Illustration by Abigail Pickens
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, body image is how we perceive ourselves, from when we are looking in the mirror to picturing how we look in our minds. The beliefs you hold about your appearance and how you feel about your body are both aspects of body image. Throughout our lives we may come across comments about our bodies, being that from others or the media. Those ideas can be internalized, and that can affect the relationship we have with our body. A healthy body image is important for good mental health.
Growing up, I experienced troubles with my body. As a chubbier child, I was and felt made fun of and even inadequate at times. I internalized these feelings, and in my pre-teen years, I was trying every exercise and diet I could find.
I was growing and counting calories at the same time, so I became thinner, which made me feel like I was fitting in. However, it didn’t matter how much sugar or how many carbs I cut out. I was never confident in my body even though it was known to me, especially when I received input from others, that I looked so much prettier since I lost weight. Over time, that shift of constantly exercising and counting calories didn’t last. By the end of eighth grade, I put on some weight. My family was moving, so I ate my stress away, and once again, I felt inadequate.
That next summer I did all that I could to be thin again before getting into my freshman year of high school. It worked, and people kept telling me that year how pretty I was. This continued throughout my freshman year and my sophomore year, but it still wasn’t attainable. In the summer before my junior year, I gained a few pounds. I fell into a system where I would do everything I could to lose weight during summer vacation, and then I’d gain some in winter and shed it again during the upcoming summer.
This system was not healthy whatsoever and caused my weight to fluctuate a lot. In my junior year, which was my last year in high school since I had enough credits to graduate, my family was moving again. I was in a tough spot, and that was reflected in how I saw myself at that time. No matter which number showed up on the scale at a certain time, I was never OK with my body. It was never enough, and that was not healthy for me.
This month, I’m starting my second year of university, and I have the best relationship I have had with my body in my entire life. I might not be as thin as the media standards, and my body may not be that defined, but you know what? It is my body, and it is the only one I got, so I decided to love it despite what is told to me by the media. It is not easy, and it’s definitely not a linear journey. There will be days where I am not as body positive as I would like. It is all worth it, because I don’t waste the time or opportunity to be doing the things I love with people I love by worrying about how I look.
My writing cannot automatically tell you how to turn negative body thoughts into positive body image, but it can introduce you to healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body. “The more you practice these new thought patterns, the better you will feel about who you are and the body you naturally have,” says an article from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Here are some tips from NEDA about how to start looking at yourself more kindly:
- Appreciate what your body does for you. Our bodies enable us to go after whatever we want. The next time you take a nice stroll or dance with your friends, remember that your body is making that experience possible for you.
- Don’t search for what you believe to be “faults” in your body. The smallest details are part of what makes us who we are, and that includes the things we might not like as much.
- Clothes are supposed to fit you, not the other way around. Wear clothes that make you feel good about your body. Throw away those jeans that you kept in hopes to someday fit it and get ones that don’t make you want to change your body.
- Start paying attention to what triggers you to feel bad about your body in the first place. Is it what you see on social media? Or how a person close to you might talk about your body? Notice it, and speak up against it.
Most importantly, we need to remember that we are all different. We all have different traits. According to the NEDA, people’s genetics can impact how their body is naturally built, from shape to weight, differently. Avoid comparing your body to anyone else’s. I personally believe that the concept of an ideal body, in terms of weight, height and whatnot is quite unattainable for most real bodies. Let’s just think of ideal bodies as those that let us lead a good, enjoyable life.
Look at yourself in a loving manner like you would do for another person! Self-love is not a linear path, it looks different to every one of us, and it’s continuous; it’s a lifetime journey but one that is worthwhile. However, it is hard, and it will take time. Loving and being OK with yourself is so uplifting and helps you to face the challenges that life throws at you with ease.
A great example of that is today I caught myself spiraling after even the largest size of a pair of pants I wanted to buy didn’t fit me. It made me think badly about myself, and I was already preparing diets and exercises I should start doing. Then I caught myself in that act and thought, “What am I doing right now?” My beauty doesn’t rely on my size of clothes – that doesn’t define me, and if they don’t carry pants that will fit me, it’s their fault as a brand. As I said before, the clothes need to fit us, we don’t need to fit the clothes. Seeing our body as imperfect is a result of the media trying to push us to fit the ideal of beauty, which is highly unachievable. We just are us, and that is enough.
Above all else, I believe we all deserve to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life where we can just be OK with the fact that we are who we are. I wish all of us to stop losing opportunities, because we are afraid of how we’ll look or how people will perceive us. Just do you! Spend careless time with your loved ones, do the things you want to do and just live life to the fullest, knowing that you are worthy of good times and your size doesn’t affect how worthy you are of receiving love from others and yourself.
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Hi, I’m Sara Crawford, a senior journalism student from Cleveland. I’m also the editor in chief of The Burr and the opinions editor for KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you interesting, humorous and hard-hitting stories that tap into current events, trends and the lives of those who have made a home in Kent, Ohio. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.
Julia Duanetto is a non-binary, Brazilian, sophomore neuroscience major currently pursuing an associate’s degree in liberal studies. A first semester writer, Julia’s motivation to take part in The Burr was set in motion by their favorite types of writing, which include feature stories and opinion pieces. In addition to The Burr, Julia is a writer for Fusion Magazine and the secretary for the Thirst Project at Kent State. Outside of university, Julia enjoys practicing yoga, reading and spending time with their dog, Styx. Julia is very passionate about social justice and environmental awareness, which you can check out in their future writings. To follow Julia’s journey, you can find them on Instagram @jds.xv.