Student embraces body positivity, one step at a time

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Originally published on June 2, 2015

Illustration by Emily Teng

For most of my life, I’ve been a bit of a walking contradiction. I’m 5’9” — taller than the average Chinese girl, and I have trouble not standing out. I’d tower over a majority of my friends and relatives, but many times I sorely wanted to turn invisible. I hated how I looked. Oh, the joys of growing up — growth spurts that made me the tallest person in my school up until high school, baby fat that just wouldn’t go away, and endless acne on my overly round face. In my mind, not only was my face something entirely unappealing, my body was just another problem I needed to fix.

I’d tower over a majority of my friends and relatives, but many times I sorely wanted to turn invisible. I hated how I looked.

I didn’t want pictures taken of me. There’s a gap in my childhood photos from ages of 8 to 15. I’d cringe and laugh off photos of me that anyone managed to take. Looking back, those missing photos meant lost mementos. I didn’t want to go to my middle school farewell ceremony because I felt hideous. I made no enemies, and no close friends. Those who know me may find this to be a shock, as I am generally an amiable person, and some may even describe me as unabashedly loud at times. “If everyone has insecurities, then I’m nothing special,” I thought. “When I’m older I’ll look better, and these feelings go away eventually… right?”

By mid-sophomore year, gnawing insecurities about my body had not gone away, even after I lost weight. I was healthier, and I got compliments on my thinner appearance nearly every time I met an old acquaintance. But I wasn’t happy. Around this time, I found an encouraging community on Tumblr. On my feed, I’d see others fighting with the same body image issues, and speaking of a concept entirely new to me: body positivity. Urban Dictionary sums up body positivity well: it’s “accepting your body as it is and attempting to make everyone else feel comfortable in their own skin as well.” I read that 66 percent of women said confidence was the top attribute of beauty and that losing weight doesn’t always improve self-esteem. Over the next few months, I personally embraced five key ideas from body positivity champions:

One: stop unnecessarily comparing yourself to others. Nitpicking at your flaws may stop you from improving, or focusing on your “better” traits. Comparing yourself to others is energy-draining. When I say “comparing yourself to others,” I mean “devaluing yourself while putting others with what seems like more life achievements on a pedestal.” Whoever you’re pitting yourself against is human too, complete with a set of flaws. There’s also a distinction between healthy competition, from which you can better yourself, and unhealthy competition, which chips away at your self-esteem.

Two: everyone’s body is different. You don’t have to follow every tip out there. Find what’s right for you, and makes you feel happy and healthy. People will have different methods of becoming and feeling confident. What works another person may not work for you, and vice versa. What’s important is to accept who you are. For every age and race, embrace your body, whether it’s fat, skinny, tall, short, masculine, feminine, or disabled. None of these descriptors are a synonym for “ugly.”

For every age and race, embrace your body, whether it’s fat, skinny, tall, short, masculine, feminine, or disabled. None of these descriptors are a synonym for “ugly.”

Three: find an encouraging community where you can learn, get support, and support others as well. In a community, you can relate to others with similar problems, learn from them, and support each other. A community can be anywhere — friends and family, social media, forums, coworkers, teachers, volunteer centers and more. You’re not alone. Education about the roots of body image issues, ways to deal with them and how to spread awareness empowers you.

Four: don’t believe every image or advertisement that the fashion industry presents to you. Advertisements online and in print can be deceptive. All photos have been altered so bodies look “ideal.” Alterations can range from small changes like brightness and contrast, to more major ones like waist and thigh slimming. These images create unrealistic expectations for all genders, and can contribute to a negative body perception. Campaigns, such as the Dove’s Real Beauty, have been created to promote inclusion of diverse body types. Models and celebrities such as Gisele Bündchen and Beyoncé have spoken out against photo editing.

And last but not least, set small, tangible goals for yourself. Small victories are victories nonetheless! Concrete steps make long-term success possible. For example, look in the mirror and say you look good, and you might start to believe it. Take a chance with clothing choice. Write down one positive thought about your body every day. Or, write down negative thoughts to release them. Try changing your diet. Exercise, and enjoy those feel-good endorphins. Take a selfie! Selfies have received criticism for their inappropriate timing and possible link to narcissism. But when you’re struggling with body image insecurities and taking selfies helps you feel better, do it!

Undoing years of self-loathing is not easy. For me, taking the steps to rejoice in my body greatly boosted my confidence.

The road to loving my body and myself has been long. Despite being tempted to fall into my old depreciative routine, it didn’t stop me from trying to be body positive, and shouldn’t stop you, dear reader, either. Undoing years of self-loathing is not easy. For me, taking the steps to rejoice in my body greatly boosted my confidence. I’m not afraid of being proud, but there remains a line between “confidence” and “arrogance.” Confidence creates the best “you,” and makes your life more fulfilling. Arrogance raises you up while putting others down. My final advice: Love yourself. Only you can live your life, so why not make the best of it?