Y’all ready for a personal post?
I’m sure I’ve shared snippets of this in previous blog posts, so feel free to peruse and search to your hearts content if you want to know more (also, apologies for beating a dead horse) but recently, I’ve been struggling with body image and how that translates regarding self-love, worth, desirability, etc. I say recently because it has been heavy in the forefront of my mind, but that does not mean this is a recent battle I’ve just started fighting. I’ve been fighting it since I was kid. When I was in middle school and started noticing other girls were wearing jeans and dresses and skirts, their faces enhanced with make-up, I started to compare myself, a tomboy unintentionally-raised who didn’t wear jeans until the end of high school–same with wearing my hair down–and still doesn’t wear make-up to this day, at all. Around 7th and 8th grade is when I started to notice the choices I was making that made me different, regarding my appearance. It wasn’t long after that I started to notice my large, soccer-sculpted thighs or the first shadows of the muffin top; started noticing the lonely nights and the lack the dates; the pressures and bodily expectations of young girls and women (and young boys and men, let’s be honest) in society.
Very quickly, I realized that I didn’t fit into those expectations. And so began a dark spiral down into the depths of depression and self-loathing, simply because I wasn’t thin or skinny or, in the terms that society has labeled, pretty. I don’t know when I started to measure my own self-worth in terms of my jeans size or how accurately I fit into the mold required to be a beautiful woman, but it reached a point where I didn’t think myself worthy of anything because I was curvy, I was fat, I didn’t prescribe to make-up, didn’t wear heels.
And that was 50 pounds ago.
This battle with depression has had its ups and downs. Since dropping out of grad school and moving back home, entering into the job-world post-college, I’ve mentally tried to switch my beliefs that a person’s worth is not associated with their body image or body size. Because that is what I have always ascribed to, myself. Never with anyone else–I may notice a person’s size or lack-there-of, but I’ve never thought of a person’s worth based on that observation. Only my own. Very hypocritical and harsh, I know. So I’m trying to mentally switch my brain to a much healthier–and much truer–mindset: a person is so much more than their body and should not be defined by their curves, their edges, their narrowness, their chubbiness, their style.
And I’m finding that transition in mindset to be very difficult, because of how aware I am of everything around me.
Obviously, the standards upon which beauty is measured by our society is, in the most blunt sense, very fucked up. For both men and women, the standards and expectations are not only unhealthy and unrealistic, but they are also inescapable. The billboards, the commercials, the magazines, the social media debates, portrayals in art, literature and film, the fad-diets, the pressure, the undertones, the overtones; inescapable. Everywhere. It is impossible to ignore and impossible not to be aware of where you fit in this spectrum, particularly in the summer time. Bathing suits and shorts: the horrors that have plagued a lot of my summers, as I purposefully avoid invitations to pools and only buy capris, temperature be damned.
Despite pretending not to be bothered by my touching thighs, back fat or muffin top, these things are always on my mind. When I walk past my mirror in the bathroom, I purposefully try to not look. When I put on clothes, I come up with outfits that do the best job of covering up skin, even in the summer months where they don’t make sense. Walking past someone on the street, I wonder how they perceive me and that carefully-constructed outfit. How do they judge me? Where do they find me wanting? Because I am obviously wanting. And then, of course, there are the evenings, where I am alone and the sun goes down, and all I can think about is the fact that I am alone, and wonder if I didn’t eat that extra helping of mashed potatoes or would have walked for another ten minutes, if my body would have changed enough for a man to find me desirable.
Even on the days where I love the way I look or it isn’t on the forefront of my mind, the reminders–everywhere and ever-constant–don’t stay ignored for long. From the whispers of society to the natural urge to compare myself to the people surrounding me (and always find myself wanting), it is truly difficult to switch my mind to not worrying about my body and how it is perceived; the only aspect of myself I hate. Because how do you ignore all the reminders? How do you ignore the constant complaints of those around you, claiming they are “so fat” and “need to lose weight” and “wish they were skinny,” when in your eye, they already are? How do you not jump to the conclusion, listening to them, that if they think they are fat and grotesque and they are smaller and prettier than you, what must they think of you? How do you get yourself to accept and love your body as is when you are constantly bombarded with other people not loving theirs; when you are constantly bombarded with standards you should be meeting, with reminders of why you aren’t?
Of course, I take it one step-further. Not only do I devalue myself because of my size, but I also have a very intense desire to be loved. Not loved by family and friends. I have this aplenty and am grateful for it every day. Loved by a man. Desired by him, cherished by him, chosen by him. This desire is spawned from multiple things: my natural belief that love, in all forms, is the most powerful force in the world. My age is definitely a factor: being 23, a prime age amongst my friends to be moving forward in their relationships, with marriages and proposals. My relationship history, being that I’ve never had that relationship, that first kiss, that first date, those nerves meeting/introducing the parents and friends, the double dates. And, just like the body image standard, seeing people in love all over, in films, reading books, on the street, amongst my friends.
These are the two things I think about constantly, that empower my depression: my body size and my eternally-single state. And how the two must correlate. And thus, spawns the slowly growing fear that eternal is the perfect descriptor to attach to my single status; the growing fear that no matter how my body looks, no one will love me the way I desperately crave to be loved. I’m meant to be alone forever.
There are so many things wrong with my mindset, I’m not even sure where to begin. And this post is already long enough as it is. But, ever onward…
One: Your Worth Isn’t Defined By Your Body Size
I know this. I know this. Yet it is a hard mindset to switch into believing constantly, when I have believed the opposite for too long. And it is so hard to find a positive present concerning body image, regardless of the size of the people I surround myself with. Everyone is so focused on finding fault. Then, of course, I always think of my non-existent romantic life. Sure, I haven’t been romantically involved in anyone, but that does not mean my body size is the direct cause of that. Perhaps it was a missed moment. Perhaps I simply haven’t met him yet. Perhaps I’m unwilling to date anyone who isn’t willing to love as completely as I plan to love them. Perhaps my standards are too high (newsflash: they aren’t). But even if I never find him, my worth isn’t devalued because of my singleness. My worth isn’t devalued because of my curves or my rolls. I have friends who support me and friends who love me. Family, too. Coworkers, sure. Random people I have connected with on the internet, you bet. Some of those people know my size. Others, don’t. Yet I really, really love myself. I love the woman I have become and the steps I need to take to continue working on who I want to be.
So why do I let my body size get in the way of loving myself completely, especially when if I take how others perceive me out of the equation, I actually don’t mind my body. Would I like it to be bit slimmer and a bit tighter? Yep. But if I don’t think about how others respond–or how I believe they are responding, rather–or how I am “supposed to” look, I’m actually quite content with my body. I can go on walks with my dog. I can play a pick-up game of soccer and feel like I’m going to die afterwards, but still have fun. I like my eyes and my collarbones and the way my biceps flex sometimes. I like my tattoos and my hair when I put effort into it (and the new messy up-do I’ve adopted). I could be perfectly content with my body if I could just stop worrying about how others perceive me or stop convincing myself that everyone who sees me believes me to be ugly or unattractive.
Two: Everything is Subjective
Nothing is truer than that statement right there and nothing do I need to remember more. I recently realized that truth in regards to writing and it helped me deal so much with the rejection process. How did it take me so long to realize this in regards to everything else in life, especially body image and size and the perception related to that? My bathroom mirror never changes. Yet on the days when I accidentally see myself in the mirror, some of those days, I actually think, “Damn, girl,” and pause to admire my curves or the way my stomach is shaped or the length of the legs. My mirror hasn’t changed. My body either. It’s just my perception in that current moment. Or I’ve gotten into the lazy habit of putting my hair up into a bun-type situation where my curls fall down the side of my head, looking like a mix between a waterfall and Medusa unleashed. And half of the time, I love the way it looks. Some outfits, I absolutely adore.
But as soon as I think about what others might think, my response immediately switches from praise and approval to reprimand and calculation, nit-picking everywhere fault can be found.
Of course, some people are going to think I’m unattractive. But not everyone. It’s just like how I think the most attractive men on the planet are Kit Harington, Sam Claffin and Olan Rogers. Half of my friends don’t understand my celebrity crushes and pit up their own contenders. That is just difference of opinion and difference in taste. That disagreement doesn’t mean that one person is right and the other is wrong. Likewise, just because I believe someone might perceive me as ugly doesn’t mean that they will and, if they do, that doesn’t mean they are right. It is their opinion, their subjective opinion.
Another example is how you can be a size 16 in one store but a size 12 in another; an XL at Target but an XXXL at a designer store. For so long, I refused to wear XL clothing because I hated being associated with that size. I wanted to be smaller, so I wore smaller clothing. Which, in turn, looked worse on me and didn’t fit right, as opposed to XL sizes, which fit properly, looked better and actually made me feel confident. Instead, I was being ruled by letters and numbers prescribed by society as a labeling system. That’s all they bloody are. Letters and numbers to help you know which clothes will fit better. Not a value-measuring-system.
A friend also brought up a great point: Aphrodite, the goddess of love and passion and beauty, reflected the ideals of her time period of what a beautiful woman looked like. And it is not at all what we ascribe to now. Her pictures and statues from that time period are complete with rolls, with curves, with fat.
Before, a beautiful woman was a woman with weight–because that meant she could afford to eat–and who was pale–because that meant she didn’t have to work outside to earn her living. Today, we have transitioned to starving ourselves, harming ourselves and transfiguring ourselves to reach an impossible standard. Go back a couple 100 years and I would have had the beauty of the goddess. Today, I don’t even met the bare minimum.
How’s that for subjectivity?
Three: It’s Okay to Crave Romantic Love
I have been struggling with accepting this for a long time, now. Like I said, I crave a relationship. I crave to find a man to love me and accept me. I crave to find a man I love and accept. Yes, I obviously crave the physical benefits being in a committed relationship includes. Who doesn’t want someone’s hand to hold when they are walking along the road or someone to kiss when they say goodbye or someone to snuggle with before they go to sleep? But I want the emotional connection just as much, if not more. I want that person who I can confide in, who I can depend on, who I can count on, who can challenge me and appreciate me in ways that no one human has been able to; the way only a boyfriend or husband can.
Yet I’ve always felt guilty praying for this man to appear in my life. I’ve always felt guilty for wanting a relationship so badly. People always tell you to appreciate your singleness. You need to be independent and not depend on anyone else, especially a romantic partner. You need to love yourself first–only then can you love someone wholly. And maybe there is some merit in those ideas. But I believe that I can be an independent human and still have someone else to depend on. I can be a broken soul who struggles to love herself and yet still love him all the more for it, totally and utterly. And I believe, though I struggle with it, that it is okay to desire romantic love, a romantic connection with every core of your being.
This post is by far the longest I’ve written. I applaud you for reading this far. It is filled with ramblings, with musing, with struggles and personal outpourings of doubts and fear. It is very vulnerable and uncomfortable and heavy. I don’t have any neat way to wrap it up or any conclusion as to what needs to happen next; as to where I go from here. I think this will be struggle I deal with no matter what body size I have, how many people I’ve loved or what societal trends arise. But writing about it helps. Talking about it helps. Who knows, perhaps it might help you if you struggle with the same things or make you wonder who in your life does. Perhaps this post opens up a dialogue, opens eyes or serves a reminder of things people already know, a reflection of what you’ve already experienced. I dunno. If you need to talk about issues related to this, I’m here. I’m ready and I’m listening.
Life is hard, friends. But life is so, so good. Love each other and by God, accept and respect one another. Make one another feel comfortable in our own skin. Listen and be heard. And while we’re at it, how about we start destroying the body standards we are supposed to subscribe to, huh?