“The mirror can lie doesn’t show you what’s inside.”
Last weekend, I spent my Sunday afternoon presenting a PowerPoint presentation to a bunch of middle school-aged Girl Scouts. No, the presentation wasn’t on how to make a campfire or marketing tips on how to sell cookies. This presentation was on body image and social media. This presentation was part of a workshop that I created for my graduate capstone project. In this two-hour session, I taught the girls many people alter their body shape in social media photos, I taught them how to have a positive social media account, I had them write a list of 10 non-physical/non-beauty aspects they like about themselves, and I had them make affirmation jars which will be donated to a woman’s shelter. I think the girls enjoyed this workshop. From my perspective and based off of the post-workshop survey I gave them, it seems like they learned from it.
This workshop is extremely important to me. The topic of positive body image is extremely close to my heart. Through this workshop, my goal is that the girls are now able to look at pictures on social media a little more wisely now, that they are able to understand that the subject’s body may be retouched to look thinner or for her butt to look bigger, and that they are able to look at social media with a smarter perspective knowing that not everything they see on social media is not 100% authentic or real. I think its really important for young girls to know how to maintain a positive body image while using social media.
Body image is how you feel about yourself and your body. To be honest, body image is something I have struggled with my whole life. I wish someone had hosted a workshop back when I was younger that gave similar coping mechanisms for dealing with the unattainable images that I saw in the media. Body image isn’t always an easy thing to talk about. I think we all want to pretend that we love everything about how we look because admitting we have negative thoughts about our bodies makes use feel vulnerable.
For a long time, I’ve put off talking about my negative body image because I didn’t want to feel vulnerable. Because of the workshop I recently hosted, I feel inspired to talk about body image more.
My Struggles with Body Image
I’ve struggled with my body image for most of my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had negative thoughts about what I look like. Sometimes, it’s my hair or nose. Other times, it’s the shape of my stomach or my butt. As young as elementary school, I remember having negative thoughts about myself. When I was younger I went through a small chubby phase right before I started middle school. I was a relatively thin kid before that, and it was really hard for me to love myself for the few years that I went through my chubby phase. I constantly compared myself to my friends and to the young girls I saw on TV, in movies, or in magazines. I’m almost glad that I didn’t grow up with social media because that would have been another platform I would have utilized to compare my body to others’ bodies. During my chubby phase, I just remember being really unhappy.
About halfway through middle school, I finally lost the chubbiness and went back to being on the thinner side. At first, I think I was pretty happy with myself. I think my body image at that time was more positive than it was negative. But, there still were things I didn’t like about myself, and I still compared myself to my friends and women in the media.
At one point in early high school, my body image was really bad. Even though I was far out of my chubby phase and didn’t focus as much on my weight anymore, I could easily find something else I didn’t like about myself or my body. I think these thoughts we heightened by anxieties and stressors that I had experienced in my external world. I think I was just dealing with them internally by picking apart my body and finding things I didn’t like about myself.
It wasn’t easy, but, eventually, I learned to deal with negative body image better. Of course, things still aren’t completely perfect. I still find ways to compare what I look like to the women I see in the media, on social media, and in real life. Now, though, I have found better ways to deal with it. I don’t listen to my negative body image thoughts as much. I’ve also learned how to be more confident in myself and how to love who I am at this current moment.
Negative body image is so much more common than you would think. Little phrases like “my butt looks too big in these jeans. They looked so much better on that Instagram influencer in her photo” may seem innocent, but they are fueling negative body image in one form or another. I think almost everyone has experienced negative body image in her/his life. Guys experience negative body image too and just as much as girls experience it. They very often compare themselves to their peers, athletes, and other men they see in the media. Even celebrities experience negative body image. No one is immune to experiencing negative body image. Unfortunately, it doesn’t discriminate based on gender, age, or race. It’s something anyone can feel at any point in his/her life.
What I’ve Learned
Since high school, I have learned a lot about myself, about the media, and about how to maintain a positive body image. I learned that I have spent way too much time in my life obsessing over how I look. And, I’ve learned that it’s really not worth it. Think about it – why does it really matter if you look like the woman you see in a magazine or on Instagram? Just because she’s smiling and looks happy it doesn’t mean she is. Her happiness has no correlation to what she looks like on the outside – and your happiness shouldn’t either. I spent way too much time in my life thinking that if I looked a certain way, it would make me feel happy, successful, and confident. I learned, though, that no matter what you look like you won’t always feel happy, successful, and confident. In the end, we’re all human.
I’ve also learned that however I look at a certain point in my life is good enough. I used to think that if I looked a certain way people would like me more or I would become a better version of myself. But, looking back, even when I was in my chubby phase, I had the same friendly personality I do now and I pretty much surrounded myself with the same number of people I do now. How I looked then and how I look now have nothing to do with how many friends I have. How I look has always been and always will be good enough. It’s my positive, friendly personality people like about me, not what size waist I wear.
Body image is tricky. It might be something you are always going to be battling with, like me. The trick, though, is to know how to combat negative body image the second it happens. When I have a negative body image thought I don’t let it ruin my day or take over all of my other thoughts. I simply find a way to distract myself and ignore it. Body image isn’t talked about as much as it should be. Many people experience it, so I’m not sure why it can still be very taboo. I challenge you, my Dolls, to be honest with yourself and with others and admit that sometimes you have negative body image too. This is one of the first steps to being able to accept yourself and to have a positive body image.
Remember to love yourself first, my Dolls!
Header quote from “Believe in Me” by Demi Lovato.
You know one great thing that happened when I was in middle school? The Jonas Brothers started making music. Read more in “Blast from the Past, The Jonas Brothers are BACK!”