O: You're speaking from experience?

Laure: Yes. I was a chubby, freckle-faced little girl with frizzy auburn hair—far from the visual ideal of 1970s New Orleans, where I grew up and where thin, blonde cheerleaders ruled. But I had spirit—I was a firecracker—and a photograph I keep on my desk reminds me of that. I'm sitting cross-legged in our front yard, in shorts and a cropped top that were surely not a chubby girl's best outfit. Yet I look self-possessed, even somewhat certain that on that particular day at least, I was beautiful—a femme fatale at the tender age of 6. The picture reminds me of the little girl who could, even when not much else around her supported such a healthy vision of herself.

O: What about someone who had an abusive or otherwise truly horrible childhood?

Laure: Even if your childhood was a total nightmare, the fact is you were a creature with enough gusto to get where you are today. Many women accept the opinions and judgments of others too quickly, which undermines self-esteem and personal power. But women who feel good naked have the ability to tap into their own source of self-love, without depending on the affirmations of others. A woman who feels good naked is a woman who's discovered her own definition of beauty. She knows that it's ultimately about personal attitude.

O: No doubt a lot of women would agree with that—so long as you weren't talking about them. We can see beauty in others who aren't gorgeous in the conventional sense, but we're resolutely blind to it in ourselves.

Laure: That's because of our punishing culture. Men are rewarded for their bottom line; women, for their visuals. Our society is driven by an unrealistic ideal of physical beauty: More than 60 percent of American women are a size 12 or larger, yet we're bombarded by images of size 0's, which can fuel a barrage of insecurity and self-doubt. Women from other countries have far healthier attitudes about the female form. I was in Puerto Rico recently with my husband, who rarely comments on other women's looks, and he was marveling at the number of beautiful Puerto Rican women on the beach—women who by American standards would have been considered fat. I agreed with him.

O: How do you get away from those standards?

Laure: For one thing, turn off the TV—especially if you find yourself biting your nails or eating a pint of ice cream while watching. Why spend the evening with actresses who remind you of what you visually aren't? Better to take a yoga class, sit down with a good book, or—and this is my personal favorite—watch a video of Tina Turner.

O: Why Tina Turner?

Laure: She was the source of my greatest body epiphany. I saw her perform in New York City in the late 1980s. She wore a black leather minidress and four-inch platform shoes, and watching her dance, I was transfixed. And then she stopped her electric gyrations, and I realized how substantial her legs were. They are bold and glorious, and she's turned them into art.


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