I’ve been deliberating over how to write this post for a while now, but I know that it needs to be done so I’ve decided to stop awkwardly procrastinating and go for it.
There, I said it. Don’t scroll away yet, I have something important to add.
I don’t know if, like me, you’re thinking of mind-numbing PSHE lessons at school, but a few weeks ago, I was talking with a young girl who said that the best part of her week was that she had lost half a stone. She’s twelve years old. She’s intelligent, energetic and should not be worried about the way her body looks. Yet it has become so normal, so easy to not even realise we’re doing it.
But I know what it’s like to stand sideways in the mirror and look at the shape of my stomach, or to feel like I’m not happy in my own skin. I’ve known people develop eating disorders and I’ve seen lovely, intelligent women go on unnecessary diets, or hold up a hand when they laugh to cover their faces.* Being at university can make it harder as we’re trapped in a bubble of people our own age who can’t always offer alternative perspectives, or because we’re wholly responsible for our own eating with no one to see what’s happening to the way we think about ourselves.
(*I say women simply because I’m not friends with so many guys, but I know this is an issue that affects people of all sexes.)
I can tell you that it is possible to be free of that heavy judgement that we attach to ourselves. It is possible to shower, get dressed or eat cake at Interval without deliberating over what your body looks like and whether it’s currently acceptable (acceptable to who?). It is possible to simply be without needing to think about the body that you’re being in. But it isn’t easy. In fact, in a society perforated by adverts that tell you you need this product or that subscription in order to be a better you, it’s radical to love yourself.
Just imagine how many companies would go bust if women (and men) suddenly loved the way they already looked.
If you’re comfortable in your body, I am so glad, but you will know someone who isn’t. In fact, I would bet that you know dozens. I look around at the people on my course, the people I hang out with, the women I wait with in the queue for the loos and wonder how many of them know that the way they are is enough. It’s taken me a while to work it out.
I don’t want to live in a society where a dynamic and passionate twelve-year-old’s best thing about her week is that she’s lost weight. Next time you tell someone they look nice, consider if there’s something more important you could compliment them on first. Next time you compare yourself to someone else, just notice that you’re doing it. And next time you look in the mirror, don’t let the adverts and movies convince you to think lies over yourself. Regardless of the shape of your body, you are good enough. You are valuable. You are beautiful not because of what your body looks like but because of what you can do with it: express yourself, think, run, eat, paint, write…
If you’re struggling, take a deep breath and say it. That can be the hardest thing, but I guarantee that you are not alone. The person next to you might feel the exact same way. Once something is spoken about, it begins to lose a little of its power.
So be brave. Be radical. Love yourself.