I am five-foot-none, with pale skin, big brown eyes, and hair that’s naturally dark brown (but hasn’t been “natural” for a few years now) and has a mind of its own most days. My feet are small enough to fit in kids’ shoes, and my hands are equally tiny. I’m a visible ethnic minority but don’t like being labelled as “exotic.” My measurements are proportionate: my hips and bust are the same, and my waist is 8 inches smaller than that. Mathematically, then, I have a full-figured hourglass, and supposedly this is enviable.
Yet, as is the case with many other young women out there, I haven’t had an easy relationship with my body.
In every phase of life that I can actually remember, I’ve had one issue or another with my body. I’d like to say that all my issues with self-perception and body image began during adolescence, because for most people adolescence lines up with puberty and all of one’s body drama (trauma?) happens at the same time everyone else’s. For me, however this is not the case. I was an alarmingly early bloomer: Mother Nature dropped by for the first time when I was only seven, and by the time I was ten years old I had a cup size that most grown women I know would kill (or, at least, pay out the nose) to have. Sure, when you’re a twentysomething neck-deep in the dating game, big boobs could be seen as an asset. However, when you’re a ten-year-old, they’re anything but, and I suffered through puberty without any girl friends with whom I could compare concurrent notes about the whole thing.
By the time you add in the problems that arise with weight (or excess thereof) and height (or lack thereof), as well as other minor details (I don’t like my nose; I have one crooked tooth; my skin is pale but my limb-fuzz is dark; my bottom, while ample, is not perky; I am pigeon-toed…), it’s no small wonder that I had some pretty big issues with body image as a teenager. These issues were so pervasive that makeup and clothing became things behind which I could hide. I was obsessed with how my outward appearance fell considerably short of what I thought it should be.
We’ve all heard before that current standards of beauty are humanly impossible to achieve. The viral mockvertisement for “Photoshop by Adobe” pokes fun at these standards, while Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign challenges us to look at ourselves honestly and lovingly. And I am certainly not the first blogger to tell their personal “body story” or address the overall issue of body image.
This countercultural perspective is not new; it has been developing over a few years now and has even gained some footholds in popular or mainstream areas.
But the overwhelming majority of today’s media still tells us that we – as we are in our natural skins – are not enough. Perhaps miracles will happen and in a generation or two humanity will be able to accept its inherent diversity in shape, size, weight, and colour. But I am of a generation whose popular opinion of what “beauty” looks like or ought to look like is the direct result of a multimedia blitzkrieg that made us all buy into a world of impossible perfection. Old-school print and television media have joined forces with the almighty Internet, and through our favourite social media we are kept in place.
Yet – even as the aforementioned countercultural movement fights for ground and even gains some here and there – emotionally, mentally, and physically, we are stuck in a culture wherein we are conditioned and conned into believing in standards of beauty that would give the ancient Greek gods a self-esteem crisis. I mean, through my childhood and adolescence, I definitely saw myself the way pop culture made me see myself.
“Out of place” comes to mind when I reflect on the way my younger self reacted to her reflection.
So does, “Too different/short/heavy/curvy.”
Or even, “Not good enough.”
And yes, even, “Ugly.”
Then, I joined the Armed Forces. And while I am no longer a member of the Forces, the brief time I spent as one of its Officer Cadets completely changed the way I saw the world and people around me…and the way I saw myself. Instead of being obsessed with what my body looked like, I found myself amazed at what this body – this so-called “imperfect” and “flawed” body – could actually do and accomplish.
Having this perspective means that I can look in the mirror now and see beyond not only the physical reflection, but also beyond what’s right or wrong with what makes up that reflection.
The cup size that needs its own postal code? Not only does it look pretty good in just about any T-shirt, dress, or sweater I try own, but according to my nephew and my boyfriend’s youngest siblings it also makes me “comfy-cosy” and “huggable.”
The nose that just never looked right on my face? Its shape makes it the perfect target for the cute little kisses my boyfriend likes dropping on me.
Those tiny hands can play guitar, type at 100 WPM, and write in cursive – not to mention cook, bake, and craft personalised greeting cards. Those freakishly small feet will always be clad in super-cute shoes bought at insanely cheap sale prices. The legs that give me a 27″ inseam might not have thigh gaps but they do not end in cankles, and in proportion to the rest of my body they are, surprisingly, on the long side. The lack of height means I can wear impossibly tall heels and still fit into my boyfriend’s hugs. The unruly hair that graces my head is thick and healthy without needing expensive products. The crooked tooth goes unnoticed in the bigger picture of my smile.
It is by no means perfect, but this body can get out of bed in the morning. It can walk, and it can run and bend and stretch and lift its way to a healthier version of itself. One day, it will walk down a church aisle in a wedding dress. One day, it will bear children. One day, it will lie confined in a bed as the lines and wrinkles on my face tell my story. And one day, it will be laid to rest.
The bottom line is, the body in the mirror might not be seen by society as beautiful in its appearance, but it is beautiful nonetheless in its abilities and potential.
And it is mine.