Now that I’ve finally mustered the courage to write this blogpost, I’m going to share with you my struggle with body image and reassess the global definition of beauty. My challenges with body image will always be tough to talk about because it’s very personal, but since I figured that it’s something that both women and young girls face, I thought that sharing my experience and advice might be of help.
Since I’ve been feeling quite down lately, I found that my sadness and short-term loneliness were impacting my eating habits. It’s very unusual for me to lack appetite, but this has been the case for the past three weeks where I found myself to be skipping meals here and there. I knew I wasn’t giving my body what it needed when I realized how empty my stomach was and how much energy I lacked during my 5k run last week. So, I wanted to do this blogpost because I realize how important it is to eat regularly and healthily, which made me reflect on the times where I struggled with my eating habits due to how I viewed myself. Here is my story.
I started having problems with body image at the age of 14, after I hit puberty. Where I went to school in Bangkok, the majority of girls were skinny and petite, so because I didn’t fit into this category I started comparing my body to theirs on a daily basis. My body was going through different changes, and I was always heavier than the average petite Asian girl. I never thought I’d fit into the beauty standards of South-East Asia which glorified the term ‘size small’ so much that I punished myself daily because of my weight. I remember the disappointment I felt when I went into shops in Thailand and barely found anything that fit me. I also have this memory of going on a trip to this sugar cane farm with some classmates in my year, of when I was unpacking my clothes in my room, and one of them stared at my trousers and said, ‘is that your size?’ raising her eyebrows in astonishment. I said yes, laughed and brushed it off, as if it were some trivial joke.
In school I thought skinny meant attractive. I thought skinny meant beautiful. Skinny would always be asked out on a date, skinny would be invited to the parties and automatically be part of the popular girls clan. I wanted to fit into that mould because I wanted to be accepted, validated, and I needed someone to tell me I was good enough. I told myself that if I had lost weight then I’d be happy. If I was skinny, guys would ask me out. If I was skinny, I’d be invited to the house parties. It was then I became obsessive about my weight which then led to a binge eating disorder. Everyday became a struggle: In boarding school I went to the gym 6 days a week, trying to burn off everything I ate and limited myself to only a small bowl of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner with nothing in between. I’d congratulate myself for keeping up with it, and punished myself if I had a naughty snack. This obsession became so bad that I was constantly exhausted, and one night I threw up the remains of my dinner after a rigorous session on the treadmill. When I hit my goal weight, which was 55 kilos (a completely absurd goal for a 16 year old) nothing around me changed. I didn’t feel any happier and still didn’t get invited to any parties, or got asked to prom. Soon after, I was eating my sadness away until I couldn’t move, which made me gain even more weight.
We are told that beauty is defined by our size. And it’s everywhere. On the cover of magazines, on billboards, on TV, social media – unrealistic expectations of beauty are here to haunt us until we give in and spend all of our money for products that are supposed to ‘fix’ our imperfections. Beauty should not be defined by culture either. Because it’s attractive to have a white and pale complexion in Asia and to be tanned in the West, culture cannot and will not dictate what is beautiful. On Instagram, we see models and bloggers with sculpted abs, perfect legs, a tanned body and beautiful hair, and we can’t stop comparing ourselves to them – but why do we strive for this unattainable perfection? First of all, it’s not real. 99% of photos in the media are retouched, and tons of celebrities have come out complaining about altering their images on the covers of magazines. Apps like Facetune and VSCO actually smooth out imperfections, without anyone being aware of it.
You might be surprised hearing this from me, when you look at my skinny legs and arms from my photos. I do hide my imperfections, and I admit I can do it very well. I’m actually a UK size 10, and to be really honest, I have terrible skin and a flabby tummy, and I never show this in my photos. You don’t get to see my imperfections because I cover it all up. I know, it doesn’t make me ‘authentic’ but I am trying. And I don’t feel comfortable in skin-tight dresses or crop tops because I don’t like to wear them. But I can say that I feel tons better about my body now than ever before and I’ve never been this healthy in my life.
Your health always comes first. I’ve realized that skinny is not a reflection of healthy. I know tons of skinny girls who eat really badly and never exercise, and I know girls beyond your typical size 6 who exercise regularly and love eating healthy food. So stop. Stop all of this hating. Stop all the comparing. And just BE. Start to live a healthy lifestyle and listen to your body by giving it what it needs. Exercise, choose the right foods to eat, and nourish your body because it’s the only thing you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. It’s about loving yourself. The only person that you need acceptance from is you. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. And when I found out that only 4% of women feel beautiful according to the Dove documentary, I was shocked. And it’s time we change that statistic.
It’s time to say no. Say no to beauty standards because we shouldn’t let anyone dictate what beauty is. Maybe the answer is staring us right in the face this whole time: beYOUtiful. See? Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Beauty is YOU!
I want to end this article with a speech from body activist and model, Ashley Graham who has inspired and empowered millions of women by showing that beauty exists beyond size.
What are your thoughts?