"It’s okay to want to lose weight or change your appearance, but what’s wrong is to think that this will suddenly make you love yourself."
It all started when I was about 9 or 10 years old. That’s when I became aware that I was different from the ‘beauty standards’. But that’s perfectly normal (although looking back at it seems ridiculous) - people begin forming their perception of attractiveness and acceptance in early childhood. Feedback from your family or friends adds to this construction of your body image, and the way you respond to it makes a whole lot of difference. I lived in a family with older siblings who constantly mocked my hair or my body for a laugh. Instead of laughing at it, I believed it. That feeling of shame of how I looked would come in waves throughout the years, sometimes it would last weeks, other times it would last months. I reached a point that I just wanted to be someone else and as a child, many times I’d let my imagination do that for me.
But when I reached high school, I felt like I had to do something about this. Inspired by TV makeover shows and magazines, the solution was right there in front of me this whole time. I just gotta put on some makeup, starve myself a little, and it’s all gonna be okay. So I stopped hiding myself under layers of clothing and instead made a commitment to straighten my hair every day, lose a few extra kilos, get some nice-fitting clothes and ‘‘boom’’ a miracle happened - the ‘you look good’ comments started to come in, my siblings stopped the mockery (maybe cause they were already old enough to stop fooling around with the younger sister), boys started to notice me and then, I started to see that ok, I was not perfect… but I was not all that bad either.
Case solved right? It’s all okay now. Well, not really.
After a while, this was not enough. I only kept the bar high of confidence and self-esteem as long as no one said anything bad about me. But the reality is that what people said or didn’t say was not my only trigger. One “bad picture” taken off me would already be enough to bring me down the hole again. In a blink of an eye, I was again not good enough, my legs were still too thick, my nose was too potato-ish, my face too round. No matter how much people around ‘approved of me’, I just didn’t. I would internalise this self-hate so much that I would not be surprised if people who know me would find this big news. But the problem is that this escalated to a point where it started triggering even deeper issues, and other deeper issues started to trigger these issues even more - a real-life gigantic snowball of issues.
After years of struggle, at one point I got sick of it and decided that I wanted to break free. Now that I am more comfortable with my body, I spend less time hating myself and put this time on more important things. One of the things, although super small I noticed these days, is that I get ready in the morning much faster because I’m done wearing a ton of make-up every day. Even though the summer gave me one kilo or two and my rosacea decided to constantly flare-up. This is not a conscious decision to prove something to myself or someone else. I simply don’t feel like I have to hide my imperfections anymore.
But how did this happen just like that?
Well, for starters, it didn’t. The thing about body positivity is that it is a journey. A journey where you learn to understand and build a better relationship with yourself. And this takes time. I still have bad thoughts sometimes, it’s not that I lick my reflection in the mirror every day. Some days I feel pretty, others I don’t. But the difference is that I don’t let that critical thought consume me anymore. It’s just temporary.
Remember that body acceptance is not just accepting your appearance. It’s also important to accept your whole self, not just what your eyes can see. What worked for me is that I started to focus within, and not obsessing with putting quick-fix band-aids to suppress whatever was bothering me. My mindset was the only thing that was going to set me free. This is the foundation of everything. It’s okay to want to lose weight or change your appearance, but what’s wrong is to think that this will suddenly make you love yourself. Losing weight should never be the only goal. The goal is to change your perspective to your soul and not your weight.
Every journey is different and other factors like mental health may also play a role in self-acceptance and body positivity. But if you want to try a few things that might help you on your self-loving journey...
These are the steps I take on mine which already made a whole lot of difference:
Replace every insta-perfect account for inspiring ones on Instagram: instead of seeing photoshopped waists eating fast food every day, I now only see healthful recipes, body-positive messages, minimalism, mindfulness, family and friendship in my feed. It does wonders!
Practice self-care more often: Do something nice to yourself to show some lovin’ as often as you can. A nice bath, daily meditation. I found Yoga to be a great way to bring myself at peace and to connect with my body. Whatever works for you, just give yourself a treat sometimes.
Avoid comparing yourself to others: You’re you, so be it! You’re wonderful in your own way. Imagine a world where everybody was the same? I know: bo-ri-ng af.
Make a list of what you like about yourself and challenge your negative thoughts by reminding yourself of it: What makes you unique? Find the things that you love about you and say that to yourself more often, especially at times when you doubt it. This is one that I still struggle with sometimes, but hey, it’s a journey remember?
Surround yourself with positive people: I know that for me it helped to be around people that don’t feel the need to put me down to feel better about themselves. Being part of a community for support can also be a great way for help. But don’t use people only for approval. Approval can become addictive and it loses the point of connecting to yourself.
Don’t feel bad when you feel bad: I can’t stress enough that perfection doesn’t exist, even when it comes to self-love. If you feel bad sometimes, either because someone said something that hurt you, it’s okay. That does not mean you’re failing, it means you’re learning. So learn from it and keep going!
It’s important to know that if you are struggling and you don’t know how to deal with it, you can also reach out for help. You don’t have to wait 17 years like me. You’re not alone in this. Sometimes even a coach or a specialist can be a critical step to help you heal from within. Just remember that the struggles won’t just go away. Recognising and acknowledging these feelings is the first step for recovery, the rest is all up to you!
So if you are enduring a back-and-forth emotional ride, rebelling against social standards that are ridiculous but still make us feel like we don’t deserve to love ourselves for who we are, stay strong! You got this!
Article written by Laís Oliveira