There are a few ways I’ve considered going with this word for today. I could talk about how I think society puts too much pressure on people to look a certain way, or how theatre has definitely warped my perception of beauty a little bit (for good or bad, I’m not quite sure). I could even talk about my Adventist education and how it really attached a lot of shame to how I see my body and others. What I’ve decided to do, however, is talk about what I didn’t talk about last week- body image. Specifically, how my relationship with how I see myself and my self-esteem has changed over the years.
Something not a lot of people know about me is that for about five years in elementary school, I did ballet and tap. I loved it. I did ballet longer, and actually got put in a more advanced ballet class towards the end of my time at the dance school. I didn’t stay in that class because the teacher was a little intense and I was dealing with my parents separation and, at the time, really needed more love than discipline, but still. Much of my elementary years were spent in dance shoes. Whenever I read essays or articles from women talking about their self-esteem, often they will mention that they started to notice they looked different to their peers in dance environments, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was a very skinny child, and I was fairly tall for my age. For the years I did it, I looked the part of a ballerina. Still, I went to school with girls who were taller and skinnier (or more athletic, which is a whole other thing), and I truly believed at my core that I was the biggest of them all.
I have a clear memory of being eleven years old and being on the swings with two other girls. This was between 2010 and 2011, when the word “phat” (meaning excellent) became a popular term to throw around. While on the swings, one of the girls looked at me and said I was phat. In response to my complaint at being referred to this way, she just said she meant “phat, with a ph, which means excellent. So it’s okay.” But the two of them were laughing, and I could tell what they meant. I was also the first one of the girls in my class to go through puberty, so I was already highly sensitive about looking different than the rest of them. That same year, I remember crying in my grandparent’s bathroom after being asked how much I weighed. My mom followed me in and we had a little talk about body image and how sometimes girls are just mean, and that doesn’t make mean they’re right.
After I stopped dancing, I took up swimming. I’ve never been super athletic, but I loved being in the water. I kept practicing, and stayed a swimmer for another four(ish) years. While in junior high, my hips started to grow, and I definitely did look different than the other girls in my class. But I was strong, even though I didn’t pay enough attention to that at the time. I was fourteen years old the first time I decided I “needed” to lose weight, and it resulted in me going for a run for the first time by myself (and absolutely hating it), and doing 100 sit-ups every night (which, honestly, didn’t do much except make me hate sit-ups).
I moved before starting high school, and because of that I stopped swimming. There was a pool in our yard, and while I would use it every so often, it didn’t feel the same as having a pool with lanes. As I’m sure is quite common, being in high school didn’t help me like myself more than before. In that regard, my Sophomore year (2015-2016) was pretty bad. I started doing all the things morning routine videos on youtube told me to do, like drinking lemon water and eating zucchini as pasta. I started running almost every day, and did random workout videos in my room. To be clear, these things aren’t inherently bad. I still love lemon water, and honestly I should probably eat zucchini noodles more often because I can’t really have gluten. As I’ve mentioned, I still go through phases of running, and I’m sure those workout videos have their time and place as well. The problem wasn’t what I was doing, it was why I was doing it. All of those things were done with the intention of getting skinny. I even had a notebook where each month I wrote down all my measurements, which probably weren’t even accurate because I was doing them myself anyway. Even though I thought I was doing great, I wasn’t really taking care of myself, and I definitely wasn’t being kind to myself.
Now that I’m older, I like to think I’ve figured a lot of this stuff out. I have more good days than bad. I’ve grown. I’ve stretched. I’ve changed. And that’s okay- that’s good. Am I always happy with how I look? No, of course not. I am human, after all. But that’s exactly the point- I’m human. I go through stages of not taking care of my physical wellbeing very well, and yeah, that could be because of college life/tech weeks, but often times it’s simple cravings and laziness. But I also go through stages of really prioritizing my physical health. For me, this means exercising in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore, not eating gluten, and drinking a lot of water. It does not mean berating myself for “messing up,” or exercising too much and eating too little. Like everything in life, there is a balance to taking care of your physical health. To be honest, I’m still figure out what that balance looks like for me. But that’s okay, too.