I look in the mirror every morning and my mind immediately jumps to criticism. My stomach isn’t flat enough, I look bloated, my booty isn’t big enough, my boobs got smaller, why does my face look like that, and on and on and on.
I spend hours every week at the gym, mostly because exercise is my way of relieving stress and because when I don’t go, I feel sluggish and unfocused. But while I’m there, regardless of my healthy intentions, there’s always that nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me I need it in order to look good.
I eat plenty at meals, never hesitating to go for that second cookie or another bowl of pasta. I love food. Like really love it. I will eat anything you put in front of me, especially if the food falls in the dessert category. But every time I eat, regardless of how much, I always take a quick look in the mirror afterwards, lifting up my shirt to see how far my stomach sticks out, to see if I still look “small enough.”
I recently started wearing crop tops. I bought a few several years ago, and they sat in my drawer for months at a time, until I would take one out, try it on, look in the mirror, and then take it off and put it back in the drawer. It took a lot of courage to actually wear one in real life. I now put one on, think I look great, but as the night goes on I start to wonder if I really do look okay, or if everyone passing me is looking at my stomach and wondering how I could dare to go out dressed like that.
My best friend and I talk about body image all the time. We are both feminists who hate when women are judged for their bodies, we don’t hesitate to compliment women we see in public, we love looking at pictures of confident women with all body types, and we both believe that every woman should feel beautiful in her own skin, regardless of how she “compares” to societal beauty standards. And yet we both have a mental prototype of how we “should” look, and we often discuss how we just want to look “nice” and “healthy.”
But what does that mean? What is “nice”? Does having a personal standard for how I believe my body should look make me a bad feminist? Does it mean I’m shaming other women, even if that’s not my intention?
Societal beauty standards really got me fucked up. Instead of caring about my own opinion, I find myself entirely focused on what others think of me. As a heterosexual woman, I do care about the opinion of men, but I have realized that I care about the opinion of other women even more. I want them to think I’m pretty and to think I look great, and to view me the same way I view the confident women I see every day.
It’s difficult not to have an opinion on the way I look, and although I truly believe that all body types are beautiful, I am still extremely uncomfortable with the idea of my body looking certain ways. I’m constantly torn between “she looks great” and “I could never look like that.”
I envy women who are comfortable with their appearance and who have pushed past the constant judgment from men and other women to prove that every woman is beautiful. Size and shape don’t matter, what matters is self-love, but for me, that level of self-love has been very hard to attain. That doesn’t mean I don’t try, but so far in my life, criticisms have beat compliments the majority of the time.
Since I started spending my time with more feminists, of all body types, races, and ages, I have entered into more discussions about body image, and I’ve seen more and more examples of women who love themselves without any hesitation. I have a strong group of friends who compliment me and make sure I know that when it comes to my body, my own opinion is the only one that matters.
It may not seem like it, but I really have come a long way. When I look in the mirror, I tell myself I look good, even if I don’t believe it right away. I exercise to be healthy, and am starting to discover how strong my body can be. I allow myself skip days, and cheat days, and although I try to be healthy, I know that I really will be okay if I eat a couple extra cookies. I have started wearing what I want to, and it’s easy to forget about my insecurities when I’m with my friends.
Volunteer Coordinator, What the F Magazine
Art by Amanda Donovan, Graphic Design, What the F Magazine