At the end of each semester, my body image students write a process paper where they synthesize their learning- both personal and academic- for the semester. These papers are always a delight to read and there is so much wisdom in them that I just have to share a fraction of it (with my students’ permission, of course) with you. Here, some wise words from my students this semester. May they give you hope and inspiration the way they did me (and come back next Monday for Part 2).
“To stop berating my body and to begin celebrating the vessel that I have been given…” This statement baffled me. Celebrate my body? Why would I celebrate my body when I hate everything about it? I had never even considered all that my body does for me on a regular basis, all of its curve, strength, intricacies, and persistence. I had always viewed my body as a visual aesthetic, and nothing more. Furthermore, it was a visual aesthetic to those around me and not myself. I did not place value on its uses, or its daily victories in doing what a body is supposed to do. I did not thank or reward my body for housing my mind and soul, for keeping me alive and going, for fighting for my health. Even when it was fighting my own mind to be healthy. I did not see that, all I saw was that I am not beautiful to society, and that was what I thought bodies were for. As for now, I do my best to give my body what it needs. I always smile when I am able to lift a heavy object, or carry a child. When I rock my niece to sleep, I am proud that my body can act as a place of peace for her. When I am playing sports and dancing, I always hydrate and speak positively to myself. I am proud that I have a vessel capable of helping me to enjoy myself and do what I love. When I am healthy, I acknowledge my body’s strength. I celebrate the vessel that I have been given.
I’ve learned that my soul is incased in this body so that I can experience life and therefore I need to take good care of it in order to live a long and healthy life. I can’t limit my opinion of myself to what I feel others think of me or worse yet what others say I need to be. This journey of self-acceptance and self-discovery has just started for me but I’m very happy at how much I have grown and all I’ve accomplished. I think the most important thing I leaned was not to love my body but rather love me, my mind and soul, if you can do this then you will automatically look in the mirror and love what you see. I’ve realized that I’m so much more than what I look like, and even though I want to look nice on the exterior, what truly matters in the end is what’s in your heart.
On all natural day… I was most self-conscious about wearing my glasses. It reminded me of my vulnerability and insecurities from middle school. Many of my friends do not know that I wear glasses because I almost never wear them in public and sometimes find them an inconvenience. When I shared this comment in class during discussion someone commented and said they didn’t even realize I had them on. I learned how we focus on our own insecurities and think they are at the forefront when people view us, when in reality it’s probably the last thing on their mind. Realizing that my peers do not notice the same things I do has changed my body image dramatically. Instead of worrying about the cellulite on my butt, I realize they probably don’t even notice. I have learned that it doesn’t matter that… I … have bad vision and must wear glasses. It was just a card that I was dealt in life and something that I cannot change. I have changed my body image now by being lenient on myself, respecting myself, and accepting my differences rather than perceiving them as faults. I must continue to remind myself that only I zone in on my insecurities, that others do not notice them, and that it is media telling me I have faults. I must remind myself that we all have differences and that is what makes us beautiful. There is not a perfect ideal that has been made or that is capable of being achieved.
The thing that personally gave me an epiphany in this course was the idea that I am not my body. While this concept seems so simple that it’s strange to think that this had so much of an impact on me, I believe that its simplicity is why its so beautiful. We constantly see ourselves through the lens of other people. We rarely see ourselves for what we really are, because we are too busy thinking of how other people see us. I admit that when I look in the mirror as I get ready in the morning I do not see legs that will get me where I need to go and hands that will allow me to make a difference in my world, but the way that my thighs look a little too big in these pants and that my outfit needs to be accessorized with a designer watch to be socially acceptable. And this is sad to me. I find that I decorate and style myself to please others, and that I am constantly thinking about what others think of me rather than what I think about myself. So the idea that I am not my body really stuck with me. I love the idea that my body is just my vessel that acts as an intermediary between myself and my environment, and that it’s just my vehicle to accomplish the things that my mind and heart desire to do. And in the same way that this statement allowed me to view myself in a different light, it opened me up to viewing others in a different way as well. I noticed that when I stopped appreciating people for what they looked like, or condemning people for not aligning with my ideals of beauty, I saw everyone differently. Some attractive people suddenly became dull when I realized that the thing that kept me in thrall was not their scintillating personality, and normally plain people became beautiful because I finally could appreciate the way their laugh sounds or the way their eyes light up when they feel as if they are truly being heard. I discovered that while I look at people everyday, it is very rare that I genuinely see them for everything that their character and personalities had to offer.