If you’ve ever traversed the dating world, you know what I’m talking about. There are the girls and guys who decide that you’re ‘not their look’ and you know exactly what they’re referring to. Or those helpful souls who gently point out that you might want to cut back on the chocolate. Because when knights are presented with a line-up of young maidens, they’ll choose the one with the tightest corset.
Even if you’re not in the dating world, you are still thrown those messages. You are fed a steady diet of them. There are those images defining beauty as a collage of particular body shapes and skin qualities. There are those magazine covers, ‘How To Lose Weight Fast’ and those commercials featuring girls with thigh gaps and guys with 24 packs.
There are those really well-meaning compliments when people say, “You look great!” followed by, “Did you lose weight?”
Regardless of how good of a self-confidence you possess, these things wear away at you.
I’ve heard it from girls of all kinds. Skinny girls. Larger girls. Curvy girls. Flat-chested girls. Curly haired girls. Straight haired girls. Everyone has, at some point or another, felt insecure about some aspect of their looks.
(And I’ve been told that guys of all kinds feel similarly).
If you can’t relate to the word ‘fat’, feel free to replace it with anything. Scrawny. Underweight. Tall. Short. Suffering from a case of Stringy Hair. Carrying the burden of a Jewish Nose.
Whatever ‘your thing’ may be, you notice that people notice.
No matter how ‘societally stunning’ we are, we have all had doubts about our appearance. We have all taken time to ponder the question,
“If I could change anything about my appearance, what would it be?”
For me, the seed of that question was planted in high school.
It’s a question that buried itself deep into the soil of my heart. It grew roots as my friends and I watered it with conversations about who was Popular and who was Hot and who was Sexy.
And I noticed something: no one who was overweight was ever mentioned. Overweight people were pretty much never considered Popular or Hot or Sexy.
(If they were lucky, they were labeled as Cute. And Funny).
And the question of what I would change about my appearance continued growing in grandeur. It developed a trunk. And then leaves. And then fruits.
Fruits which I would chew on while examining myself in the mirror.
“I would get rid of this muffin top.” “I would dissolve my cheeks.” “I would be a size 2” (might as well dream practically).
And, over time, those fruity thoughts fermented and turned acidic.
“You’re fat.” “You’re so fat.” “You shouldn’t wear clothes like that. Better stick to black. Because you’re fat.”
And I accepted these thoughts as legitimate. Because although my doctor told me that I was ‘normal,’ I definitely wasn’t skinny.
I really did have a muffin top. And wide cheeks. And was a size… more than 2.
And so I started dieting. I joined Weight Watchers. I began running. I convinced myself that I was doing this because I wanted to be healthy. That I was taking care of myself. That I was loving myself.
But really, all I was doing was trying to get rid of myself.
But as hard as I tried, I never could manage to get rid of those muffin tops or cheeks or inches.
I never could manage to get rid of me.
As much weight as I lost, my body just didn’t seem to want to befriend size Small.
And this went on for a while. A long while. Compliments and glances and the numbers on the scale formed a diagnostic tool indicating whether I was at a weight at which I was worthy of being considered beautiful.
At which I was entitled to feel beautiful.
Until one night, when I was speaking with a friend – a truly stunning friend – and we were complaining to each other about what was wrong with our appearances. I lamented my body shape, she agonized over her acne.
I spent time convincing her that she was oblivious to the fact that she was gorgeous. That yes, she had acne, but she was thin and had deep brown eyes which lit up when she spoke about her hobbies and the most beautiful laugh that I’d ever heard. And she spent time convincing me of the same.
“You really don’t think it’s a problem?”
“I really don’t. You’re worrying about something which barely exists. And I really would never even notice if you didn’t keep bringing it up all the time.”
And that’s when we realized that we were both being idiots.
Because the problem wasn’t that society didn’t think of us as attractive. The problem was that we didn’t think of ourselves as attractive.
Because that unhelpful question of, “if I could change anything about my appearance, what would it be?” had grown to giant sequoia proportions. And we had chosen to rest under its shade.
That question not only cast a shadow over our self-confidence, it cast a shadow over every other aspect of ourselves.
I had become a person who whispered to myself: Your body is ugly. She had become a person who whispered to herself: Your face is ugly.
When really, no one of any consequence saw those things at all.
And we decided then and there, that we were going to work on our self-confidences. Our messages to ourselves.
Because people may notice that you’re fat (or short or whatever else you may be), but no one really cares.
Unless you do.
When you stand in front of that mirror and call yourself names and then interact with others, you project that energy. You are less confident, less willing to extend yourself, less giving.
And others can sense that.
Obesity is a rising concern in the world and physical health needs to be a primary focus. But in our concern about physical health, we sometimes forget to take care of our mental health.
Of our emotional health.
It’s a tragedy that complex, capable beings limit their definition of beauty to weight. Weight does indeed matter. But not as much as we think it does.
Because you are more.
You are more than just a dress size. You are more than just your body shape. You are your confidence. Your drive. Your intelligence. Your humor. Your fire. Your purpose. Your strength. Your joy.
And the moment you start appreciating that, the moment you start highlighting your positive qualities in your mind, the more other people will see it, too.
People can be cruel. People can shame you for your weight or shape or any other aspect of your person. People can mock you or not want to date you. But those people aren’t your concern. Those people need to get better things to worry about. And you can’t do anything to control other’s superficiality or cruelty.
All you can control is your own outlook.
And we all sometimes feel insecure about the way we look. It happens. We all have those days. Your weight will fluctuate. Your skin will wrinkle.
But we need to stop shaming ourselves. To weed out the seeds of ‘what I would change if I could’ and plant seeds of ‘what I should value because I can.’