There are moments in every young girls life when cracks in our confidence begin to form, and the toxic foundations of self-doubt, self-consciousness, and self-loathing take root. My first crack came when I realized my mother wasn’t perfect, or at least, she didn’t feel she was. I remember watching her in the bathroom mirror sighing over barely-there wrinkles, stressing over non-existent back fat, and grumbling about her voluptuous frame. Looking at her, I couldn’t understand how someone so smart, strong, and statuesque could have so many flaws. I then came to realize that if someone I knew to be so beautiful was so inherently dreadful, then I must be as well (this is also known as Chandler’s most fucked up and problematic epiphany ever). The problem with body image issues is not only are they cultivated by the media’s constructions of beauty and acceptability, but they are also passed down from one generation of women to another. In many ways, I inherited my mother’s own body image issues because she had yet to come to terms with them herself. I saw her struggle with how she felt about her weight, she let it define her self-worth, and so I did the same. She convinced herself that she would be happier if only she were thinner, so I also equated thinness with happiness. It is for these reasons that I believe I so readily accepted the bodily critiques from my peers. I had known for a long time that I had innumerable flaws; so when they were finally pointed out to me, I was easily convinced. I do not blame my mother in any way for my body image issues, but I do find it incredibly sad that negative body images have pervaded society long enough that it is even possible for women to hand down these practices of self-hate and feelings of inadequacy. For these reasons, I find it transparent that impossible beauty standards are a systemic problem that women are not only subjected to by others, but subject themselves to as well. Furthermore, when society is able to instill a sense of worthlessness and inadequacy in an entire sex based solely around their appearance, it allows a powerful form of self-sustaining oppression to keep women from achieving all that they can.
I remember the day I realized I wasn’t pretty. It was my eighth grade year, and as I stood in front of my mirror in the hallway I noticed it for the first time. There it was glaring back at me in the mirror, just pooching out over the top of my jeans, was a muffin top. I was in shock. Has that been there the whole time? I asked myself, all of a sudden deeply self-conscious, ashamed, and embarrassed. I became painfully aware that my light wash Gap jeans did not make me look as “long and lean” as they were intended to. I was practically bursting out of the waistband. When did I get so fat? I thought, as I searched my body for other hidden imperfections that I had been blissfully unaware of, convinced there were more flaws to be found. In some sort of bizarre masochistic treasure hunt, I began my journey into the depths of self-consciousness, a path most women know all too well. Later that same year, I was convinced again that I was definitely not pretty. In gym class (I know, how cliché) a boy in my grade told me that I needed to cover up my thunder thighs, because no one wanted to see those things. His disdain, shock, and horror that any girl could have the audacity to uncover her “thunder thighs” set the stage for an intense amount of self-loathing that I would carry for a majority of my youth. It was one thing for me to find flaws in myself, but for someone else to be so deeply offended by my body, took my insecurity and exacerbated it to a monumental extent.
From a young age I knew that I wasn’t like other girls. I was always the tallest girl in my class – actually, I was always the tallest person in my class, and being tall came with a particular amount of visibility that no one else can really understand. I also wasn’t the “right” kind of tall. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I mean, either. There are three appropriate ways to be a tall girl: 1) the skinny model tall girl, 2) the skinny athletic basketball player, and 3) the skinny athletic volleyball player. At least, these are the only ways I had seen tall girls portrayed in a positive way. I knew right off the bat I would never be a model because not only was I not skinny enough, but I had convinced myself that I was not conventionally attractive in any way, and therefore of no use to society (because obviously, as a woman my only worthy contribution is my looks). That left me with tall skinny volleyball girl and tall skinny basketball girl. I chose tall athletic basketball girl (spandex shorts weren’t really my thing – for obvious reasons), but I had to leave off the skinny part, after all, I had thunder thighs. In my mind, at least my thunder thighs would be useful for something out on the basketball court. They would propel me across the hardwood, they would stand their ground fighting for a rebound, they would hip check my opponent guarding the hoop. But alas, even the noblest of ideas can be shattered. Case and point: In high school, a good friend of mine overheard another girl talking about me the day after one of my basketball games. She said something along the lines of “If my Dad had a daughter as big as her, she would be disowned.” My first thought upon hearing this was Chandler, don’t burst into tears, my second thought was Disowned?!, and my third thought was Wow, maybe I am a lot fatter than I think I am. Maybe I have reverse body dysmorphia? No, my train of thought was not that this girl was very, very mean, or that she clearly has her own unresolved body issues, or even that my friend misheard her – in my twisted mind, I was convinced I was so fat and so disgusting that it had to be true.
From then on I knew I would never be good enough, and that my life would be spent with me constantly as a work in progress. Searching for the perfect diet to make me the appropriate size, the perfect haircut and color to disguise my imperfections, the perfect clothes to fool people into thinking I was beautiful. It became a game. I foolishly turned to magazines and movies to aid me in my search for bodily perfection, not knowing that these false idols were a pivotal part of my inherent dissatisfaction. The farther I got in my research, the less happy I became. My body was betraying my spirit, and I hated it for it. I hated my height. I hated my thunder thighs. I hated my stomach. I hated my double chin. I hated every part about myself that made me, me. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I hated myself for things that weren’t even there, that I hated myself because I didn’t fit a mold that I wasn’t meant to fit in the first place, that I hated myself based on somebody else’s idea of what I should be. It wasn’t until much later that I began to question why I ever allowed myself to feel this way in the first place. Who, exactly, has the authority to tell me that I am not good enough the way I am? Why were people so offended by my height and size? Where was I getting these ideas about what it meant to be beautiful in the first place? Are these ideas even realistic? It was at this moment when I began to question the very fabric of my self-loathing. I began to lick my wounds, accept my true self, and say, “Fuck you” to everyone who tried to convince me otherwise.
The paradox of watching my mother struggle with her body image while simultaneously knowing myself that she is beautiful helped me realize the flaws in my own line of thinking, and my feelings about my body and beauty. I came to realize that even though my mother did not feel beautiful, she most definitely was. This translated into me realizing that even though I do not feel beautiful most days, I am beautiful both on the inside and out. I know this epiphany is in the realm of cliché “love your body” and “beauty is more than skin deep” tropes but it is one of the hardest concepts to wrap your brain around. It is incredibly sad that we as women have to unlearn hating our bodies and relearn how to love ourselves. Thanks to my mother, I have been able to see past my supposed “flaws” and accept my body the way it is. There is nothing inherently wrong with my body, it is capable of so many amazing things – from orgasms to jumping jacks, and whatever flaws I perceive are not really flaws, they are what make my body unique and my own. My only hope is that one-day my mother will come to this same realization. That she will be able to see the beauty she holds inside and out. That she will see that she has given me the strength, the courage, and the know-how to hold my head high above everyone else, and embrace myself as I am.