I believe that it would be ineffective to merely state an encouraging message about body positivity, and that we should embrace ourselves, flaws and all. In truth, the social construction of beauty is imbedded so deeply within ourselves that accepting ourselves can be a challenge. This is why I have decided to take the leap, and tell you all my experience with body image, the good and the ugly. For me personally, I struggled for years to finally love my body and that journey to get there was difficult and lonely. However, I hope that if I share with you my experience with body image, then it can help others in a similar situation. I always believe that personal narratives are an essential form of communication. By becoming vulnerable, and reflecting on an intimate moment of your life, it allows others to connect with you, and retain the message you are trying to tell. Because of this, I am sharing with you my personal story with learning to love myself.
I was a dancer during my childhood years. Rather than spending my free time meeting with friends or watching TV, I was in class about 15 hours a week. When I was young, I was drawn to dance by the elegance of the ballerinas onstage. I wanted to grow up wearing satin pointe shoes and tutus. However, as I progressed in dance that fantasy was met by a harsh reality. My short and plump stature did not fit in the dance world, or at least the dance world from my teacher’s eyes. Because of my shape, I was the outcast, the exception to the “norm”. While I did not notice this at first, I started to realize that I wanted to fit in and be accepted. I started to hear comments from a dance teacher noting of my curvy stature or plumpness. At around 12 years old, it was suggested that I write down what I ate every day because in order to be good enough, I had to lose weight. That was the first time I realized I was not like the other dancers. Onwards to the next few years, I kept hearing comments about my weight. I became conscious of what food I brought to the studio, afraid of being judged that I, a chubby girl, was eating something not entirely nutritious. I dreaded the practices that required a leotard, preventing me from hiding in a baggy shirt. I even dreaded seeing my recital pictures because I knew I would pick apart every flaw and curve I saw.
My self-esteem dropped so low, and my desire to be thin flourished so much that by the start of freshmen year of high school, I became obsessed with my weight. I had this belief that if I did not weigh a certain amount, then I was destined for unhappiness. I had thought that if I was thinner I could finally love myself. These thoughts carried with me throughout high school, diminishing my self-esteem. There was a portion of my dance career when I actually did rapidly lose weight, and was deemed “acceptable” in my teacher’s eyes. To be honest, for the longest time, I thought those were best few years of my life. I was finally being accepted, and not shamed for the way I looked. I no longer dreaded walking into class with my leotard and tights afraid of what I would see in the mirror.
However, looking back now, I have realized that that period in my life was probably one of my worst. I did not realize it then, but the lifestyle I was leading was unhealthy and cruel to myself. By the end of high school, I had learned to tolerate myself. I did not love myself, but I did not have the self-deprecating dislike I had before. I became numb. I had no feelings towards my body. However, once I started college I started this journey to self-acceptance. I realized that I did not need anyone else’s validation in order to love myself. This journey is still an ongoing process, and it is going to take time in order to heal the wounds, but I have confidence in myself.
During that time, I had given someone else the power to control how I felt about myself. I had believed that I could finally be happy because I was thin, and people would accept me. This is why I emphasize the absolute importance of body positivity. You should give no one the ability to control how you feel about yourself. No matter what your body looks like, you need to learn to love it. If you have not reached that point of self-acceptance, I encourage you at least to start the journey. To be honest, this journey is no easy one. You will not wake up tomorrow and accept every curve and shape of your body. I wish it was that simple. I wish that we could easily shed away the societal belief that being thin is the only form of beauty. Despite this battle, it does not mean we should not fight. For almost my whole life I have been struggling with body image. Even though right now I am declaring self-love to you all, there are still some days when I hate what I see in the mirror. There are still some days when I hear my dance teacher’s voice telling me I am too fat, and sometimes I believe it. But this self-doubt I have does not even measure up to the self-acceptance I have allowed myself. Loving your body is not easy, but it is absolutely worth it.
Now I ask you to do the same. As part of Denison’s “Love Your Body Campaign,” start that journey to self-love. Take small steps; look at yourself in the mirror and see the true goddess or god that you are. Write yourself a love letter, watch your favorite movie, or even dance around to your favorite song. Your body is already a miracle in itself; you need to cherish it, not hate it. I had made the mistake of hating my body for so many years, but you all have the ability to start now and love your body. Also, just remember that it is never too late to start loving your body.