For many young girls, the idea of being satisfied with your body is unfathomable. They have grown up in a society that is far too comfortable with shaming women for their appearances. In my primitive years, I was constantly reminded that I was too skinny. Gradually, the passive comments from family and friends began to resonate with me more than I realized. As young as age ten, I found myself staring in the mirror, longing for more skin on my bones. It did not register in my mind that there was a chance that those comments should not have been made in the first place; I instead decided that I needed to address the “issue”. As I entered my teenage years, I suddenly had the ability to gain weight, and I incorrectly assumed that I would finally be happy with what I saw in the mirror. Of course, I was wrong once again. Suggestions on how to gain weight shifted to tips on how to cut calories. These thoughts eventually manifested themselves into conscious actions, and for nearly eight years, my happiness depended on what my body looked like.
With the support of family and friends, I have been able to fight my way out of this toxic mindset, but many teenagers stay stuck in this damaging cycle for their entire lives. The stigma around eating disorders and toxic diet culture needs to be addressed with urgency. The rise of social media has added fuel to the fire, but the issue has been ablaze for decades. A five minute scroll on Instagram is enough to poison a teenager's mind with worries that their body is not enough. We are constantly surrounded by reminders that we are “not perfect”, and the only way to keep this idea from plaguing our minds is to learn and practice self-love; there is no other way around it. The quest to attain a “perfect body” not only leads to serious physical health problems- it destroys your confidence and kills your beauty inside. If you find yourself in the absence of a clear starting point in your journey of self-love, begin by assessing your environment. The people we surround ourselves with have a large impact on the way we conduct ourselves. Avoid those who feel the need to negatively comment on appearances or food choices; constantly engaging in these types of conversations can not only impact the way you see yourself, but they are unnecessary and not helpful for anyone. Surround yourself with people who celebrate differences and are open to discussions about difficult subjects. Sincere communication about these issues is the first step to destroying the stigma around disordered eating, and it helps foster a sense of self-acceptance over time. In addition to assessing your environment, practice self-compassion. Far too often, we judge ourselves harsher than any outsider could. Refrain yourself from spending hours in guilt because you ate an extra serving at dinner. It’s perfectly normal to go on a diet for health reasons, but allow yourself days to eat a bigger breakfast or reward yourself with a slice of cake. Eating more or less than you anticipated is not the end-all be-all; by being kinder to ourselves in moments of weakness, our self-perception will become more positive.
The journey to find self-love looks different for everyone. It is a conscious effort that must be made every day, but the result is extremely rewarding. Society may never truly allow women to go uncriticized for their body and appearance, so we must take matters into our own hands. Even the seemingly-perfect women we see on the runways could have personal struggles that go unseen. So instead of self-deprecation and constant comparison, we need to love ourselves as we come. Fostering self-love not only makes us happier, but it allows our inner beauty to truly radiate.
Maya Nair, Missouri City, 12th Grade, Instagram- @_mayanair