"One day I decided that I was beautiful and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl. It doesn't have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see."
I was looking through a box of family photos the other day, and I came across some pictures of me from over thirty years ago—I was about thirteen-years-old in one and sixteen in the other.
In the first photo, I wore my ballet tights and leotard, and in the other, I wore a one-piece bathing suit. They were odd photos because they were both taken in my bedroom and not at the beach or the ballet barre as I would have expected, and I was holding my arms out to the side like the subject in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing, the Vitruvian Man.
I shrugged, unable to place the photos, and kept flipping… until I found a photo of my sister-in-law, wearing the same bathing suit, in the same pose… and it hit me. These photos, of this skinny teenager (and my twenty-something sister-in-law), were “fat photos” that we had taken together to document our too-big bodies in order to show the progression of us losing weight.
I was astounded as I stared at myself. How could I have been so distorted in my thinking? The young girl looking back at me took 3 – 4 dance classes a week, walked over a mile to and from school five days a week, participated in gym class and aerobic videos, and was generally an active kid who rode her bike or walked everywhere.
And she was NOT overweight.
Yet there I was in the photo, convinced that I was fat; convinced that there was something wrong with me—which wasn’t surprising, really, as I was surrounded by kind, caring women who all thought they were fat too.
Cue the heartbreak—for my eleven-year-old-self who went on the Nine Day Wonder Diet because my dance teacher told my mom I would be able to jump higher if I was thinner, but also for these wonderful women who thought they were “less than” if they didn’t weigh a certain number or fit into a certain size—my mom, my sister-in-law, my friend’s mom, my dance teachers, my, my, my… the list goes on and on.
And not only adults. I can remember standing around with other eleven-year-olds in dance class, wearing our pink tights and leotards, discussing tummy rolls and dieting. All of us—healthy, active girls—dissecting what was WRONG with our bodies.
Ugh. I didn’t know whether to cry or scream as I looked at the photo. What I wouldn’t give to tell that wonderful little girl, smiling back at me from the glossy paper, that she was perfect just the way she was. And to tell my mom’s younger self that she was perfect too. And my sister-in law and my dance teachers…
Fast-forward thirty-five years, and I’m now a middle-aged mom with my own little dancer. I can
This distorted thinking about women’s bodies is a subject that has come up several times in my writing, and it plays a significant role in shaping my heroine Deirdre in my upcoming release, HIGHLAND CAPTIVE. But what’s wonderful about Deirdre, is that she’s fighting back and determined to question those limiting beliefs instilled in her by other people.
In one of my favorite scenes, Deirdre sets out to change her perception of her body and help her tall, skinny friend do the same.
I hope you enjoy it, and maybe next time you tell yourself your thighs are a little too thick or your upper arms are a little too flappy, you’ll remember this scene between Deirdre and Isobel, and you’ll smile… and then you’ll go live your life like a f**king warrior queen, whether you think your muffin top is a little too fluffy or not.
* * *
“Mama,” Ewan whispered into her ear.
Deirdre opened her eyes slowly and stared into Ewan’s bright, blue-green gaze. She smiled and reached to pull her son into her embrace, his head on the pillow beside her as he snuggled in.
She’d kicked off the covers in her sleep, and her shift had rucked up to her thighs. The room had finally cooled down after the fire she’d built last night, the breeze from the open window nice against her skin.
She heard a sound and shifted her gaze to see her bedchamber door closing. Her heart jumped, and she sat up quickly, pulling the covers over Ewan and herself.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Da. He telled me not to come in here, but I knew you’d be awake. I telled him you ne’er barred your door. He didn’t believe me.”
Deirdre flushed hot again. So Gavin had seen her then, sleeping without covers, with her shift pulled up and the tie loosened at the top. She almost ran to bar the door now, but what was the point? She’d already been exposed. She wiped at her mouth, worried suddenly that she’d been drooling. How much of her body had he seen? She’d been on her side, so her breasts would have been squashed together and pushed out of her top.
Embarrassment invaded every inch of her. She felt fleshy and ungainly. It was one thing to be completely covered by her shift in the hallway, another to be seen lying awkwardly on the bed.
Doona run, Deirdre. Everything jiggles.Her brother’s jest reverberated in her head, alongside her sisters’ laughter. She’d been twelve when they’d taunted her that time, and she’d wanted to hide under the bed, hating everything about her awkward body. No one in her family looked like her. Her older sisters were all shaped like their mother—tall and slender. They’d made her try on their silk dresses in the European style just so they could laugh when she tried to squeeze herself into the confining material.
Her tutor and nursemaids said to pay them no mind. That they were being cruel only because they were jealous.
A year later, her brother hadn’t been laughing anymore. Her stomach sickened just thinking about him. If there was anyone in this world she would happily wish dead, it was Boyd.
A knock sounded at the door, and Isobel stuck her head in, then pushed all the way in when she saw they were awake. “Gavin’s headed to the stables already, but I’m starving, and Bonni said she’ll make a feast. Come eat with me.” Then she whispered, “And I doona want to sit there alone with Kerr. He’s been more annoying than usual. I swear, everything he says is intended to irritate me.”
“What’s annoying mean?” Ewan asked her.
“It’s when a wasp keeps buzzing around your head, but when you try to swat it away, it keeps coming back,” Isobel explained.
Deirdre bit her lip to stop from smiling. She had the feeling that would come back to haunt Isobel someday. Ewan had started jumping on the bed, and she grasped his arm to stop him. “Go with Aunt Isobel. I’ll be down as soon as I’ve washed up.”
Ewan leapt to the ground, making the same crashing sound as yesterday when he landed. His new favorite sound, obviously. Then he stuck out his arms and ran for the door. “Aunt Isobel, I’m a wasp! Try to swat me!”
Isobel held the door open wide for him so he could run through. “Hurry,” she said to Deirdre, before she closed the door behind her. Deirdre could hear her chasing Ewan down the passageway.
She would wager Isobel’s body didn’t jiggle as she ran. Nay, she was even slimmer than Deirdre’s sisters and mother.
But…a few days ago she’d spoken enviously about Deirdre’s curves and disparagingly about her own lack of them. Maybe…maybe neither she nor Isobel were correct?
Didn’t she try to teach Ewan that there was beauty in all the different shapes in Nature?
She’d challenged many of the other false beliefs her family had instilled in her. Maybe it was time she challenged this one too.
Deirdre threw back the covers and rose from the bed, moving to stand where she had some space. Closing her eyes, she raised her arms out to the sides and tried to feel her body around her bones—not with her hands, just her mind, sinking down inside and feelingit. The muscles that moved her and allowed her to run with Ewan. The heart that let her love, and the mind that enabled her to think.
She put her hands on her shoulders and was about to run her palms down the shape of her body—and try not to hate everything about it—when the door clicked.
“What are you doing?” Isobel asked. “I knew you’d be dawdling.” She looked closely at Deirdre. “You look guilty. Were you exercising?”
“Why would I feel guilty about exercising?”
“Because I told you to hurry.” Isobel stepped closer, interest growing in her eyes. “Is this what you do every morning? Your secret for”—she waved her hand in a circular motion toward Deirdre—“all that?”
“Nay. And I’m not exercising, I’m…I’m…” She didn’t know how to put into words what she’d been doing, and a blush stole up her cheeks.
Isobel stared at her, fascinated, and then her eyes grew round, and she turned a fiery red. “Lord have mercy,” she said, and she ran to shut the door and slide the bar across. “Doona you know to always bar the door before you do that?!”
“I wasn’tdoing that!” Deirdre’s warm cheeks suddenly burned as hot as Isobel’s face was red. “I was…I was…trying to love my body.”
Her friend’s eyebrows rose. “’Tis the same thing, is it not?”
“I doona think so. But you should try it.”
“Aye.” Deirdre felt her words bubble out as her excitement begin to rise. “I was told terrible things about my body by my mother and siblings when I was younger, cruel things that were meant to wound, that have ne’er gone away.
“And then yousaid that I was shaped like a siren. And even though that’s a horrible thing to say—I would ne’er want to drown some poor, unsuspecting sailor—you meant it as a compliment. You, who are everything I’ve always wanted to be—tall and slender and fair. And yet you speak about my shape with envy.”
She rushed forward, took Isobel’s hand and pulled her into the middle of the room where Deirdre had stood alone just a moment before. “And what is even more incredible to me is that you doona like your shape any more than I like mine. We envy each other, and how pointless is that?”
“About as pointless as us standing in the middle of the room talking about it?”
“Aye, so let’s do something about it.”
“Is this where we switch bodies?” Isobel asked. “Because I’m fairly certain that willna work.”
“Nay. This is where we love ourselves. Together. Close your eyes.” Deirdre did as she’d directed Isobel and then thought about what to do next. “We should run our hands o’er our bodies, and while we do it, think about how much we love them.”
“We’re to touch our own bodies and not each other’s, correct?”
“Of course!” Her eyes flew open, and she could see Isobel’s teasing grin as she made gentle fun. Deirdre couldn’t help grinning back at her. She closed her eyes again. “On the count of three, then. One…two…”
“I’ll be at my feet before you even get o’er your breasts.”
Deirdre snorted, tried to contain her amusement, but couldn’t hold back the puff of laughter that burst from her chest. Her very large chest. “If only those poor sailors had known my breasts would float.”
Isobel burst into laughter and Deirdre followed right behind. She tried to catch her breath, but the more Isobel laughed the more she laughed too. When Isobel leaned on the corner post of Deirdre’s bed then turned and collapsed backward on the mattress, her belly heaving, Deirdre did the same.
“Your own God-given raft,” Isobel said. “Did you know I canna swim? Nay—I start sinking right way and I panic. I’m so skinny, I canna keep myself up.”
“Have you tried moving your arms and legs?”
“Oh, is that how it’s done? How did I e’er survive without you?”
“By not going in the water, apparently.”
“Well, I will now that I know you can jump right in and save me.”
* * *
Coming July 30th
Laird Gavin MacKinnon is a changed man—and not for the better. Even since his young son, Ewan, disappeared two years ago, Gavin has grown callous and bitter. Scouring the countryside, his search leads him to a mysterious woman who maintains the boy is hers. He decides to take them both and ask questions later.
Deirdre MacIntyre will go with the brooding laird if it will keep her son safe. Gavin has to admit that the beautiful lass has a bond with Ewan, and things aren't adding up. When Deirdre's clan comes to claim her under threat of war, Gavin has a choice to make: fight for her or let her go.
Alyson McLayne is a mom of twins and an award-winning writer of contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance. She’s also a dog lover and cat servant with a serious stash of dark chocolate. After getting her degree in theater at the University of Alberta, she promptly moved to the West Coast of Canada where she worked in film for several years and met her Prop Master husband.
She and her family reside in Vancouver with their sweet but troublesome chocolate lab named Jasper.
Please catch up with Alyson on social media. She loves chatting with her readers!