When I was little I wanted to be just like my mom. She has intelligence, grace, and beauty that fill any room she walks into, and she is my greatest inspiration. She used to have long raven hair, deep-seeing blue eyes like the ocean, and luscious, wide hips that carried her full and comfortable stomach. I would snuggle with her for hours, wrapped up in her big, beautiful body, not a care in the world. Fast-forward several years, and my innocent, naïve brain is inundated with ideas about style, beauty, and bodies – ideas that have formed who I am today.
I was 13 years old when I first started thinking about the shape of my body. Unfortunately, for many, that starts at an even younger age. Girls being told they are too fat or that they are ugly. These comments eat away at their self-esteem and they feel isolated and depressed. They deprive themselves of food, trying desperately to be accepted by all of the girls who have already succumbed to this trap of trying to attain “perfection” and “beauty.”
I never tried to fit in directly. Instead, I fell down a path of sporadic self-loathing. I would see all of these skinny girls wearing cute clothes, with cute hair and makeup and aspire to look like them, knowing that I couldn’t. I couldn’t buy the clothes they had, I couldn’t style my hair the way they did, I couldn’t make my stomach smaller like theirs were.
I never thought that I would be someone who worried about her weight or size all the time, but that is who I have become. Every day, I look sideways in the mirror, at how my stomach pours out over my pants, at how my fat rolls as I move, at all of the extra me that I wish wasn’t there. I have grown so uncomfortable in my body, I wish I could just push the reset button – to go back to when I was 12 and I still loved my body. When I didn’t care about how I dressed or what I looked like to other people. But I don’t know how to end this cycle of hatred.
The media has taught me to hate my body. It has taught me to see fat as ugly, something that should be eliminated as quickly as possible. The thing is, I don’t see fat as ugly – not on other people, any way. I still see my mom as the most beautiful woman in the world, but I no longer desire to look like her. I love the curves of her body, but I don’t want those curves. I love the fullness of her face, but I don’t want that fullness. I don’t want to feel different because of the shape of my body. I don’t want to have to struggle to fit in.
My thoughts and actions are driven by fear and hate. Fear of being a pariah in a society that values external appearance over internal beauty and wisdom, and hate of my body and the ways that it is different from what society expects it should be. I am an aspiring film and television actress, but instead of thinking about how my talent and dedication will get me roles, I worry about how my size will affect my chances.
The truth is, you just don’t see very many women in Hollywood who are not thin. Men can be any size or shape and get fun and interesting roles, but women have to be thin and beautiful. They are oftentimes put in movies for no other purpose but to serve as eye candy or a romantic interest. They don’t have their own intriguing storyline – they are a blip on the man’s fantastical adventure or quest for love and heroism. Women are objectified over and over and over again, and this reflects back in everyday society, in the way women groom, make up, and criticize themselves.
We are not taught to love our bodies in their natural, beautiful form. We are sold products that will cover our blemishes, conceal our cellulite, and heighten our features to make them “more attractive.” Women and girls alike pick up on this, get hooked on it, and then start to believe that they can’t look beautiful without it. Many women can’t go a day without putting on makeup, because they feel naked and ugly without it. I am not one of these women, but I will admit that I prefer the way I look when I wear makeup or wear pretty, sexy clothes.
I think about my appearance several times a minute – multiply that by the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year, and you realize how much of your brain is filled with self-consciousness and criticism. When I step on a scale and it shows 150, my mind darts back to just last year when it was 135. How could I have gained so much weight? That can’t be right. The scale is broken. My clothes probably weigh more today. I need to stop eating so much. All of these thoughts rush through my mind and I spiral downward into more hatred. I squeeze my stomach fat, trying to make it disappear. I pull and claw at it; I suck in my stomach, and I wonder how many other girls and women do the same?
I know I am not alone. The commercials that tell me to start dieting, or to buy clothes that will make me look thinner tell me so. The thousands of women who fall into that capitalist trap tell me so. The thousands of women who starve, cut, and kill themselves because of their immense self-loathing tell me that I am not alone. We have been conditioned to believe that we are not good enough, that if we just buy this one product or go on this diet, that all of our problems will be solved. That we will get the guy (or girl, although that’s not really advertised), that we will make friends, that we will be happy.
It is not the reality of our bodies that are making us unhappy, though. Rather, it is the constant message that our bodies should be different from what they are, that they are in a constant state of imperfection. Our society in the U.S. does not cater to or respect people who are not thin. We see magazines and movies full of people with “perfect” – nay, unrealistic – bodies; the prettiest clothes are made to fit the bodies of thin people; and fat-shaming is a common occurrence both in real life and on TV. How do you think people with more fat on their bodies feel when this is what they see every day? How do you think they cope with the message that they are “not good enough”? They try to change themselves – that’s how. They invest their time, money, and energy in finding ways to lose that extra pound, shave off that extra bit of fat. They diet and starve and exercise and overextend themselves to get to a place where they think they will be happy.
The problem is that that is only a small part of happiness, if any. True happiness and self-love has to come from within. Acceptance of who you are has to be learned and practiced. Changing your body won’t do a damn thing if you continue to be told that you “aren’t good enough” or “aren’t skinny enough,” and if you continue to believe it.
I am at this crossroads with my body. Every time I look in the mirror with daggers of hate in my eyes, I have to bring myself back to softness and self-acceptance. I try to focus on the gentle rolls of my hips instead of my stomach; I admire the beautiful curve of my back, instead of the folds of it; I take pride in the strength of my arms and legs, instead of the way they jiggle. Little by little, I find parts of me that I can appreciate and that I think are beautiful.
Of course, there is still the nagging refrain of self-improvement. However, I have come to realize that my need for self-improvement is more related to health and less to outer appearance, and that is what I should be putting my energy into. I don’t need to diet (in the current idea of the word) as much as I need to eat healthier so that I feel better. I don’t need to develop killer abs as much as I need to strengthen the parts of my body that are weak and are detrimental to the condition of my joints and muscles. My self-improvement needs to come from a place of concern and care for my well being, not from a place of vanity and hate.
This is not what the media typically advertises. Instead, it is made about the calorie count. Health is not determined by calorie intake. You could just eat a bag of microwave popcorn as your food for the day, and it would not make you healthy – skinny, yes, healthy, no. Taking Lipozene will not make you healthy, either. Neither will wearing a “Tummy Tuck Belt.” All of these products are rooted in appearance and capital gain. The media does not care how healthy you are – it cares how skinny you are and how much it can make you feel inferior so you will reach toward that “desirable size.”
It is time for a change in viewpoint, and that has to come from us – me included. I may have given in to this cycle of hatred, but I can see it for what it is. I can recognize how it is destroying the minds of our young girls and women, and can fight for different representation so that I no longer hate my body. We have the ability to turn the cycle around, but it will take courage and compassion for ourselves and our wonderful, beautiful, unique bodies.