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 (read part 1 here).
I believe that one of the most beneficial ways in which my thinking has evolved is that I no longer measure the worth or goodness of my body based on it’s ability to visually please to others, or based on aesthetic appeal. If my body does aesthetically please someone that is great, but that was not the reason I was given this body. I was given this body as a well-oiled machine to aid me in fulfilling my purpose in this life. It is a vehicle that was hand crafted for my soul’s work on this earth, to carry me to my destiny. And just like the unique contributions to the world that only I can give, my body is a snowflake, there is no other exactly like it. Truthfully, as I type this I am reminded again of the body pledge, which taught me “to understand that a body, just like a personality, is like a fingerprint: a wonderful embodiment of my uniqueness”.Who needs to be aesthetically pleasing? I am beautifully and wonderfully made. My body inspires me to be unique, and to maintain resolve, never giving up. It never stops working for me, and it is a thankless job. I love my body for its lessons and its uses, and that is something I have never felt before.
Effortless perfection. Hearing this term, created by (students at) Duke University, really hit home for me. I can tell you about the countless times that I have tried over and over to complete one task after another, all the while keeping a smile on my face and not sweating a drop. It seriously felt like freedom when I realized there was a term for this and understanding that is was a social construction formed; I was not going crazy and I did not have to live like this any longer. It was also really refreshing to hear others in class discuss this issue and to realize I was not the only one that felt like she had to run around with her head chopped off and look like she was having fun.
What really surprised me was realizing how young this has started to effect girls and how loud it rings true throughout their whole lives. I have started to see this in my younger sister, who is twelve, and after discussing this in class I was able to talk to her about this. Watching her tear up as I told her she did not need to be perfect, nor could she be was heartbreaking and yet freeing. I watched as the weights fell off her shoulders and began to feel my own load lighten. Being held to the standard of “effortless perfection” only breaks girls down and yet again is another idea that sets them up to fail. Like the contradictions about sexuality, one cannot be effortlessly perfect or even perfect. A young girl’s identity wrapped up in this idea will only fail her and she will be left feeling worthless, not enough and like a failure. Speaking life back into my sister reminded her that she is a young twelve-year-old girl with many life experiences and mistakes ahead of her. It is the mistakes that help shape us and mold us, not the push and fight to be perfect. We need to allow ourselves to fall down, allow us to laugh at ourselves but more importantly allow room for ourselves to grow.
Taking this class has brought out a desire to make myself happy in ways that I never have before. I remember when we were first asked how we took care of ourselves my response was sleeping my full eight hours. That was all I did to care for myself! While in this journey I took to my heart this message: we should love our bodies because they are what allows us to experience the life around us. How powerful are those words, to see my body not as something that needs to be punished for how it looks but rather be rewarded for all the great things it has allowed me to experience. Well these words have helped me love my body in a way I have never done so before. I don’t feel as anxious walking into a room full of strangers, I don’t get overwhelmed when wearing a dress that’s fitted or feel embarrassed when I feel like my clothes are showing off my body. I feel confident.
I also have learned to love my natural beauty… I realized that my image is not a complete package. When I do not have time to fix my hair perfectly it does not mean that I have to dress the rest of my body down. I now understand that my natural beauty can be seen as beautiful. I also can accept the fact that once haunted me: not being liked. I have now realized that it is not essential in life to be liked by everyone. It took me twenty years to learn how to love myself. I don’t have that kind of time to convince other people to love me.