I am so happy that I am finally able to write a post like this because there was once a time when I couldn’t even face my peers at school or open my mouth in class because I was so so so afraid of what people would say about the way I looked or the things I said.
I grew up with relatives and strangers that told my mother that she had a beautiful daughter, and teachers that praised my hardwork and demeanor even at a really young age, but I consistently faced insults and rude comments from my peers. That’s what I always focused on. Although everyone goes through this, I think it really had an affect on me, as it does on some other people, too, because I wasn’t born with a thick skin. I really really had to develop it and facing harsh people was a part of that process.
I care more about praise about my intelligence or my work, and I would rather take criticism on the latter. But, it was always extremely difficult for me to hear negative things about my appearance, even though I didn’t think people’s physical attributes were that important. I didn’t care much about what other people looked like growing up, but I always focused on what I did look like. I felt that my nose was too big, my eyes were too puffy, my mouth was too thin, my face too round, my double chin too manly, my arms too fat, my knees too dark, my shoulders too broad, my hips too wide – wow, I could go on and on! These are things that I was born with; they weren’t things I could alter or change or experiment with like clothes or makeup. The fact that girls and boys, too, targeted specific things I hated about myself made me wonder if it actually wasn’t all in my head, that these things were true.
I had a lot of acne in middle school, specifically on my forehead. Boys, more than girls, picked on me about this, telling me I was ugly, undesirable – the basic pimple face. I always thought acne was a natural thing your body did, hormones or whatever, and that it wasn’t a really big deal and that I would eventually outgrow it if I took care of my skin and ate right. But it suddenly became a huge deal. My mother spent a lot of money on acne creams and medicines, homeopathic remedies, and spent many mornings preparing sick leave letters for the next day because I was too afraid of going to school and being made fun of my acne. My whole life revolved around how bad my acne looked that day. I focused on other people’s comfort, satisfying their idea of beauty, while I constantly mentally tortured myself about how I looked.
My skin eventually cleared up, and as I entered the ninth grade I struggled with something else – my weight. Now, I am so happy about my weight and the way that I look in clothes. I care more about being healthy and being able to run a mile without gasping for air than I do about the fatness of my thighs or arms. But, I remember the day I went shopping for my school clothes. We had a dress code, and I had no idea how to work with it and dress stylishly or whatever. I didn’t know it was a big deal. But it was summer time and I saw many thin girls with fair skin and small breasts and I felt so awful about myself. I hated my hips and my complexion and the size of my breasts, so I purposefully bought clothes that were way too loose on me and too unflattering. I didn’t think my body was beautiful enough for the things that I saw other girls wearing. I remember crying in the dressing room, thinking of myself as so hideous. The same person who would never put down someone else for their weight or shape was able to put herself down.
I remember having a huge crush on this boy who was in two of my classes. I begged my friend to ask him if he liked me, and she came back saying that his response was irrelevant and stupid. I kept on asking her and asking her what he said, saying that it would be okay, that it didn’t matter.
“Upasna’s pretty, but she doesn’t have a booty.”
I had finally mentally reconciled with myself about my weight, and now there was something else wrong with me?! I felt helpless, I felt like I was playing a game of Whack-a-Mole, and every time I was finally able to be okay about something, some other flaw would pop up, and I would start to focus on that.
I am not saying that I am totally innocent. Just the other day, I said something mean about the same girl who told me I was fat and ass-less. I made fun of something she couldn’t really change. No matter how awful someone is to you, try not to think awful things or say awful things about them because it most likely won’t make you feel better. I didn’t. I used to never be this way, and the second I started being critical about myself, I started to criticize others. Don’t make fun of people’s physical attributes, especially the things that they cannot change.
People have said many awful things to me. I’ve been told to take a run around the block, do some squats, tone up my arms, suck in my gut, push up my breasts, get a breast reduction, tone down the makeup, fix my nose, pluck my eyebrows, wax my arms. But people have also said so many wonderful things to me.
I know that there are boys and girls out there who are struggling with this, to find that mental equilibrium of “These are the things I was born with, and I can’t change them, so I will love them.” I know it is so hard, no matter how many good things people say to you. We tend to focus on all of the harsh things people say to us or about us, including the things we say to ourselves. We compare ourselves to people who look TOTALLY different than we do. But, I know you know better. Forget the people who tell you that you need to lose weight, that you need to eat a salad, that you need to get a gym membership, that you need to wear looser clothes, that you need to get a certain type of hair cut. And forget the people who tell you to eat a hamburger, that you don’t have big enough breasts or a big enough penis or big enough butt cheeks or wide enough hips, that you need to lift, that your clothes are too tight or your skirt is too short. If you’re the one doing this to yourself, too, DON’T. Embrace it all. Overall, you’re beautiful. You don’t need to dissect beauty.
Photos by Peyton Cook.
Pictured here: Sarina Bean and Upasna Barath.