upset or disdainful about my body after that!

Ages 50-59

Linda

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Love-hate.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

At the present moment.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

With my weight gain I have bigger boobs than ever before.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My fat legs.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Frustrated.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I was fine with my body when I was younger, but then one day my daughters told me that I had a muffin top, and then I became aware that my body was changing and I was heavier than before, and since then I have had a love-hate relationship.

Rayne

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Intimate.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

12-40 years of age.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

That I don't have very many wrinkles at my age. I guess using sunscreen all these years has paid off.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

The inevitable changes due to aging such as sore joints and spider veins. As well as how much longer it takes to recover from an injury than when I was in my twenties.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Learning to love it more and more as I grow older gracefully.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

The older I am becoming the more I love and accept my body for what it is and not what I think it should look like compared to society's outrageous standards. I look in the mirror and see a beautiful woman compared to 20 years ago when I just saw her flaws. I exercise now to stay healthy not to maintain a certain weight.

Julia

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Me.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

After my hysterectomy. Now has required practically the idea of reincarnation. I had had major procedures before but nothing works as it did. I had to take time to heal and then discover my new normal. Knowing what I know now I would have made some other choice.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My body, always in all its seasons has been easy to please and devoted to pleasure. I just seem to get a whole lot more joy and contentment out of life than other people, and certainly more than people expect of me. People enjoy just watching me have a good time, chasing my dog at the dog park, walking into a hot tub, and often I can encourage other people to relax and enjoy what they are doing, too. The satisfaction of esthetic pleasure, and passing on that gift to others. It's like waking up someone sleepwalking and I get to do this all the time!

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I like to eat foods that give me digestive distress. My body seems to have "dairy amnesia" in particular. And, I'm still learning to coax delicate post menopause skin to hold together and not tear. I buy a lot of topical antibiotic because I do push my body to my limits regularly.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I am my body, I'm not in my body.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

For me I have had three different bodies — the body I was born with, the body after a serious alcohol related crash at nine, and my post cancer body. Each change changed all the rules, not just systems that seemed directly connected with what had changed, The only rule that does not seem to change is that skills wise I am a hard learner. In the long run being friendly with frustration is a gift, in the short term being a person of size and taking twice as long as the next slowest learner can frustrate people around me.

Jacqueline

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

War.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

My teen years.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

My hair.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My loose skin.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I hate the way I look.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

It's still a struggle...

Ages 60-70

Trish

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Complex.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

With the exception of being in my fifties... I've never loved my look.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I have great legs and still wear short skirts — my 90-year-old mom says that's the last thing to go on a woman's body, haha! I have D size breasts but men like them more than I do.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

My hips... too curvy.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I need to lose 20 lbs. and I'd be really happy!

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

It's a roller coaster ride. Having three children in five years really took a toll on me. I finally sorted myself out in my fifties, but I find myself in my sixties feeling at odds again with by look.

Clara

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Changing-Through-The-Years.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

After two surgeries in my twenties. I was embarrassed for anyone to see me naked and my two large scars.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

That at the age of 41, I became pregnant. It was reaffirming that I was strong and healthy!

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

Loss of my pre menopausal lovely waistline. Got a muffin top!

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

Thankful for every healthy physical; reaffirms my body's strength.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I grew to appreciate my health and felt I had little to complain about the superficial. Being (conventionally) attractive of course helped on the superficial side.

Patricia

What's one word you'd use to describe your relationship with your body?

Love.

At what age or during what period of time did you have the hardest time accepting or loving your body?

As a pubescent teen I was very self conscious of being flat-chested and teased by the boys about it — Flatty Patty, Pirates Treasure (sunken chest), etc. Also I hated the dark hair on my arms.

What is your favorite thing about your body?

I appreciate that I have a slim form and I can move in graceful, expressive ways — especially dancing.

What is the thing that's hardest to love right now about your body?

I love my breasts and I hate to wear a bra. Having had a lumpectomy, one of my breasts is a bit droopy and the other is quite perky. Hard to go braless when your breasts are going in opposite directions. Also, the need to cover up my upper arms, which are not too picturesque.

How do you feel, overall, about your body right now?

I take good care of it. It's the best I've got and will have as I travel the aging path. I'm pleased to be active and attractive and thankful to be healthy.

How has your relationship to your body changed and evolved over time?

I now love my body for its strength, resilience, capabilities, and all the things it lets me do, from gardening to hiking to painting to swimming. It also still serves me sexually. Yes!

Conclusions

The general tone of the respondents' answers is one of hope and one of fighting to not hate the bodies we live in. As a woman who feels generally accepting of and even gravitates towards loving my body, it's extremely relatable to read about women who also have "off" days. That even some of the most positive women have to keep constantly working on recalibrating the attitudes of self hatred that society tries to make sure are engrained in us. But these answers also make me hope that we can learn to show a little more compassion to each other and be more encouraging to each other as women and as humans on this earth: The results of this project show that there's not a single person who isn't working on trying to love something about themselves more.

One of the things that struck me, and that stung, was how many women noted that a barrier to their self image or something that makes them self conscious after feeling pretty good about themselves were other people's comments — often unsolicited ones. It makes sense: We're raised to not only pick apart our own bodies and flaws, but to be constantly comparing them to others and critiquing them. Whether we think we're being helpful or whether we're tearing someone else down to try and make ourselves feel better, our words have a huge impact on other people.

While, ideally, our opinion about and decision to be happy with ourselves is decided by us — the owners of our body — there are a lot of things that weigh on that decision or affect that ability. Our friends, families, doctors, and society's idea of what makes a body valuable all swirl and impact our idea of what we're "allowed" to like and be proud of, too. No matter how badly we want them not to.

Let's all be kinder with our words and more generous with our praise. Let's work on loving ourselves more so that we're not threatened by those around us who love their own selves. Let's encourage people of all genders around us to see the good in their bodies — to see the value. Let's be honest about where we're at and where we've been and where we'd like to go. Let's keep these women in mind as a reminder to be more compassionate to others, but also to ourselves.

Images: Jodie Layne/Courtesy Interviewees; Giphy