It was winter break of my freshman year of college. I stood in the doctor’s office, hands trembling as if seismic waves were radiating through my tendons. It was not long before the dreaded words came: “Alright, now step on the scale for me.”
The simplicity of the assisting nurse’s request did not diminish my discomfort in the slightest. I lamely asked, “Can I take off my shoes?” Surely that would spare me a pound or two. “No. Just step up,” she said as blandly as the white-washed walls in the office. I sighed and stepped up on the scale as if I was stepping up to the gallows.
The digits blitzed across the screen like a series of judgmental cryptographs and I lowered my head in shame as if I had somehow failed in some aspect of humanity, had somehow fallen short of the grace seemingly reserved for those statuesque demi-goddesses whose glossy, front-page frames used to ornament the walls of my childhood room. I quickly dismounted and kept my head down as the nurse ushered me into one of the examination rooms. My doctor entered the room shortly thereafter in a whirl of lanky arms and wiry legs and I couldn’t help but think she wielded her clipboard like a crucifix. “So,” she eased, leafing through the nurse’s notes, “a little weight gain, huh?”
This was nothing new.
Now a rising junior in college, my weight has fluctuated since I was in grade school. In elementary, my stocky legs and plump cheeks were dismissed endearingly as “baby fat” by adults. My schoolmates were not as kind, and many playground scuffles were borne from their deprecation. In middle school, my fights were not so much in the dirt as they were in the cafeteria, where the magnitude of my peers’ scrutiny crushed any appetite and esteem I had. Somewhere between eighth and ninth grade, the weight naturally shed. And with the implementation of a better diet regimen and a seasonal run with volleyball, I slimmed down dramatically—from a juniors' size 13 to a 9. I was down to a size 7 by my junior year. I have hovered around there ever since.
Despite this, I still cringe at the slightest incremental shift of my scale. I still felt crucified every time I passed a mirror. But why? My boyfriend would ask the very same question when I dismissed his compliments or self-consciously pulled away from his intimate embraces. I simply responded, “It’s a girl thing”.
Right. Because there's some genetic coding in women that predisposes us to this immanent sense of self-consciousness. Except there isn’t.
So, what is it? I hesitate to say “society”. That is not to say that the ultra-thin ideal body images in the media have not abetted this dissatisfaction. But, in what universe did we allow this image of an air-brushed size 2 woman with unnaturally symmetrical breasts to become our standard of beauty? And when did we declare that anyone who did not fit into this compartmentalized box was "less than"?
Body dissatisfaction may not be a response to mediated images so much as it is a corollary of not loving yourself. I discovered this when, during an incommunicably stressful second year at university, I found myself below my dream weight. I was temporarily elated...until I passed by the mirror one afternoon and had to stop myself. I noticed that my once form-fitting clothes now canvassed my body as loosely as hand-me-downs. My collarbone jutted out from my frame like a mountainous crag. My chest looked deflated and my legs were lanky stalks of what they had been. It was the first time in months that I looked in the mirror and truly saw myself for what I was. I looked...not quite skeletal but not quite alive, either.
I realized in that moment that it was not about the numbers on the scale. I was finally in the body that I thought I wanted—and I looked sickly. Reality sunk in. I wasn’t healthy and I wasn’t happy either. So, for the first time in perhaps my entire life, I looked inward for resolution. I came to realize this: Ever since I can remember, I have always sought external means to validate myself. When I would achieve one plateau, I would simply pursue a new avenue. But the goal was never as innocent as self-improvement. I was subconsciously trying to prove to myself that I was worthy. Yet, as I have learned, one of the gravest errors you can make is thinking that self-love is something to be earned. When you begin looking outside of yourself for validation, then self-love becomes conditional, constrained to whatever fluctuating standard the outside world abides by.
I had to learn to love myself for nothing else other than who I was—not what I weighed or how I looked. Because my self-love was not sincere or solidified, I fell victim to the pressure of overextending myself in school and more injuriously, the media’s pressure to look a certain way. I almost lost myself because of this—and now that I realize my mistake, I will never disparage my body again. I encourage you to take up the same pledge.
Embrace everything that makes you you—that includes what you may deem physical imperfections. As long as you are healthy, cherish your bodies. Applaud your curves. Love your stretch marks—they are simply reminders of how much you have come into your own as a woman.