I started writing this for a friend of mine struggling with bad body-image, but as I was writing I realised I was not only doing this for them, but for me, and most importantly, anyone in the world struggling with social pressures and low self-esteem. I started writing this in mid-February and finished a couple weeks ago (15/04/2013), conveniently coinciding in the week of World Suicide Prevention Day. I want as many people as possible to see this and read it. I am putting myself out there, showing every facet of my being, in an attempt to show people that it is so easy to deconstruct our bodies and personalities and find things we dislike, but it takes that little bit more effort to find things we do like. Both halves of this piece have slightly emphasised each feature when most of the things mentioned wouldn’t be noticeable to others, and you have to READ ALL OF IT otherwise it doesn’t work, it’s all to get the message across. My message is this:
We are not beautiful *in spite* of our flaws, but BECAUSE of them.
If I change just one person’s view of themselves with this, it would mean the world to me.
by Zosia Dabrowski
She stared at her underwear-clad self in her full-length mirror, having dried after a shower. This had become her weekly ritual—self-examination, self-appraisal. Her silly excuse was that she was checking for new moles and lumps, but her real motive was actually detrimental to her health. No girl can ever help checking herself in a mirror if they walk by, but checking her whole body, going over every flaw she couldn’t help, was what she felt she just needed to do, to compare herself to others, see where she needed to improve. Constructive, she thought: but it really wasn’t.
She started from the top. Her hair annoyed her. Why could it never sit the right way? Why did it have to slick against the side of her head when she wanted volume in that place when her hair was pulled to the side? Why did the loose hair have to frizz up when she wanted smooth curls? She liked the length and colour, but that was about it. She had to pluck her eyebrows every week—she would never be caught with bushy brows ever again! People complimented her eyes, but it was only when they were up close in photos, and she supposed everyone’s eyes looked nice when they were at the right angle in the right light. Hers were blue, her favourite eye-colour, but like a sky with cloud cover—nothing special to look at. Her eye-lashes were longish, but that was a dominant characteristic over short eye-lashes so they were common. She was always concerned she had bags under her eyes, because she only ever got enough sleep on weekends, when she would stay in bed some days up to 11am. So she always used concealer to hide them—yellow-based, she had learned from a magazine once upon a time. She had never liked her nose. It was an alright size, but it was bulbous on the end and looked weird—she wished for a straight, pointed nose like she saw on every magazine cover. She would never even consider plastic surgery, but she could still wish away. Her lips weren’t as red as they used to be. Her face was rounded when she smiled and the shape looked strange when her hair was up off of her face. And then her SKIN. The bane of her existence. Hadn’t been clear since she was 11 years old, she hated that she constantly had pimples on her chin, a couple on her forehead and around her nose. Those were the oiliest parts of her face and she hated it—she was sure she hardly ever saw others in her year with the same thing. She got pimples on her shoulders and even a couple every now and then on her thighs—why, God, why? She knew not many people would care, but it still made her feel less confident about herself.
Her friend had once complimented her collar bones, but who the hell cares about collar bones? And it was her best friend talking, so obviously there was bias involved. Her forearms were covered in tiny pink spots, like she had a rash or goosebumps constantly. This was the way it had always been, but people used to point them out and make a fuss and it made her feel self-conscious all those years ago. She disliked that she had fat fingers—when she had first made her ring in year 8 her friend tried it on and laughed because it was twice as big as her finger. Every ring in the shops was made for smaller hands, the ideal woman, so the only ring that had ever fitted her well was the one she measured herself! Her fingernails were another matter altogether. She never painted them, partly because she wasn’t allowed nail polish at school but mainly because they had never been nice enough to look good highlighted with colour. She was sure she was the carrier of a hair and nails genetic disease so her nails were thicker than most, and only the nails on digits 3, 4 and 5 had ever looked normal. Digits 1 and 2’s nails were shaped differently, and curved at the end so they were never flat and squarish like everyone else’s. She had bitten them all her life, too, so the quicks were very low. If she wasn’t careful they’d get ripped completely off someday soon.
She was proud of that fact that she could claim she was a D, but it annoyed her that she only looked like a B and push up bras did almost nothing for her. Her friends were even so far as shocked that she was technically the size she was—”It must be a mistake, surely?” they said. It was so embarrassing—she wasn’t a man!—but she had a very faint snail trail, which looked only slightly worse than if she shaved a bare patch of skin all the way down her stomach. Her stomach that had never been flat, ever, but always looked bloated. Her mum had said, when she was about 10 and complaining about her stomach, that when she went into puberty and grew taller it’d flatten out with the added height, but guess what? It hadn’t. If she was allowed one wish to change something about herself, it would be her stomach. What every girl obsessed over, but this girl did nothing about. She did no exercise whatsoever, so how did she expect to be able to get rid of the stomach that showed? She was too lazy to do anything about it but still hated it. A vicious cycle of laziness and preciousness.
She hadn’t noticed before but at a certain angle her thighs seemed to bulge out wider than her hips, or vice versa. Why did she have to be such an odd shape! She hated how fat her thighs looked when she sat down or from the side standing up. She’d never gotten why women wanted a gap between them while standing but more and more now she could see the appeal of it, how skinny and fit it made one look. She didn’t want to be tanned but really, her thighs just looked like slabs of white lard covered in skin. She always got a rash from shaving the tops of them too, so if you looked closely while she was wearing shorts they were unsightly. The mole on her left shin that she’d had as long as she could remember—it was wired into her body to cover it up. Ever since she’d started sitting with one leg crossed over the other years ago, it had always been her right leg over, to try to make the mole on her other leg less noticeable. Now it was just reflex and habit to cross that leg over. Whenever her best friends and family had teased her going “Hey look, there’s a fly on your leg! Oh… wait, sorry!” and laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world, it pained her greatly. She was always self-conscious about her toenails- she remembered one time getting ready for in-term swimming in primary school, a couple of the popular girls had gone “Eww why are your nails green?” They had never actually been green, but they were thicker because of her genes and she hated that she didn’t have normal nails that were thin enough to show the pink skin and white tip, and to be able to break like the stereotypical scene of an American girly girl going “Oh no, I broke a nail!”
She looked back at her face, into her average eyes, and thought about what kind of person she was. She was self-centered. At first, when was younger, she’d been called selfish and it really upset her, but she had gotten better. But now she realised that a lot of her world revolved around her—her mum was constantly telling her to slow down, stop talking, and ask her how her day was. A lot of the time when trying to help others, deep down she did it for her own self-centred benefit, because humans are essentially self-centred beings—making coffee so she didn’t have to make another trip to take in the shopping, helping a friend earn money just so they could visit her, rushing some conversations so she could spend more time on others. She hadn’t really tried thinking of others more than herself before—it was never too late to start, but she wished she were better now. She had a big mouth—she told people every detail because she thought “Maybe they’ll find this interesting,” and then realised after that those little details were never amazing enough to elicit any kind of reaction from anyone… She told people things that were embarrassing or gross for her and then realised straight after talking, “If that was embarrassing, why on earth did they need to hear it?” She enjoyed having exciting, funny or controversial stories to tell, so even if someone said “Don’t tell but…” if her best friend didn’t know who she was talking about, or she didn’t say any names, it was okay to share it with them. She admitted that she liked hearing stories, because she always felt out of the loop on major gossip and she didn’t like that feeling of being behind everyone else, having never been in the in-crowd for her whole school life. And anyway, gossip just sated that desire to know things, to be entertained with speculation and to find fun from the actions of others, good or bad. She was always annoyed at herself for being clingy—nothing like a certain ex-friend had been, but just in general, wanting to talk to her friends and have their attention on her, because she just wanted to feel wanted. And yet she hated it when certain people were overly clingy toward her. She had bad double standards. She was embarrassed to admit that last year she had been so desperate for teenage males in her life (they were just more fun than girls!), mostly in the form of a boyfriend but also as friends, that any boy she had had any decent conversation with she classed as being her ‘guy friend’, which she got so excited about. But then she’d realise later on that they were just being nice and talking to her but it didn’t mean they were her good friends. And then she’d get all downhearted again. She was so desperate that she jumped at the first guy ever to show any kind of interest in her, willing to give him a chance despite warnings of him being a player and having lead someone on. Which, needless to say, were true in both cases, only realised after she waited three weeks with no reply from him. Why did she have to have been desperate last year? Hindsight is 20-20 they say, and in hindsight, it was completely ridiculous. Now she was feeling it a little again because she had friends being cute with their boyfriends, but she still cringed at the way she was previously. She was also annoyed at the fact that she never liked to offend anyone or be bossy so she wasn’t often straightforward with constructive criticism. She never had the courage to say outright to her clingy friend “Stop talking to me, this is ridiculous,” because she didn’t want to upset anyone, she just reasoned that she’ll eventually take a hint… And then she felt really bitchy for it. She ended up unhappy with a professional makeup job because she hadn’t been firm in saying what she wanted because she didn’t want to offend or boss the woman around. She wasn’t competitive, didn’t want to risk any pain, and didn’t like to get dirty; all the main reasons she avoided both arguments and exercise. And finally, what stressed her mum out was the fact that she didn’t stress enough. She hadn’t had any form of homework routine for a year; she was lazy, easily distracted, and didn’t have her priorities straight. And yet somehow she still got relatively good marks! People always gawked when she said she’d hardly studied and got the mark she did, and it made her feel like she was interesting and admired for natural ability, but it didn’t last for long. She’d noticed the workload increase going into year 12, and she DEFINITELY had to study this year… but she was still a slacker. She spent too much time on Facebook talking to all her new friends to have time for much homework, let alone study! She wanted to change her habits, but praying wasn’t cutting it and she just figured it’d all fall into place eventually, that she’d get into studying during the holidays and it’d be fine from there on. She knew it most likely wouldn’t be, but she didn’t like to think about it.
Looking at herself in the mirror, she drew out a long sigh. She’d stood for 25 minutes examining every party of her body, never a good way to spend one’s time. She had wasted time being vain and obsessive and now wasn’t feeling great about herself. She decided she’d get all of it out in her diary so she could sleep better. Crawling into bed, she sat up for another hour writing with the broken pen she got so frustrated with but would not replace. When finished, she realised that if she fell asleep now, she’d get six and a half hours sleep. But then she couldn’t sleep for another hour and a half, and when she did eventually get there it was as if she blinked and it was morning. Negative thinking was never good for the soul; she had ended up exhausted and grumpy. It was not going to be a good day.
She stared at her underwear-clad self in her full-length mirror, having dried after a shower. This had become her weekly ritual—self-esteem, self-affirmation. She hated negativity and tried to keep positive, and this was one way she kept her light bright, by going over every feature in the mirror and saying, “You’re not too bad yourself!” No girl can ever help checking herself in a mirror if they walk by, so it really did help if most times she looked she could feel good about the image reflecting back at her. Some might call it conceited but she liked to think of it as dignified self-help, unlike the shameful processed fluff on everybody’s bookshelves.
She started from the top. She considered her hair one of her best features—certainly one of her most unique features. The colour was nice, it was better than any dye she’d tried, because it was chocolate brown then at the very tips, in certain light, you could see natural blonde-ish highlights. She loved the length—she had been growing it for four years and was still going; she got excited by the fact that if she bent back a bit when her hair was wet it could touch her backside. And it did look amazing when it was wet! Long, dark, wispy curls controlled by the water. She took pride in telling the story of how her hair, if left out during the day, would go from curly, voluminous and sitting perfectly, to gradually get more and more frizzy and fluffy—that always inspired a laugh or two, or an empathic nod from someone with the same problem. But she didn’t see it as a problem! Sure, it may get in her way a little, but she always got a laugh out of giving people hugs and faces full of hair, or joy at people remarking “Wow, your HAIR!” People complimented her eyes, and she liked them too. Her lashes were long, irises light blue with a dark ring surrounding, and unless she was tired, her eyes were big and bright, always looking bluer if she wore something of the same colour. Every guy she’d been at all attracted to in the past ten months had turned out to have blue eyes, so it must be a sign. She used to get watery eyes and go red randomly and it frustrated her, but she didn’t anymore so whenever her cheeks were pink from heat or blushing she understood why people wore blush as makeup. She liked her lips. They were rosy and full but not too full, just nicely shaped and proportioned. When she smiled, either showing or not showing teeth, her face filled out from a slight oval to round, with deep symmetrical smile lines appearing around her mouth. Fun, sweet. And sure, she got pimples, but she was so glad they were not nearly as bad as others’ she’d seen. She was glad her genes had saved at least her cheeks so they were still soft and clear! She was able to, most of the time, easily cover up her few blemishes and she thanked God for her good fortune.
Her friend had once complimented her collar bones. She’d never noticed anyone’s collar bones before but it was her best friend talking and it was a random comment so she must have been genuine. She was happy with her arms; they were relatively skinny and weren’t too long. She liked the fact that she had big hands, that she almost always won when comparing with others how big their hands were. She guessed it wasn’t very feminine but she’d grown up winning these unbelievably trivial second-long competitions and took pride in it.
She was proud of that fact that she could claim she was a D—she didn’t look it, but it was still the thought that counted! She admired the smooth pale skin of her back and stomach. She never wanted to be tanned: where was the appeal of looking like everyone else? It was fine if people were naturally tan, but she could never understand why others went out and got fake tans because they didn’t want to be a ‘white girl’, preferring to look like Oompa Loompas instead; it was just tacky. If she was allowed one wish to change something about herself, it would be her stomach, which had never been flat in her life. But you can’t always get what you want, and since she wasn’t motivated enough to do anything to change things except eat slightly healthier, she had learned to accept it, even almost love it. And besides, on some days she got up internally fist pumping as it was flatter than usual. She didn’t know what she was doing but something was working!
On her skinny days, if she looked at herself from the side she looked hot! She laughed on the inside whenever she thought this because it was a seemingly ludicrous suggestion—she, hot? But on these days, it was true, and she loved it. Her thighs and legs looked relatively skinny from most directions, and when front on, there were sharp lines made where her hips widened suddenly out from her waist. She never ever had the often-strived-for toned stomach and thighs, but she guessed she didn’t mind it that way—she reckoned she had curves in all the right places, as in that Mika song. She liked how great her legs looked and felt when she shaved, always saying to her friends “Oh my god, feel my legs!” and them all going “Ah, they’re so smooth!” Her feet were narrow, which was better than having very wide feet, because if she did have wide feet they’d look too big as she was already a size 9 and it’d be hard to find shoes that fit. Her toenails weren’t looking as bad as they used to—they could almost be considered normal! She was forever indebted to her podiatrist for doing his work on them: they were nicely shaped and almost showed the pink skin from underneath and the white tip she’d longed for so badly when she was younger. She wasn’t ashamed to be barefoot around other girls anymore.
She looked back at her face, into her bright eyes, and thought about what kind of person she was. At first, when was younger, she’d been called selfish and it really upset her, but she had gotten better. Now she was often willing, if not happy, to sacrifice some of the things she wanted to allow others to enjoy what they wanted. She wasn’t completely selfless yet, or at least not at the point she’d like to be at yet—because one mustn’t be completely selfless 100% of the time, otherwise they would get trodden on and left behind. But she knew that as she got older and wiser and experienced more she would grow as a person too, becoming as selfless as she aimed to be, one day. She was happy with the fact that was very loyal, and could keep a secret. If someone told her specifically “Do not say anything about this,” then she wouldn’t. And if it was something big or personal that she was told and the person didn’t say anything about not telling others, she still wouldn’t tell anyone else because she knew that they had trusted her and thought she was important enough to tell her this, and that they wouldn’t want everyone knowing. She respected people’s privacy. In the same way she didn’t press people to tell her things if they really didn’t feel like talking right then, and she would give others space if they asked for it. She knew you couldn’t achieve anything through force—people had different ways of dealing with things, or they had personal stories that weren’t for her ears, no matter how close they were. Her hatred of negativity made her uncomfortable with friends being bitchy to people even if she disliked them as much as the other person did. She always tended to side with the person being defamed, unless of course she already had readily formed negative opinions about them herself. She could not STAND preaching; she just wished people could go, “Ok, that’s your view. I don’t necessarily agree with it but I don’t want to argue when it’ll cause unnecessary upset, and neither of us is going to change our minds so let’s just agree to disagree: you’re allowed to have your beliefs and me mine.” So when people couldn’t do that she got so frustrated. And with having been exposed to so much negative preaching, she took the side every time of those being preached against. But she liked that she valued not having others’ beliefs shoved down people’s throats—even though she was a strong Christian, she hated when people constantly talked about God’s will or Jesus’ love or traditional Church teachings and all that. Because she believed in letting people be and not forcing things onto people. Because you don’t achieve anything through force. Growing up around negativity and her involvement with one website for years had caused her to grow to appreciate positivity, so she now saw all the good things in life and appreciated small wonders more than she could ever remember doing when she was younger. They say “Small things amuse small minds,” but she just claimed she was taking time to smell the roses—and she literally was, too! In the hustle and bustle of busy school days she’d often stop on the side of the path to smell a flower or admire the sky on the way to class. She felt a bit silly sometimes but then she’d inhale this beautiful smell or notice some beautiful clouds or the beautiful blue of the sky and then she’d be glad that she’d stopped for those couple seconds. She also valued honesty, and she wished people were more open about things. With one guy recently she’d just wanted to say “Do you like me or not? I don’t mind either way, I just want to know,” but she knew she’d scare him off like that because not everyone is that confident and upfront. She valued honesty, but then if she asked about something personal and someone was obviously lying, she wouldn’t try to force them because she knew that they must be going through a rough patch. She’d just realised the other day that, since up until adulthood one’s world is all about themselves essentially, she had always thought that she was unique and more sensitive than anyone else, subconsciously. She’d realised what it would be like to actually be someone else—when she was walking most of the time, she thought of things she needed to do, thought of people, thought of her route, and she realised others would do the exact same while seeing the same things, but they would just have different lifestyles, relationships and experiences shaping their character. Of course she was unique, but she’d just realised recently that while she’d been thinking all this time “How could this person love me as much as I love them?” there were people that genuinely loved her with all the ferocity with which she loved them—with one of her best friends, she had finally realised it after four years and it was a wonderful feeling, having someone love you, and knowing it! She often went out of her way to say “I love you” to friends and compliment people. Sometimes she’d compliment a stranger, or end up saying to friends “I love your hair! And your shirt. And your jeans. And your shoes. I just love you,” and then they’d end up laughing. She was sweet—she just about died from cuteness overload whenever she heard romantic stories from her best friends with their new loves, and she cared so much about them and empathised, feeling their sadness and joys. But out of all her attributes, she was most proud of the fact that she was very strong. Last year she had realised on Outward Bound that society’s definition of strength was wrong. Strength wasn’t about being resistant to all bad things, but about accepting weakness, cracking every now and again but then picking yourself right back up again. And as well as being able to accept weakness but keep on going, she was strong-minded too. She liked the fact that she was stubborn, an inherited trait; her Nanna had said when she was little she was very ‘determined’. She had a very firm view of right and wrong and knew what she believed in most aspects of life. She was not a pushover when it came to things she was passionate about, having the courage to speak out and defend her rights and those of people around her. She didn’t regret anything she’d ever done, even the bad or uncomfortable things, because it made her the person she was today, the person she was happy being, and she wouldn’t change any of it.
Looking at herself in the mirror, she smiled a huge grin. She’d stood for 25 minutes giving self-affirmation, always a good thing to make time for. She’d needed that, and now she just felt that much happier and more confident about the next day and what it would bring. She was in a good mood now, so she put on her dressing gown, went out to give her mum a hug, an “I love you,” and a goodnight. She went to bed with high spirits even though she was tired, and slept soundly. Positive thinking had done her wonders; she woke up refreshed, confident and ready to take on the world. It was going to be a good day.