On my lunch break, I like to take a few minutes to myself and watch videos on YouTube while I eat my lunch, clearing my mind from the morning. Usually I watch Jimmy Fallon segments, as they’re guaranteed to make me smile. But today was different. Today I scrolled through one of my favorite channels, Soul Pancake, for something new to watch. For those of you who don’t know, Kid President is the brainchild of Soul Pancake.
The That’s What She Said playlist caught my attention. Expecting something light and humorous, something akin to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I pushed play. The first episode was entitled “Beauty and Body Image.” Whoa, that got real, real quick.
A focus group of an eclectic group of women sat around a table, talking about body image issues, sharing their perceptions of beauty, particularly their own, as well as recounting times in their lives when they questioned their body. Everyone shared these vignettes from their past when someone said or did something that caused them to doubt their beauty. As I listened to these women laying it all out there, I found myself nodding in agreement, tears welling in my eyes. Why is it that we allow others to define our beauty? Why do we give power to this negativity? Why do we consume media that promotes unattainable beauty standards and think we are less than when we don’t, when we can’t, measure up?
After watching That’s What She Said, I clicked on the That’s What He Said suggested video on the side, not really sure what to expect. The men’s version, entitled “Self Esteem and Body Image,” tackled similar issues related to body image and the messages men receive from others and the media. What surprised me most was that men faced the same things women do. They doubt themselves. They strive to fit this mold of what an attractive man is, someone who’s tall and strong, who can protect their loved ones. It shouldn’t surprise me that they feel this way, but it does. It’s not as widely talked about a topic as it is with women. Listening to them sharing their struggles and concerns was eye-opening. It made me understand a little more what’s beneath the often macho exterior of men.
As I watched both videos, I found myself noticing how beautiful each and every person was. Even as they described issues they had with their bodies, I would think, But look at your eyes; they’re so striking. He has a nice smile, one I’d notice across a room. Her hair is lovely; I wish I had hair like that. Her skin is radiant; I love the way her freckles dot her face. Why is that we can easily notice the beauty in others, but not always see it in ourselves?
Some of the questions and discussions posed in the video got me thinking about my own experiences. How do I feel about my body? First off, I struggle with my weight. I’d like to be much thinner, more fit. I’ve never had a flat stomach. Oh, how I wish I had one. My hair, while a pretty color, doesn’t know what it is. Is it curly? Is it straight? I wish it’d make up its mind. I’ve always been self-conscious of my smile. I have nice eyes, but the dark circles under them have always been there. I wonder if that makes me look tired.
When was the first time I felt not good enough, physically? Thinking back, I was in 7th grade when the self-doubt about my body started to creep in and consume my thoughts. I had always been small growing up. I was short and athletically thin, a result from the endless hours I spent outside running around and riding my bike. In middle school, my body began to change. Puberty hit me full-force, causing my body to grow softer and larger in certain areas. I was no longer thin. I found myself looking at my friends, with their flat stomachs and perfect bodies, and wondering why I didn’t look like that. Boys didn’t pay me much attention, like they did to my friends. I started to call myself fat. I’m pretty sure others did, too.
For the past 20+ years, my weight has fluctuated, from fat to not-as-fat, but I’ve never felt entirely happy with myself when I look in the mirror. I have never worn a bikini. Even when I wore a size 4 (a size 4!), I was too fat for a bikini. I wish I was that fat now. I can recall, almost verbatim, the times in my life when people I loved have commented on my body. The time when my haircut made my face look too fat; when I wasn’t thin enough for him; when I didn’t look like a model and he deserved that, you know; when I was asked, not so subtlety, if I’d put on weight; when I was asked what I ate that day and whether or not I had worked out; when I was asked what’s wrong with me that I’m still single. Why do I let their commentary continue to play in my head?
When do I feel most beautiful? That’s a hard one. I wouldn’t use the word beautiful to define me. Cute? Maybe. Pretty? Sometimes. But beautiful? Hardly ever. If I had to answer that question, I’d say I feel most beautiful when I’m sharing a story with a friend or laughing with my whole body. If I really think about it, I think that I push people away, afraid to let anyone get too close, because I don’t feel beautiful enough. I feel confident in myself in terms of my personality. I know I’m a good person. I’m intelligent. I’m funny. I’m adventurous. I’m kind. But I lack the physical beauty that people seek. So instead of opening myself up for heartache, I find that I close myself off to others. I hope that the confidence I have in my inner self can be echoed in my confidence in my outer self.
This journey I’m on is definitely a life-long one. Learning to be comfortable in my own skin, accepting who I am and what my body looks like, and gaining self-confidence are all things I’m working on at the moment. I have good days and I have bad days. Today’s not a bad day, but it does leave me thinking.