And your opinion matters, why?

Like many girls, I have struggled with body image. The barrier of not liking your own body, or trying to mold it to a fit current trend, seems to be a rite of passage for many teens. Some get past it early; some get past it late; some people never get past it at all.

There are two distinctly separate periods of time that I remember  loathing my body. The first time was when I wanted a thigh gap. Morning after morning, I would pinch at my thighs, adjusting the way that I stood to give myself a thigh gap. I noticed in Instagram pictures that girls with thigh gaps stood with their heels apart, which accentuated them. Maybe if I brought my heels out this way, my legs would separate a bit. They did. So I stood like that for months. But in the back of my mind, I knew that my legs—strengthened by leg-intensive activities like dancing, Kung Fu, marching band, track, and swimming— were never going to be #thighgap goals.

My second experience was on one of my trips to China. Now, I want to emphasize that this is my personal experience and does not apply to everyone. This is not a generalization of Chinese culture, nor of its people. I will admit that China has a beauty norm: pale skin, small face, big eyes, and a willowy body. At the time of my visit, I was fresh off of 200+ hours of practice in the sun, with thick thighs, broad shoulders, and comparatively tall height. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I got stared at and commented on like a zoo exhibit. Relatives told me that my redeeming feature was that I had big eyes. That if I wasn’t “so big,” I would be pretty. They’d compliment the fact that I’d lost weight since the last time they saw me, but if I lost a little bit more, that would be good; it would match my inner beauty better. They offered to buy me skin whitening cream (when, really, all I needed was a few winters here at Colby). There was never a time in my life where I had gotten so much criticism for my body at one time. And it hurt. I hated parts of me I had never cared about before. The worst part is, for even the “good” parts, people had something to say. I was born with double-eyelids, a sought after feature in many parts of East Asia. When I went out with family, people asked “Where did you get your double-eyelids done? The surgeon did a great job. They look so natural and beautiful.”

That was the last straw. So, if I didn’t fit into the normative “attractive” body, I was criticized for it. If I did have features that were stereotypically “attractive” they were deemed unnatural, something that had to be surgically added.

At that moment, I realized something. No matter how I looked, people were going to criticize me. So why should I care? At that moment, I realized that the only opinion regarding my body that I cared about was my own. Because my body is exactly that, my body. Why should I care about the opinion of a random person walking down the street? Why should I care about anyone’s opinion? Someone else calling me fat won’t make me skinnier. Someone calling my thighs thick won’t make them any thinner. Someone saying my skin is too tan isn’t going to make me paler. The only one who can exact those changes is me, and even then I may not be able to change anything. So I stopped caring. Because constantly caring about what people thought of me was exhausting. And once I came to the realization that the only opinion I cared about was my own, that was freedom.

Upon that realization, I began loving me. I love that the muscles on my thighs tremble with every powerful step that I take. I love that my shoulders can carry whatever burden I choose to take on. I love that the extroverted squish on my belly is the safeguard for my shy, shy abdominals. The tanness of my skin is a reflection of the adventures (or lack thereof) that I have gone on.

So, my main message is this: your body is your own. Our bodies are diverse and beautiful; the way they should be, and they’re beautiful because they naturally have divots and variations. Our bodies and our beauty are not carved by the words of other people. They are painstakingly engraved by our own love and experiences. Self-love is something we are deserving of; the people who say otherwise do not matter, and we have to remember that.

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