The Shape of A Woman: Her Reflection
By BELLA CROTTI
There is a vicious cycle we go through as women, actually, I think it is a cycle gone through by humans so this one is for my boys too. Even the strongest, most intelligent, and freaking badass people I know fall into this cycle. A cycle of self-hate. This usually stems from poor self-image or low self-esteem, which then leads to the subconscious competition of who has it worse or sometimes even who has it better. It depends on the day whether or not a person will decide they need to lift themselves up by bragging about a lost pound, a new workout regime, or how they “totally forgot to eat today, but aren’t hungry at all” versus the days when they just need someone else to tell them “you look great” or “fuck it, eat the bagel.” I don’t blame the people in my life for succumbing to this toxic behavior because I too am at fault more often than I’d like to admit, but I struggle with placing exactly where this behavior comes from. While it may not be a behavior that we are explicitly taught, it is not necessarily inherent. To some extent, I believe that poor self-esteem and body image issues are behaviors that we learn.
Although it may seem like it, we aren’t born with an instinct to have an aversion to ourselves. Even diseases like body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulimia, which are things that often feel uncontrollable, have come about or at least increased in commonality due to the immense pressure to conform to the societal norm of what a “perfect” body should look like. Would these disorders still be epidemics if there wasn’t such a huge focus on body image? Many would argue that the increase in access to celebrity photos and crash diets play a huge role in why we are obsessed with our bodies, but I can’t seem to fully get behind this notion that the media is completely at fault. We are smart human beings and we know how to differentiate what we see in the mirror from what we see on the cover of magazine or on Instagram. We understand the power of portrait mode, Facetune, photoshop, good lighting-- you’ve tried it. We’ve all tried it. And we all end up with a wonky wall between our thighs, blurred edges around our hips, a stark white blob for teeth, and an overall unflattering image of what we think we should look like. We have long accepted that we simply don’t have the tools that to create airbrushed photos, yet we still struggle with feelings of being less than or other.
“At a certain point in my life, probably in my 30s, I’ll accept the fact my body is just different from those celebrities and could never look like that. I think I subconsciously know that now but don’t want to believe it. It’s really fucking hard!”
I have asked some of the people closest to me about their experience with self-image. Everyone who I was in contact with are young adults but are all from different backgrounds, body types, sexual orientations, and identities. Almost everyone who participated in the survey struggles with body image issues to some extent. One of the biggest problems across the board is that if body image is talked about at all in a household growing up, it is talked about negatively. Then there is also the instance where body image isn’t even mentioned until we are too old to remember a time when it didn’t matter. It’s a complicated situation to handle, I get it. Why bring it up when children are so young? Won’t that just make them more conscious of their body to begin with whether positively or negatively? But the fact of the matter is that kids and pre-teens are already thinking about these things whether it is brought up specifically or not because they are constantly seeing the people in their life struggle. In my survey, the age in which people recall being aware of their body image ranges from six to nineteen years old and everyone had someone in their life that they looked up to who also suffered from low self-esteem.
The battle with body image often feels very lonely and not one person has had the same journey, but there are more things in common than we might assume. I asked if it was more likely for people to compare themselves to celebrities or to someone that they know/know of in real life. Nearly everyone answered that they compare themselves to people they know. Given this information, it makes complete sense why people are comparing themselves to those that they are surrounded by because the only time anyone receives a Snapchat or sees a post regarding food or working out is when that person chose a salad over a sandwich or took a cycling class. No one is sharing that they accidentally ate a whole bag of chips and haven’t been to the gym in weeks. Social media has created a world for people to portray the “best version” of themselves. It’s a game of analyzing other people’s best and rather than comparing it to our own best, which is also problematic, we compare it to our worst.
“I guess my overall opinion of body positivity is that though it is okay to be critical of yourself if you are unhappy, also be patient and take the right steps toward the body you would like. If your changes aren’t making an impact, remember to be forgiving of your body and its nature.”
Our minds are trained to see the “worst” parts of ourselves first and to zoom in on those parts when we look in the mirror or at a photo of ourselves. Rather than confronting these feelings head on we do one of two things. We either internalize them or we address our insecurities publicly so that we can make a joke of them rather than allowing ourselves to truly feel that pain. But what about when we aren’t feeling down? What about the days we wake up and feel beautiful and proud of ourselves? Although they may feel few and far between, these days do exist but we never get to share those feelings because society teaches us that it’s wrong to talk positively about ourselves. Confidence has a negative connotation so of course no one is ever going to acknowledge when they love the way their legs look or feel great in their bathing suit because it makes them look conceited, and puts them at risk of being torn down by others on the one day they aren’t doing it themselves. So how do we even go about promoting body positivity when it comes with its own set of burdens?
I really don’t know.
“It’s about working with what you do have and celebrating your strengths.”
If you thought you’d get to the end of this and find a golden ticket-- I’m sorry. I definitely don’t have the answers to any of these questions. In all this was more of a rant for myself in an attempt to gain some personal clarity. I was never going to reveal some crazy life-changing phenomenon, although, I wish I could because I know how many people it would benefit. However, I am challenging myself and whoever reads this to take some time to find your own truth within this madness and discover what makes sense to and for you. Unpack what you have accepted to be true about yourself and others and find where there are holes. Maybe it is about changing your perception, relearning what it means to love yourself, and training your mind to be empowered by another person’s ability to do so rather than feel defeated because it seems like they have found some secret ingredient in their life. Trust me, they have their own shit too. Accept that the journey will never be linear and find the beauty in the complexity of your existence and evolution. Be open to having difficult conversations and, and be mindful of how the way you talk about yourself and others directly impacts your own well being. Most importantly, give gratitude to the universe and to your body because regardless of your shape or size, it is keeping your heart beating and your ideas flowing. Our bodies are constantly protecting us from extraneous forces, but we become powerless when we choose to attack ourselves from the inside out.