Bring Sexy Back By Redefining Your Own Beauty Standards

By Cara Turnquist

In the words made famous by Justin Timberlake, “I’m bringing sexy back.”

Or at least, I’m really going to try!

What if I told you that many things that are traditionally considered “sexy” are potentially harming your sex life? A flat stomach, tight clothes, high heels and a seductive posture aren’t just a woman’s cross to bear in the name of looking good. They could be causing health problems as well.

Here are a few examples of how I’m re-defining my own personal beauty standards to improve my health, feel great in my body, and bring my sexy back.

Stomach All Flat Flat

caraasakid-276x375I can remember the first time that I started to suck in my tummy. I was sitting in the car next to my Dad, as he drove me to dance class. I was wearing a leotard and tights, feeling pretty excited for class. He looked over at me, his eyes scanning down towards my belly. He playfully poked me in the side saying, “you’re getting a little bit of a gut.” In that single moment we went from Father and Daughter to Father and Disappointment.

When I got to my dance class, I looked around at the other girls and confirmed that my Dad was right. I did indeed have a gut. As I laced up my tap shoes, I admitted to my best friend that I was fat and began to agonize. She looked me over, leaned in and said, “you’re not fat, you just don’t suck it in.”

From that day on I would suck in my tummy. I was eleven.

Drawing in your stomach might seem harmless enough, until you really understand how the core works. I’m not talking about “six-pack” abs here, but rather the inner core— the muscles beneath the “abs” that are responsible for stabilizing your body in all movements. The inner core muscles include the diaphragm, pelvic floor, transversus abdominis (TA), and multifidus.

core-deep-central-stability-system-350x329The pelvic floor and the diaphragm contract together. With the inhale breath, the diaphragm expands and lowers, and the pelvic floor should also expand and relax. On exhale, the diaphragm domes up and contracts as the pelvic floor also contracts and lifts. Julie Wiebe, pelvic floor physical therapist extraordinaire, calls this the “piston.”13 However, there are two other important players here. On inhale, the entire belly should expand (TA) as well. The core is a pressurized system. The ability of a muscle to contract and relax as much as they need to, when they need to is dependent on the intra abdominal pressure being ideal.3

Sucking in the stomach doesn’t allow that pressure system to work the way it should. If the transverse abdominus is always contracted, the other muscles of the inner core cannot contract and relax to their full potential because there is too much intra-abdominal pressure. Think about it...we don’t suddenly lose weight when we “suck it in.” We simply displace matter. Where do all those organs and tissues go? They press up into the diaphragm and down into the pelvic floor.

This can spell bad news for a couple of reasons. The diaphragm is the catalyst for all core function, and it is the muscle that controls the breath. The inability to breathe deeply (in and out) triggers a stress response in the nervous system that can cause feelings of anxiety and panic. In addition, if the diaphragm isn’t moving, the pelvic floor isn’t properly recruited. This can cause a host of problems. Incontinence, constipation, and painful sex are just a few of these problems.

Corsets, Jeans, and Heels—OH, MY!

There are a number items of clothing in my closet that seriously need to go—and I’m not talking about the maternity pants so comfortable that I can’t stand to give them up! I’ve got a pair of Spanx buried deep in my underwear drawer that have seen me through many a date night, and countless weddings and holiday parties. There are those jeans that make my butt look amazing...if only I could actually sit down while wearing them! I've got a pair of gorgeous heels that I regret wearing within about 20 minutes of putting them on—every time.

high-heels-350x375It turns out that sexy pair of heels may make our legs look impossibly long, and our butts impossibly high, but they wreak havoc on core function. Research has shown that muscles contract most optimally in their mid-range.4 Wearing heels creates a lot of length along the front of the body, making it harder for the TA to contract. And as we learned above, when the TA isn’t contracting properly the pelvic floor and the diaphragm aren’t functioning properly either. It’s a system-wide breakdown.9 This breakdown doesn’t mean that we can no longer move and do all the things we set out to do, but it does mean that other muscles start taking over for the “slackers,” which can lead to knee pain, low back pain, shoulder pain. And nothing makes a woman feel sexier than chronic joint pain, am I right?

As women, we often add insult to injury (literally) by pairing our high heels with shapewear like Spanx, a corset or waist trainer, or tight jeans. These tight-fitting, restrictive clothes can change the way the core works, and alter its ability to optimally use intra-abdominal pressure, the same way that “sucking it in” does.

Pin-Up Posture

Going back to my dance class for a moment, another thing I learned there was posture. One of the very first instructions I received in ballet was to “pretend that my heart is a jewel.” I should stick it out so everyone could see that jewel. As a result, I arched my back all the way through adolescence. My parents and teachers often praised me for my “perfect” posture. There are very few pictures of me from that time in which I’m not arching my back, sticking a hip out and looking over one shoulder. I like to think of this as my “pin-up” posture. I know I’m not alone in this as I see many of my friends on Facebook in this same pose! Think about your own poses in your pictures. Are you arching?

This boobs-out-butt-out-back-arched posture might make for a sexy picture, but it isn’t doing anything for a woman’s health and normal functioning of her body.

Much like high heels, the “perfect” posture could be causing harm to your core function, bringing on that nasty host of pelvic floor dysfunctions. Truly proper posture that serves the body and is ideal for core function is a stacked position.1 Think about stacking your ribs over your hips, with a slight curve in the low back. Your bum should be neither tucked under nor arched out, but neutral.

Chasing Beauty

I grew up near Seattle in the 90s. To say that I was a “grunge” chick is an understatement. Some days I look at my old high school pictures full of baggy jeans, flannel shirts and Birkenstocks—with socks! I was cool. I felt beautiful. Some days my 30-something-year-old self longs for those days because I miss the unapologetically comfortable clothes! I’m guessing that many women remember nostalgically (or not) fashion and beauty trends that have come, gone, and come back around again. One thing is certain, and that is change; which means many women constantly feel pressure to stay up with the current trends.

caracomfortableclotheswithson-350x350As a grown woman, these days I tend to go for leggings and activewear most of the time, but looking at those old pictures makes me wonder, who decides what is beautiful, anyway? How did clothes as uncomfortable as high heels, tight jeans, and shapewear ever become elements of the ideal look, at the costs of healthy function and just plain feeling good in your body?

Some scientists would argue that many beauty standards are born of our biological impulse to breed. Anthropologist Christopher Ryan in his book, Sex at Dawn, says, “Homo sapiens evolved to be shamelessly, undeniably, inescapably sexual.”8 What humans most often find beautiful in women, across all cultures. and no matter how big or small, are symmetry and a 0.7 waist to hip ratio.2, 5

This is thought to be because both symmetry and that waist to hip ratio reflect health and fitness.2, 7, 11 In addition these qualities have been linked with the ability to adapt and withstand changes to the environment.10 To our ancestors, the healthier, fitter, and better equipped to withstand change, the more likely their offspring were to survive. Ironically, many of the things that we use to enhance and create “beauty,” like heels, tight clothes and pin-up posture, actually move us away from health, fitness, and adaptability!

cara-comfortable-beautiful-with-baby-297x375Despite these cross-cultural findings, there is no denying that our concept of beauty also varies wildly across time periods and across cultures throughout the world. Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe are well known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing to lengthen it. A few Native American tribes of the upper plains prized a pointy head so much that they strapped boards to the still-pliable heads of infants in order to give them an otherworldly conical appearance. In our own modern culture, throughout just the past 30 years, we have seen beauty standards vacillate from ultra-thin to ultra-curvy.

However frustrating I often find many of the unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards for women, one thing that keeps me quite hopeful is their fluidity. I haven’t always felt this way. I’ve been chasing those beauty standards my entire life. With them constantly changing, I’ve often been left feeling like I can never really arrive. Like I’m stuck in the “work in progress” phase. In the process, I’ve wrecked my metabolism trying to diet myself thin. I’ve worn incredibly uncomfortable clothes in the name of beauty. I’ve bought the message that the beauty and diet industry were selling, in all its changing manifestations. Yet, I’ve never “arrived” at beauty, and I’ve missed out on enjoying true health. Chasing beauty standards and working at being sexy has never served me, and I know I’m not alone.

If beauty standards are constantly changing...who’s to say that we, as women, can’t set the tone ourselves?

IMAGE: By Oke - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, illustrate this point, let’s go way back to the Paleolithic era. Anthropologists have found Venus figurines all over Europe that they believe to be ancient symbols of beauty and fertility. These mostly palm-sized figurines are often seen as either opulently endowed or extremely obese. However, a new hypothesis has recently emerged. Noting that these figurines often have a little head (or no head at all), no face, no arms and no feet, perhaps they are actually self-portraits!(Image Source)

In fact, when average-sized women took pictures of themselves looking down at their own bodies, in their photos, they resembled almost exactly the shapes and curves of the figurines. Imagine that!

What excites me most about that idea is this: If it's possible that these ancient women were sculpting themselves and using their own images to define and celebrate their beauty and fertility, why can’t we?

Why can’t we redefine beauty in a way that honors our bodies, instead of sucking in, and wearing clothes that bind and compress, and ultimately interfere with the functioning of our bodies?

Every woman who wants to feel sexy deserves to feel sexy. Truly sexy. Sexy in a way that makes her feel vibrant and alive. Not uncomfortable in or with her body.

cara-comfortable-beautiful-at-the-beach-301x375I want to bring sexy back! How do I personally plan to do that? I can start by:

  • Bringing my heels back down to the floor.
  • Bringing those tight jeans back to the store.
  • Bringing my belly button back to its proper place, away from my spine.

Every woman who wants to feel sexy deserves to feel sexy. Truly sexy. Sexy in a way that makes her feel vibrant and alive. Not uncomfortable in or with her body.

We have the power to drive beauty standards by accepting or rejecting what is offered to us and creating our own. Because beauty is all around us and within all of us, and we each get to define it for ourselves. You don't have to apologize for your body being the way it is, and you certainly don’t need to contort your body or wear clothing that is uncomfortable and harms you!

Ultimately, sexiness isn’t defined by a perfect body or a certain aesthetic. It’s a connection. An experience. An inspiration. It’s your confidence and how good you feel in your body that can really drive up the “sexy” factor. Try it! You deserve to feel free, and sexy, and in charge of your body.

Do you struggle with body image? Have you ever…

  • Felt anxious about clothes shopping or wearing certain clothes?
  • Dreaded going to an event (like a reunion or a wedding) — or even skipped the event altogether — because you felt too self-conscious about how you looked?
  • Found yourself not wanting to be in pictures or videos, or hiding behind other people in the picture to shield your body?
  • Scrolled through social media and felt worse and worse as you went?

If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.

Based on our years of experience working with and talking to women — and going through our own body image struggles — we designed this free course to help you start improving your body image immediately and give you the tools you need to finally feel good in your own skin.

Get started today

Body Image Freedom: Revolutionize Your Body Image in Just 5 Days

Bust through negative beliefs, change your mindset, and start feeling awesome in your own skin with this information-packed 5-day course.

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About the author:  Cara Turnquist

Cara Turnquist is a Mobility Expert, Personal Trainer, and Co-Owner of Movement Duets. Cara helps women cultivate a life that they can believe in. She believes in taking care of the whole self and shamelessly discovering your own version of fitness and beauty. Get to know Cara on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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  1. Fink, B., Neave, N., Manning, J. T., & Grammer, K. (2006). "Facial symmetry and judgements of attractiveness, health and personality." Personality and Individual Differences, 41(3), 491–499.
  1. Hodges, P., Sapsford, R., & Pengel, L. (2007). Postural and respiratory functions of the pelvic floor muscles. Neurourology and Urodynamics Neurourol. Urodyn.,26(3), 362-371. doi:1002/nau.20232
  1. Marks, R. (1993). The effect of isometric quadriceps strength training in mid-range for osteoarthritis of the knee. Arthritis Care & Research, 6(1), 52-56. doi:1002/art.1790060110
  1. Marlowe, F.; Wetsman, A. (2001). "Preferred waist-to-hip ratio and ecology"(PDF). Personality and Individual Differences. 30 (3): 481–489. doi:1016/S0191-8869(00)00039-8.
  1. Mcdermott, L. (1996, April). Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines. Current Anthropology, 37(2), 227-275. doi:1086/204491
  1. Rhodes, G., Proffitt, F., Grady, J. M., & Sumich, A. (1998). "Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 5(4), 659–669.
  1. Ryan, C., & Jethá, C. (2010). Sex at dawn: The prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. New York: Harper.
  1. Talasz, H., Kremser, C., Kofler, M., Kalchschmid, E., Lechleitner, M., & Rudisch, A. (2010). Phase-locked parallel movement of diaphragm and pelvic floor during breathing and coughing—a dynamic MRI investigation in healthy females. International Urogynecology Journal, 22(1), 61-68. doi:1007/s00192-010-1240-z
  1. Scheib, J. E., Gangestad, S. W., & Thornhill, R. (1999). "Facial attractiveness, symmetry and cues of good genes." Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 266(1431), 1913–17.
  1. Singh, Devendra; Young, Robert K. (2001-06-27). "Body Weight, Waist-to-Hip Ratio, Breasts, and Hips: Role in Judgments of Female Attractiveness and Desirability for Relationships" (PDF). Ethology and Sociobiology. 16 (6): 483–507. doi:1016/0162-3095(95)00074-7.
  2. Wiebe, J. (2013). The Diaphragm Pelvic Floor Piston Demo - Julie Wiebe PT. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from

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