If you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I write quite a bit about body-image, self-esteem and self-love generally, and that these topics are some of the nearest and dearest to my heart. You may have also stumbled across (Slightly Edited) What having a body while being female means + loving thy body before ( subtle nudge at you to read it) and gained some sort of understanding of where I stand when it comes to this. This post might be a smooth continuation of its predecessor, or something completely different, or just a daft attempt at saying the exact same things again, you decide.
Disclaimer: This topic is very personal to me, so a large part of this post is going to be reflective and I will be speaking from my own experiences. Any ideas or tips I shell out in this post will be a reflection of that. I am not a professional of any kind, and I recognise that I won’t be able to speak for everyone who has struggled or is struggling with body-image issues and I apologise in advance for any shortcomings in this post. I just hope that this can help someone see things from a different perspective or at least bring forth some conversation.
My personal experiences with negative body image were sadly not limited to short-lived strops at high-street shops or quick bouts of insecurity after hearing a comment on my appearance. The confusion arising from conflicting external messages about my physique, unwelcome comments, coupled with the messages I got from society about what my body means/should mean/should be had obviously skewed the perception I had about my body and my relationship with it for quite a while. This propelled me into the cobweb of seeing my body as less of the amazing, intricately-fashioned medly of systems and functions that it truly is, and more of a mess of hair and skin that worked almost-full-time shifts as a tool to exercise people’s judging and opinion-making abilities. This learned insistence to be hyper-aware of the way my body is viewed externally meant that I myself had often looked at it from the outside in. I was self-objectifying, which I later learned to (sadly) be quite a thing with women and girls.
Naturally, the socially-perpetuated idea that my value lies heavily on my exterior was reinforced in me, and my self-esteem in those facets had suffered. I say “facets” because I do not believe self-esteem and confidence to be monolithic. While I was growing to be quite an outspoken adolescent who more often than not stood by her beliefs and opinions and was self-assured and confident in quite a few ways, all praises and thanks to God Almighty, the self-objectifying bogeyman still didn’t miss out on holding the floor when it could. I think that when people start to think that their value depends on things they really don’t, they become vulnerable to believing that a lack in those things will limit their living experience somehow. I believed some of those limitations. I now feel a type of disconnect thinking about all of this, because as I grow into my beliefs and increasingly go understand my creed, these types of ideas can no longer really fit. All praises and thanks to God, always and for everything.
One day, during a rendezvous with the interwebs a few years ago, and I stumbled across a blog where a young woman wrote about her journey with body image. I found that surprisingly/exhilaratingly/my insides-quietly-jumping-with-happiness-and-relief-ingly her struggles resembled were similar to mine. But, she saw things differently to me and in ways I didn’t used to believe were completely possible. She didn’t see that self-love, even when it came to body image, was conditional in that it could only exist if she changed the things about her body that she didn’t like and if she got her body to “behave” the way she thought it should. To her, there were no befores and afters where body-love and other self-love were concerned. Although I was blessed to grow up with parents who didn’t really stress on my appearance, and had repeatedly drummed into me the message that it wasn’t the most important thing in the world, their ideas couldn’t completely settle with all of the other conflicting ones. And they just didn’t understand, so I thought. But there it was, someone who understood “the struggle” and was navigating through it with a refreshing outlook. It felt good learning reading further, so I just gave it a chance.
All the things I read about loving myself just the way I am, even if I do want to change/I am trying to change, had properly sunk in for the first time in probably, ever…Well…. pre-adolescent childhood doesn’t count because micro-mini Tesneem wasn’t really about the body-negative life. And let me tell you, it was really, really, nice! All praises and thanks to God. Learning to wholly embrace myself, flaws and everything, was wonderful. Seeing myself differently, and my body differently, by seeing the functional miracle it is, learning that health and wellness doesn’t look the same for everyone, and simply respecting physical diversity represented in myself and others felt much lighter, a lot more positive and just plain fantastic.
I was beautiful, righ then, and not to the exclusion of my imperfect exterior either. I found more beauty in it, and I just didn’t think it was all that necessary any longer to be next-to-perfect. Yes I had to keep improving the way I treated my body, by feeding, moving, and resting it in ways that will make it feel top — something I am still working on even today. But the motivators for this had changed slightly. It was also more grounded in me that everyone needs to get on with the same things, no matter who they are or what they look like. Health and wellness is for everyone, not just for people who want to lose a stone or two. I started doing more things that made me happy, wore the things that I felt were flattering (with limits and varying according to where I was, obvs, I observe the hijab) and I walked with confidence. It’s not even that I didn’t do those things before; it’s just that this time, I actually meant it and cared a lot less about the way any of it was viewed by others.
Of course, as with anything in this world, it wasn’t all linear and confortable all the time. I certainly had setbacks and I really felt the troughs. But it was definitely the start of bigger, better, and definitely sparklier, things. And that’s what it is. Loving yourself right now. Thinking you’re beautiful enough right now. Realising that you are worth so much and owning that fact, right now. No questions, no exceptions. I haven’t conducted any studies on this sort of thing and base this very largely on my experiences, but I think that when it comes to learning to live and work with your body, and on a grander scale, your whole self, it’s much harder to make lasting, positive changes when you’re running short on self-love. Remember that your whole self, including your body, are going to be with you for an entire lifetime, and have been with you non-stop from the day you were born. So, your treatment of them, like the opinions you express on them and your validation of them, matter a lot more and will have a longer-lasting impact than anyone else’s .
Yes, reinforcement from others that you are marvellous, loved and simply enough just the way you are at the moment feels good and nudges you a bit more to believe those things too. But people change their minds all the time and perceive things in their individual ways, and that’s just too fickle for you to rely on, and you’re worth more than fickle. To some people, you’re going to be very close to a real-life version of their idea of aesthetic perfection, and that’s lovely. But to others, you’re going to be just the opposite, and that’s fine as well. We are all unique and have unique beauty to go with, just not everyone sees it. That’s cool. In the end, you’re going to have to live with yourself and your thoughts, so it’s worth making this journey as pleasant as it can be.
You’re not going to be kind to yourself every living second, or every day, week, month and maybe even every year, but you owe it to yourself and the God-given blessing that is life, to give it a go. I wasn’t even put here on this earth to stress about my body-image , and God Almighty knows that I am not, nor will I ever be perfect, so why hate on myself? Why hate on yourself? The way I see it, if God Almighty can forgive me infinitely if I seek it, then I am worth living, learning and giving things a shot — I just am!
Look around. There are beautiful people out there across the shape, size, colour, ability, and even ethnic and cultural spectrums who are living happy, colourful, fruitful lives. People who are doing spectacularly cool, positive things and are contributing to the lives of their loved ones, their communities and the world in with all their idiosyncracies , and in the most wondrous ways. People who have all kinds of fulfilling relationships with others who have accepted them and their human-ness, wholesale. So clichés and all, none of the factors written above should stop you from being the person you want to be and having the type of life you want to have. And if anyone wants to put limits on you based on them, that you know objectively do not exist (which you may need to double-check that with those in a position to tell you, because your version “objective” is not always that), nor have been codified in any type of law or policy or whatever, pay no mind, no matter how much it stings. They can’t even tell the future anyway.
And the noise eventually becomes quieter.