It’s that season again: the one during which gyms start not-so-subtly mentioning your hypothetical “summer body” and your girlfriends start talking about what they “can” and “can’t” eat. You know—the one where you start thinking you should hate your body because you don’t have a thigh gap or your face is a little round or your skin doesn’t qualify you for a spot in a Glossier ad, even though you technically don’t hate your body at all.
Or is that just me?
If I sound a little bitter, it’s because I am. Or at least I have been before. I’ve spent years—around a decade, probably, if you consider that my insecurities probably sparked when my cousin said I looked fat in my bathing suit when I was 12—hating the way my body looked and felt, so societal and capitalist ideals that persuade women to begrudge their own appearances are annoying to me. The amount of energy I’ve effectively wasted on thinking less of myself due to my looks is, if you ask me, absurd and a little bit disgusting.
And I don’t embellish. When I was a teenager who hated her body, I:
Purchased a swimsuit a size too small as motivation to become thinner in time for summer
Shared my snacks with friends at lunch specifically to cut calories
Checked the calories on the back of any packaged foods and downloaded My Fitness Pal on my phone to measure all other calories
Tried the keto diet
Bought a special cream online that was supposed to increase breast size, and selected the discreet shipping option so my family wouldn’t find out
Posted selfies on a subreddit called “Hot or Not” (or something similar) and had people (probably grown adults) rate me 1-10
Called myself fat to my high school boyfriend, whom I feared would leave me for a thinner girl, and expected him to reassure me that I was not fat
Had “no makeup days” at school that consisted of me still wearing foundation and mascara
Cried myself to sleep regularly because I believed my appearance wasn’t “enough”
Shied away from photos unless I was the one taking them
These things do not make me special. I imagine nearly any girl who reads this will nod her head after at least one of the bullet points, maybe even remembering her own wacky and toxic experiences as someone who hated her own body. The thing is, I didn’t have an eating disorder (though one may argue that I was, at times, engaging in “disordered eating”). I was just a regular teenage girl experiencing her physical form in a way the world instructed me to do so. What I was doing was—and is—common.
But the unhealthy behaviors didn’t end when I graduated high school. I got a little better, I guess—I began to embrace the fact that I didn’t have Victoria’s Secret boobs and worried a lot less about counting calories. I even had a few moments where I felt proud of the way I looked. For the most part, though, I continued to compare my body to other women’s and feel awful about my own.
Thus, my insecurity manifested itself in mostly different ways. When I was a college student who hated her body, I:
Refused to wear tank tops because I thought my arms were too flabby
Refused to wear jeans because a higher denim waistband would remind me that I had a stomach that wasn’t entirely flat
Called myself fat to my college boyfriend, whom I feared would leave me for a thinner girl, and expected him to reassure me that I was not fat
Downloaded, deleted, and re-downloaded My Fitness Pal probably 20 times for calorie-counting purposes
Joined an “Overeater’s Anonymous” support group in my community even though I have never seriously overeaten
Joined a short-term body positivity therapy group at my school (This one is actually a good thing since I learned a lot and it was a healthy environment to be in, but I’m bummed I felt the need to do go in the first place)
And while those are a handful of relatively succinct behaviors, I also did a number of other things that I cringe at today. I remember once finding an inch-long visible vein on my thigh and texting my mom to ask if it was what I feared most in that moment: a varicose vein. When she said that it probably was a varicose vein because she had them and so did her mother, I nearly started to cry. I sent my mom a snarky message back about how upset I was. I didn’t realize until very recently that by saying I hated this hand-me-down aspect of my own body, I was saying I hated an aspect of my mom’s, too.
It has taken an immense amount of work to get to the point I’m at now, where I don’t give a flying f*** about what the [corporate, sexualized, idealistic] world wants my body to look like. I’m no longer interested in feeling a certain way about my body just because the world tells me to do so. My body is fine, and even on the days I don’t feel particularly “beautiful,” I’m fine, because I know my value as a person does not lie in the way I look.
Today, I feel guilty about all of the times I’ve talked about calories in front of my little sister, despite the fact that I didn’t know better at the time. I hate that, for a while, I bought into media that tells you “what to wear for your body type” and “how to wear makeup without looking like you are.” I’m not bashing anyone who chooses to partake in these types of YouTube videos and articles, but I’ll say I hope anyone who does legitimately enjoys the content and gets more out of it than just constraint. Personally, I’ll be here wearing whatever I want and going makeupless so I can rub my sleepy eyes during the mid-day slump.
I think these changes are worthwhile, for more reason than just being able to say “screw the multi-billion dollar beauty and weight loss industries.” As a young woman who no longer believes beauty is the be-all-end-all of personal worth and couldn’t care less if her body meets society’s standards, I:
Eat tacos by the pool, wearing a swimsuit younger me would never have worn
Focus on eating foods that make me feel good throughout the day while still enjoying foods made for more instant gratification
Revel in the fact that I have a smaller chest because it comes with a million benefits
Wear outfits, makeup, and hairstyles the way I enjoy them, not the way my friends or coworkers expect me to wear them
Choose friends who don’t care about that kind of crap anyway
Shut down others’ negative self talk surrounding appearance
Encourage the people around me to rethink how they view their bodies
Focus on complimenting women on far more than just their appearances, because their real value never has been and never will be based on how they look
I love my body for its strength and capability. It’s taken great care of me the past 23 years, and I hope it continues to do so in the future. I hope the same for my friends and my mom and my little sister; and I wish that for you, too.