A woman struggling with self-esteem and body image issues. This is nothing new. It seems like in today’s society that’s all we ever hear about.
In fact, according to a Glamour Magazine poll of 300 women, “97 percent admitted to having at least one ‘I hate my body’ moment” every single day (Dreisbach, Glamour). This proves that it’s not just me that always compares myself to this ideal image that’s plastered on every billboard and advertisement I come in contact with. Were we born to idolize this specific profile of the “perfect woman?”
There’s a certain standard that men have adopted throughout their lifetime and it started at a very young age. I’m not sure whether to blame parents, peers, teachers, media, or someone else, but nonetheless, boys only want this utopian idea of beauty. In school, the popular boys are attracted to the popular girls. Are the popular girls overweight, ugly, and antisocial? Definitely not. They are the example of what a female “should” look like; they are the epitome of perfection; they are who every girl wants to be and who every male wants to be with. When boys are maturing and going through puberty, they begin to notice the opposite sex and are looking for signs of beauty in their attraction. In today’s day and age, beauty is defined as what everyone else wants and that usually lies within these “idols” in the entertainment business. We see Victoria’s Secret models strutting the runway with their extravagant set of wings, as if they’re an angel that is going to fly right out of the television screen and into your lap. We see the Kardashians living their lavish lifestyles, primping themselves up everyday by applying the best makeup and wearing the trendiest clothes. We are taught at a very young age that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; beauty is being skinny, popular, pretty, and flawless.
So, what’s that mean for women? It means that our entire life we must try and hold ourselves to this unrealistic standard. We’re taught that diet, exercise, beauty regimens, makeup and brand name clothes are all necessary to give men what they want. And what kind of woman are you if no man wants you?
According to a paper written on the Depleting Body Image, in America, the average “woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds, while the average…model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds” (Chojnacki, Maguire, Grant, Regan). This over-sexualized culture that we live in is unforgiving. Our examples of “beauty” that we’re taught actually only represents about “5 percent” of all women in the United States (Rawley, NYU News). The biggest problem for women with maintaining this standard is that our bodies go through enormous transformations throughout our lifetime. Men attempt to make their bodies larger and more masculine while woman are taught to become smaller and more feminine.
In my teenage years, I stood at about 5 feet 1.5 inches and bounced around between 140 and 150 pounds. I was never as thin as the rest of my friends and, although I put on a confident front about my image, I secretly wanted to be like them. When I turned 21, I unwillingly lost around 30-40 pounds due to an illness. I went from wearing a size 9/11 to a 0/2.
Before I began losing weight, I was beginning to perceive my size 9/11 as fulfilling. I was finally becoming content with myself and my self-esteem was at an all-time high.
After some time living the skinny life, I realized that I was so much happier being medically-defined as “overweight.” Instead of guys wanting to get to know my personality and inquire into my knowledge, I was only being sought after because of my looks. I felt materialistic and fake. Not to mention, the amount of whistles, honks, and harassment I got from men on the streets really began to bother me. I never experienced that when I was 40 pounds heavier. Can you believe that I actually began to feel guilty for being happier with myself as a bigger person? Probably because this is not what we are taught to want.
As a size 0/2, I felt as if I could compare myself to those women that the men I seemed to want sought after. Image became more important to me and instead of focusing on bettering myself and my life, I was paying more attention to looking like what everyone else wanted.
And then I realized something. My self-esteem almost seemed nonexistent anymore. I felt as if I blended in with the crowd more now and when I was bigger, I stood out. My anxiety began to worsen with every pound I lost, maybe because I was competing more with this idealized image. I began feeling like I had to maintain this standard. Now, at 120 pounds, when I gain 5-10 pounds, I notice it more than when I had a bit extra on me, and it takes a toll on my mental health.
So, with that said, I have to be completely honest and say how I’m terrified for the future because of my body. I plan on starting a family someday and the transformation that I mentioned earlier will be more apparent after enduring pregnancy and giving birth. I am literally terrified. Not because of the pain and suffering I’ll encounter during this time, but because I’m not sure if I can keep up with the image. I’m going to develop stretch marks; I’m going to gain a lot of weight; my body parts will begin to see the effects of gravity; and in my experience with mental health, I’ll most likely develop postpartum depression. All of these factors are going to lead to the decline of my self-esteem and my image altogether. Am I going to look the same? Am I going to get my body back? Will I be attractive anymore? Is my self-esteem and confidence ever going to return?
A woman’s body is amazing. It can harvest an egg, nurture, feed, and grow a human being that is born and blossoms into a contributing member of society. We are lucky to be able to have this gift of giving life. But I’m beginning to wonder, is it worth the expense of my physical and mental well-being? Will the gift of a mini-me outweigh the fear I have of drifting away from that perfect image?
The women I envy are not the women plastered across the cover of magazines or the women who have the most followers on Instagram. The women I envy are those who are completely confident in their skin and know that they will continue to have that positive image of themselves in the future. That’s something I wish I could say.