On body image and appearance

A lot of my posts come from conversations I have with other people that get me fired up about a topic and make me realize I really care about it. This post is no exception.

I am obviously writing this post from the perspective of an American woman (as viewpoints on body image obviously vary between genders and across nationalities). While some men certainly have similar experiences when it comes to body image issues, women as a whole are arguably under a much greater amount of pressure to look a specific way. It is extremely difficult to grow into a confident woman that is comfortable in their own skin if there is no one telling you specifically, "You have value that is in no way related to your body, your skin, your hair, your teeth, nor whether or not you wear makeup." I'm here to tell you all something: those things hold no value in human relationships.

I have a message for other women, and especially young women: your body and appearance are in no way tied to your value as a woman. You should not be comparing yourself to others. It's difficult not to, and probably unrealistic, because that is just a natural part of the thoughts of most women. Your value as a woman lies in how you treat others, how you build them up, how passionate you are about your hobbies, your willingness to love and help others, your intelligence, your drive, your generosity, your interest in learning, education and self-improvement, how well-spoken you are, your loyalty, and how you volunteer your time. It has nothing to do with how straight your teeth are, how clear your skin is, how your legs are shaped, whether your eyebrows are symmetrical, whether your hair is long, short, curly or straight, whether you wear makeup, get your nails done, or wear stereotypically "girly" clothes.

Comparing your body to others' is a waste of your valuable time and energy. For everything you dislike about your body, there is someone wishing they looked like you in some way. When I was young, I hated my legs. They're genetically very muscular, and I always wanted long, lean, modelesque legs. As an adult, I have grown to love them, because they are strong, and will carry me for my whole life. I place much more emphasis on giving my body - and myself - credit for its abilities than I do on how specific parts of my body look. I'll also have you know that in many cases, while you are coveting that woman's teeth, hair, skin, eyes, or legs, she is wishing she had your teeth, hair, skin, eyes, or legs. Maybe I wanted skinny legs as a young person, but other young women were likely wishing they could get their legs as toned as mine. This phenomena is true with regards to every part of your body, and every part of your life. The grass is always greener on the other side, as the saying goes. You have talents and passions that should be utilized for the betterment of the world, your life and the life of your loved ones - not spent on figuring out how to make your eyelashes separate evenly or agonizing over the fact that your calves are two different sizes.

I'm not putting down women that take time getting ready in the morning. That's also an incredible waste of my energy. I actually find it fun to occasionally curl my hair, or put on makeup, or wear nice clothes. Women who do that every day - more power to you! That's fantastic. My problem lies in two things: 1) when women are doing it to cover up their insecurities and mask their negative feelings about their body, and 2) when women are judged for their appearance in any way or primp themselves in an effort to compete with other women alone or make them feel "less than". I also don't connect my feelings on body image to health-related issues: though I don't feel anyone should be judged for their weight, I acknowledge that significant obesity should be addressed in order to avoid detriments to someone's health. (But that is an entirely separate issue from body image itself.)

Young girls: I have to break something to you that is not going to be pleasant to hear: Your body is going to change constantly throughout your entire life. If you don't resolve to love yourself in any form, as soon as you get comfortable with the way you look, your body will betray you and you'll have to adjust your thoughts about your body all over again. You'll feel "too skinny" in high school, then you'll fill out in college and you'll feel "too curvy". Then maybe you'll start working out or get really into a strength-and-power-intensive sport and feel "too muscular". Your metabolism will slow down as you age, and you might get curves in new places. Your skin will be riddled with pimples when you're a teen, and you'll feel self-conscious about that, then it'll be clear for five years in your early twenties, and you'll be like ,"awesome!" Then you'll enter your late twenties and get adult-onset acne and have to fight that fight all over again. You'll get pregnant, and your body will change, and maybe it will never, ever go back to the way it was before you had your first baby. Here is my advice to you: love and accept your body for being what it is right now and for all the different bodies it will be in your lifetime, or you will fight a constant battle of self-love for your entire life.

Ask yourself: Do I get upset that I am muscular and my calves are two different sizes, or am I thankful that I have a healthy body that provides me the opportunity to travel, hike, climb and live a long life? I choose the latter, because really - who wants to spend their time and energy contemplating something so shallow as the way that they look, and what other people think about their appearance? At the end of your life, you're not going to be lying there thinking, "Man. I should have worn more dresses and smiled less so people didn't see my crooked teeth." I hope you will be lying there and reflecting on all the incredible experiences you've had, remembering all the people that have touched your life, and being thankful to have had the opportunity to touch the lives of others.

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