Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thoughts on Body Image

All the positive hashtags in the world won't change the fact that mean people exist.

Ahh, body image. Kind of a hot-button issue in the fashion and girl worlds, isn’t it? Just Google the words and you can find thousands of articles written on the subject from just about every side. The big “trend” as of late is to stop shaming people (especially girls) for being overweight, underweight, ugly and even pretty. Because all of that happens. We live in a world where no matter what you look like, there is someone out there ready to make you feel bad for it. I grew up in the middle of this social pressure just like the rest of you. I went through phases where I thought I was ugly, thought I was too fat, thought my hair was too straight and thought my clothes weren’t good enough because they didn’t have the right labels. I think most of you have probably been through the same struggles. Growing up is hard, and societal pressure to fit a certain mold does not make it any easier.

But here’s the reality of it: society is not going to change. I don’t think there will ever be a time when the population as a whole is forgiving about looks. There are always going to be mean people, and their negative thoughts and opinions are always going to come to the forefront, because that is how media works. We can have all the positive movements and hashtags we want, but that will never stop mean people from existing. That’s the sad truth.

There is one thing we can control, though, and that is ourselves. When I was a kid, my issues with body image didn’t stem from the unrealistic measurements of my Barbies or the always-cool clothes from Lizzie McGuire. Sure, they made me want things I didn’t have, like designer clothes and boobs. (Notice I didn’t even say “big boobs” — just boobs in general would have been appreciated.) But those things didn’t make me consciously think about my wide hips and 115-pound body as “fat.” That didn’t happen until my mom joined Weight Watchers — when every meal turned into a punishment and every shopping trip turned into a body-hating fight with the mirror.

As a teenager I was calling myself fat and worrying about eating too much — not eating healthy, just eating full meals. I could write a long list about all the physical things I hated about myself. By the time I was in high school I belonged to a gym and had stacks of fitness magazines around my room. I was dieting all the time, counting calories and skipping meals. I remember my senior year I taped magazine photos of models in prom dresses on every cupboard in the kitchen to remind myself not to eat too much so I could fit into a smaller dress.

I didn’t see anything wrong with this at the time; that’s just how it was. My mom was always encouraging about my quest to exercise more and eat better, but let me get one thing straight: she never outright encouraged me to diet or lose weight. My mom never once told me I was fat, or anything else that would lead me to believe my body was unsatisfactory in the eyes of others. My mom never body shamed me. In fact, she was the opposite: She repeatedly told me I didn’t need to lose weight.

But even though she never spoke negatively of my body, she was still sending me the wrong message about body image. I was learning the behavior firsthand from her. Every complaint of pounds to be lost, every calculated meal to fit into her calorie plan, every criticism aimed at her appearance — I heard them all, and I turned around and repeated them to myself. My body didn’t look the same when I was 18 as it did when I was 15, so I should stop eating lunch. My jeans are a little snug this week, I better go to the gym. My face is too round to ever be as pretty as those girls.

I spent countless hours throwing daggers at the imaginary picture I had of myself, countless hours hating the healthy body God had given me — countless hours berating myself when I should have been savoring my carefree teen years.

I’m 23 now, and I’ve finally reached a place where I have a mostly positive body image for myself. It’s certainly the healthiest it’s been since my first dieting adventures in high school. Do I wish my thighs were a little thinner and my abs were a little more defined? Sure. Do I crave a smaller number on the scale more than a large pepperoni pizza? Definitely not. I still worry about exercise, but less for weight loss purposes and more for creating a healthy and sustainable routine to take care of myself. I still try to eat moderately, but it’s more about being healthy and treating my body well than starving myself to size down in jeans.

I no longer shame myself for the size of clothes I buy, and I’ve stopped the running list of physical traits I’d like to change about myself. When I start to think that my hair is too limp to ever be long and luxurious, I think about how great it looks when it’s short and curled, and how that’s something I can actually do myself now because I’ve always been terrible with hair. It’s been years since I’ve wished for a bigger bra size, because mine are perfectly fine now (thank you for showing up, puberty, even though you were late).

When I look in the mirror, I still have bad days, but the majority of them are good now because I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to change myself. This is my body, and I choose to love it.

Have you ever struggled with your own body image? Do you think hashtags and viral internet movements are enough to change society's views on it? I'd love to know your thoughts. 

P.S. Thoughts on aging, taking time to be thankful and thoughts from a college grad

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