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“Men think it is a woman’s dream to find the perfect man. Every woman’s real dream is to eat anything without getting fat.” ~ Unknown
I was amused but then became absorbed in thoughts after reading this post on my Facebook feed.
Is this what we really want? Why do we need to be skinny? Are we considered unattractive if we are fat?
Lots of us, especially women, wish we could change something about our bodies—our big noses, flabby tummies, love handles, cellulite, acne, stretch marks, and the list goes on.
One would say noticing parts of your body that you don’t like is normal and not dangerous, as most of us feel unhappy with some parts of our looks. Yes, I agree, and it is completely normal; however, body dissatisfaction affects people differently. So I would like you to ask yourself the following questions:
>> How often do you notice these flaws?
>> What are you self-conscious about?
>> Would you say you are body-obsessed, and the obsession is affecting your life in a negative way?
I feel knowing the answers to these questions is important, as body dissatisfaction can lead to unhealthy diets, eating disorders, overexercising, and depression in some individuals.
So I felt it is time we speak. I have a few goals for this post, but first, let me share with you my story and what I thought of my body.
It may come as a surprise, but my early years were not dark and grim as one would have expected. I don’t remember obsessing over how I looked or checking myself in the mirror every few minutes when I was out in public. My body allowed me to do everything I put my mind to, so I enjoyed it, and I thought it was a wonderful thing.
I have come to the realisation that the main reason for this was being sheltered from the outside world during my early years. I was clueless about society’s and media’s portrayal of an “ideal” female body. (I grew up in a strict household and had minimal access to the worldwide web.)
It was next to impossible to buy or sneak a Cosmopolitan or a Vogue magazine into my room or to enjoy an MTV music video that showcased “beautiful” women. But also, I feel my family and childhood friends played a major role here too. I am grateful to them for seeing me as more than a body because I know with certainty that my body, even during the early years, did not conform to society’s and media’s standards of beauty.
However, my story changed colour in my early 20s; my relationship with my body started to take an ugly turn. I started to feel the pressure of unattainable beauty standards. I soon realised that I had to look a certain way if I am to be recognised as beautiful. I was definitely getting a taste of what I had missed out on in my early years.
Also, turning 20 meant I caught the attention of the self-appointed matchmakers in my community. They were looking for alive, beautiful, and young bodies, as only beautiful women were allowed to find a partner.
So what do we have to look like? Our bodies need to have hairless arms and legs, with a slim waist, flat stomach, fair skin, long, straight, silky hair, and straight teeth. So next, I would like you to read some of the comments my parents and I received from some of these distinguished self-appointed matchmakers.
“She has a beautiful face, but she is more on the fat side, isn’t she?”
“You need to get her teeth fixed.”
“Her arms are fatter than her body.”
“It will be good if she can lose a bit of weight.”
“She is lucky that she is not as dark as her father, but she is still dark.”
Let us all take a few minutes here, as I am certain that reading those comments would bring some unsavoury memories to most of you as well. Furthermore, to make things worse, newspapers, magazines, movies, and advertisements all supported these distorted and unattainable standards of beauty. There was no room for any other shapes or sizes in our society.
The pressure to look a certain way was intense. So, what does this pressure do to someone, you may ask? Let me share with you the effect this had on me.
The message was loud and clear, so I believed my body needed to be fixed, and if it couldn’t be fixed, I was certain it should be hidden. I would spend hours in front of a mirror in disgust, quietly marking parts of my body that I was unhappy with and that should be altered so I can be considered “beautiful.”
I started hating my thick arms and legs, my dark skin, my teeth, the stretch marks, my nose, and acne, and it only got worse as I got older. I was obsessed with fixing my body and constantly comparing and judging myself. I was silently drowning in body shame and was judging my body solely on appearance.
It was no surprise that I did not have a good body image. But what was scary was that I was measuring my self-worth based on my appearance. My low self-worth meant I was not confident in my abilities; I was afraid to show my true self to people around me and took criticism personally.
As I was self-conscious and constantly checked myself, I did not want to go to the beach, the pool, or family gatherings due to the fear of being scrutinized and judged.
My insecurities, coupled with my divorce a few years ago, should have taken me to a much darker place, but fortunately, my idea of beauty has changed. The unrealistic beauty standards I had were challenged; I was seeing more bodies that I could relate to, and there were more and more conversations and resources around accepting and appreciating one’s body.
I started to realise that my body was not flawed; the issue was with my body image. Also, I realised to improve my healing, I had to work on knowing and appreciating my body. Trust me when I say this: this has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. To this day, I still have negative thoughts about my body, but it is not as loud as before, and I don’t let them control my life. I do not let those voices stop me from living.
I’m sharing my story with the hope that people who are silently suffering from body shame know they are not alone and that their thoughts and feelings are valid. There is still much work to be done around body positivity in our society, but it has certainly come a long way. I also want to remind you that loving your body is a journey that you take when you are ready and at your own pace.
As I mentioned earlier, we are quite fortunate to be living in a time when we can promote the acceptance of all bodies and supporting people to build confidence and acceptance of their own. There are organisations and many resources dedicated to this cause. However, I hit the jackpot when I came across a powerful TED Talk by Dr. Lindsay Kite recently, and I want to share with you what I learned from listening to it.
Dr. Lindsay Kite is a co-director of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined and has her PhDs from the University of Utah in the study of female body image. Her talk is titled “Body Positivity or Body Obsession?” and it lasted for 16 minutes and 48 seconds; I felt the entire time like she spoke directly to me.
According to her, positive body image “is not about believing your body is beautiful; it is knowing that your body is good despite how it looks.” This was such a refreshing take on body image. I was excited, but at the same time embarrassed that, for 37 years, I have considered my body to be an ornament instead of an instrument that I should be using. I knew I had to be kinder to my body and that my body has not failed me. I realised I am valued, and I am more than a body to be looked at.
“Your body is an instrument. Not an ornament.” ~ Dr. Lindsay Kite
How many of us are—and know—strong, resilient, passionate women who are capable of driving change and breaking glass ceilings that hide behind closed doors because we let beauty define us? Too many, unfortunately, but we need to remind ourselves we are more than our bodies and we are more than objects.
Another important thing that Lindsay pointed out was that leading a healthy lifestyle or going to the gym has nothing to do with beauty; the sole reason for exercising should not be weight loss, and as mentioned before, our body is an instrument—not an ornament. (Apologies for repeating myself, but I would never get tired of hearing this.)
I know there is a lot to take in, but I hope this will get you to rethink how we see our body and how we should talk to our children about their bodies. As mentioned before, I still struggle to apply what I have learned, and I understand it may be more difficult for some of you. But, on the bright side, there is help out there these days, so we don’t have to take this mammoth task on by ourselves.
Finally, I strongly encourage you to take some time to listen to what Dr. Lindsay Kite has to say in her TED Talk about body image. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment below!