I used to be that girl who could eat anything, and eat often, and never gain an ounce. I was effortlessly thin to the point where people actually used to ask me straight out if I was anorexic (how insulting that was, we'll save for another day). I bounced back quickly -- and again, effortlessly -- after I had my first baby. Granted, I was 18 years old and healthy, with the metabolism of a mouse, but it still reinforced my totally misguided assumption that I would never be subject to weight issues, real or perceived.

Then I had two more babies, my third arriving just as I entered my 30's. And everything changed. I didn't just drop the weight in a month, like with my first; I didn't even drop some of it within the year, like with my second. It all just kind of redistributed itself, but otherwise decided it was content to hang out for a bit. Or forever. Suddenly, I was your average woman, grimacing at my reflection, poking here, pinching there, and wishing I could make certain curves and crevices just go away.

So, for the past half-decade, I've been obsessed with finding ways to accept my new self. In that mission, I've run across some facts of life that are super-easy to forget, but will bring into perspective what an obscene waste of your valuable time it is to tear yourself apart over what you (and likely only you) see as your biggest flaws.

  • 1

    No one is immune. No one.

    We tend to walk around thinking we're just a walking collage of flaws, and we expect others to see every one of those we think we have. We suck in our guts so people will think we're thinner; we wear padded bras to make ourselves look "more feminine"; we smile with our mouths closed because we think our teeth are too big, too crooked, too not white. We do all this because we think our "flaws" are going to stick out like sore thumbs, and everyone is going to see, and judge. And that's just not likely. Why? Because everyone else is thinking and doing the exact same thing. It's why we feel everyone else is perfect while we're anything but. It's also why all our worrying is so much wasted time and emotional energy.

    Yes, even your seemingly flawless 22-year-old neighbor who you always run into at the pool probably has something she hates about her appearance, and expects everyone else to hate with an equal passion. You may envy her flat belly to the point of almost literally turning green, but maybe she's eyeing your nose or your thighs or your hair and wishing she could trade you. Other people likely won't even notice your "imperfections," because they're too busy noticing theirs. Which brings us to the next point...

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  • 2

    You are by far your own worst critic.

    Even when the things we see as imperfections are noticed, chances are, those doing the noticing aren't thinking what you're thinking. They're not looking at your not-so-straight teeth and thinking, Ew, her teeth aren't straight, gross. More likely, they're thinking... absolutely nothing, because they noticed only in passing.

    The next time you find yourself obsessively picking apart the way you look in that new dress and what others must be thinking about you, ask yourself this: Would I see this as a flaw if I noticed it about someone else, and if I did, would I care? If the answer to both of those questions is no (and it likely is), don't sweat it. If you're a decent person, you don't go around zeroing in on other people's flaws, so it's unreasonable to expect others to focus on yours. Besides they're already laser-focused on their own.

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  • 3

    What you see is not always what you get.

    Let me take this opportunity to remind you once again, because it always has, and always will, bear repeating: what you see in magazines, or almost any other commercially-published image, is absolutely, undeniably artificial. That is not up for debate; it is an unfortunate fact that to sell anything, from a high-end signature fragrance to a less-tangible concept, like fun family time, it and those who consume the product, must be perceived as, on some level, "perfect." But those people in those ads are just that: people. It takes a lot of time, money and product to make models appear the way they do in print, before, during and after the professional shoot, with professional lighting, executed by a professional photographer.

    Cindy Crawford, one of the world's highest-earning women to grace the catwalk, has been quoted as saying, "Even I don't wake up looking like Cindy Crawford!" Back in May, after her recent GQ spread with costars was criticized for being heavily shopped, Pretty Little Liars actress Troian Bellisario had this to say on Instagram: "OF COURSE WE WERE! [But] that's a very specific type of photo shoot. And looking very blown out and perfected was obviously what they were looking for. Great. Cool. As long as we acknowledge how it was achieved so we know it's not real... my hips and thighs are a part of me (even though they magically weren't in some shots!)... I'm happy to shake what my momma gave me."

    And let's not forget this, from one of Victoria's Secret's most recognizable Angels, Miranda Kerr: "A rose can never be a sunflower, and a sunflower can never be a rose. All flowers are beautiful in their own way, and that’s like women too. I want to encourage women to embrace their own uniqueness.”

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  • 4

    How you carry yourself is key.

    Insecurity is the single most unflattering accessory we can possibly wear. What is more, others can sniff it out like bloodhounds, but instead of pursuing it, most are wont to turn tail and run.

    Sophia Loren famously said, "Sex appeal is 50% what you've got, and 50% what people think you've got." In other words, look yourself in the eyes, tell yourself you're sexy, believe the hell out of it, and hold your head high because of it. It doesn't matter what you look like, if you respect yourself, it will show. A healthy sense of self-respect will in turn cause you to take better care of yourself, physically and emotionally, and you will walk more proudly as a result. And nothing is sexier or more respectable than one who exudes gracious confidence. Ms. Loren also said, "Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical."

    Not to mention that the simple act of standing up straight is flattering to every figure.

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  • 5

    ... and so is the way you sit. Seriously.

    Looking down at my legs the other night as they were stretched out in front of me on my bed, I thought, Why can't they always look like this? My bedside lamp gave me a perfectly even tan, my thigh-to-calf ratio was perfect, and they looked a mile long. That's when it hit me: the shape of our bodies will look different depending on the lighting and the position in which we arrange ourselves. That, after all, is exactly what modeling is: posing a certain way in a certain light, wearing a certain outfit, so as to look the best we can. This makes striving for perfection, not only unrealistic and stressful, but utterly pointless. Everybody has a "best side" -- all you need to do is find yours -- with the body you have now, not the one you think you need -- and utilize it. Instant confidence-booster.

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  • 6

    You almost never see yourself the way others do.

    Think about it: when you look at yourself in the mirror, you tend to be standing with your arms to the sides, head-on and relatively expressionless, save for the sharp, critical glint in your eyes.

    That's not what you really look like.

    Others -- your SO, your kids, your friends, clients and passersby -- get to see you in nearly non-stop motion. They see the way you look when you walk, speak and manipulate the three feet of space around you, and they see every expression that crosses your face. This isn't meant to make you feel more self-conscious, but rather to remind you that real life is experienced in constant motion, and those movements, those expressions, are what tell people who you really are.  When someone who cares about you sees you laughing, they're thinking about how great it sounds and how beautiful your smile is, not whether or not your mama pouch jiggles as you do so.

    Others get to experience you in all your ever-changing glory -- not (thank the heavens) simply staring straight ahead like a Stepford Wife, weighing, measuring and evaluating. Try to see yourself from others' perspective occasionally -- catch sight of your reflection when you can in windows, mirrors and elevator doors as you go about your day, for example -- and you'll see what I mean.

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