I did not think it was possible to hate a thing and love it at the same time. I used to think hate is too strong a word to be associated closely with love, but I was wrong.
The first time I started to hate my body was in secondary school. I was in SS2, a boarding student. I was 14 and rapidly growing. It was a new term and the first day of school. I went into my hostel after showering and started to dress for class. I had brought out my new bra from inside my box and was preparing to put it on.
“Wow!”, my roommate exclaimed, staring at it.
“What is it?” I asked worriedly. Was there a hole or a tear in it? That can’t be possible, my mum bought this for me just before I came back to school.
“What’s wrong with my bra?” I ask, now alarmed. I bring it closer to my eyes to scrutinize it properly.
“It’s really big,” she said, “even bigger than my mum’s.” And then she burst into laughter while I turned away from her to wrap my towel tighter over my chest.
“Why do you wear your bra on top of your towel? Why don’t you take your towel off and wear your bra? Who are you shy of?” my bunkmate asked with a smile. I smiled back without a response and adjusted the strap of my bra tightly before slowly removing my towel from underneath it. It’d been four years since I was first exposed to the imperfections of my body and even after intense physical exercise and dieting, I was still very afraid of what people would say when they saw me wholly and fully, so I only showed bits of myself. An arm, a shin, a face, and a smile often stretched too thinly and too tightly to be natural.
It was my first year at Uni. I was happy to experience a change in environment, a change of people and possibly a change of mindset, but alas! I celebrated too quickly.
You see, body image insecurity is not merely the shrinking of self into shadow or skin. It is in the nervous twitches of the eyes while the lips open wide in a smile, it is in the loud laugh that hides shaky fingers and loudly beating hearts. It is also in the shirt with extra-long sleeves to hide flabby arms and in the girdle that hides extra stomach fat, the type you can never get rid of with intense exercise, the type your friend calls ugly. I once cried in an empty classroom after a difficult day when a friend said with a laugh that she thinks my breasts are too small to be considered sexy. What would she know about the pain of a 14-year-old who was told that her breasts were too big for her body and her age? And what would she know about the regret of an 18-year-old who had spent ages on treadmills to appear more appropriate, more acceptable and easier to digest because of a sentence she heard when she was 14?
Body image insecurities are not the absence of self-love. It is in fact the awareness of self, the presence of self-love and the confusion as to why the rest of the world does not see the perfection that you feel when you breathe a sigh of relief when you see the number on the weighing scale, having finally reached your desired weight. The presence of body image insecurities is because we have been told that the only way we would matter is if we looked a certain way and even when we do, there would be something new on the trend that we would need to have to be more acceptable, but according to whose standards and at what price? I have had a long battle with my mind, and I am now comfortable with my body. I don’t care what the next trend is or who thinks I am unacceptable, but the journey to self-satisfaction has not been easy. Insecurities do not merely go away because you tell them to especially when the voices in your head and the voices on the TV screen tell you that you will never be enough, but who should you be enough for?
When we have insecurities, it is not because we are weak or ungrateful, it is simply because we are human and sometimes the whispers of society, the loud mockery of neighbours, and even the subtle jokes of friends get to us and it’s okay. And even when we are most aware of the many blessings present in our lives, even when our hearts are overflowing with love and satisfaction and contentment, there is still an internal battle going on inside us. Sometimes we win and sometimes we don’t and it’s okay. I used to spend days in the mirror staring at my body and wondering why the curves aren’t perfectly round and the edges aren’t perfectly straight, but I love my body. Even when I hid in closets to cry, upset about a comment I heard, even in the times I hated it, wishing to change it, I loved my body, still. Although I often wondered why it hurt so much when I was told that I needed to be a little bit fuller, rounder, thinner, and sexier. I wondered why it hurt even though I knew that like many women, my body is different because I am.
Now, I try to analyze the rationale behind the ugly words that were spewed at me. I realize that it is not because those people were perfect themselves, it is perhaps their way of coping with their imperfections. They try to project their insecurities, to make themselves feel better about their bodies by making others feel bad about theirs. And by the time that they realize that what they are doing or what they have done is harmful, if they ever do, the damage would have been done. It is easy to destroy and very difficult to build but build we must. I do not hide in lockers anymore or cry in empty classrooms, but there is still a battle going on inside me, the one that started years ago when I was 14 years old. I no longer pay attention to the details of the battle, but once in a while I find myself wondering which side is winning especially on the days I am reminded that there is something imperfect about me. It is on these days I feel the need to attain perfection the most, yet it is on these days my body commands me to love it and accept my imperfections and I do. It is on these days I feel the most confident.
When I say I love my body, I whisper the words like a prayer, an affirmation, a reminder of the journeys that were, that are and that will be.
I have come to the realization that beauty is not the presence of perfection, but the celebration of imperfections because we are all imperfect, and that’s okay.