By Courtney Lucey via UN Online Volunteers
As a woman in society today, it is almost impossible to accept our bodies and be confident in our own skin while everywhere we look we are surrounded by images and expectations of how our bodies ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be.
We are force-fed ideas about our superficial appearances; such as what weight we should be, what size clothes we should wear and what our hair and make up should look like in order for us to be perceived as ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’.
But ultimately as women and girls, our worth is not determined by how we look on the outside and we must stand together to stop body shaming and teach girls that their beauty truly comes from within.
For a girl growing up in our globalised society today I think the pressures to look a certain way are shockingly excessive and unnecessary.
Since the age of around 12 I can remember constantly comparing myself to other girls’ bodies and how they looked; from the other girls at school, girls in my dancing classes, friends and even to models on TV and in magazines.
I don’t remember a specific situation or moment that triggered me to become obsessed with comparing my body, and feeling inadequate, but I recall gradually becoming aware of how my body was slightly different to some of my friends and the girls I saw in the media.
I was curvier, with bigger hips and thighs and over time this led to a huge lack of confidence in myself, as I felt that I could never be beautiful unless I had long and thin legs and bigger boobs. Now I can see that this was such a damaging and distorted way for me to be valuing myself in terms of my body when these things were a part of what made me, me; being curvy I could still be beautiful.
Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have thin legs or big boobs like other girls. I knew that what I was feeling was wrong and I should love myself for who I was, but so many things such as seeing models and celebrities on television portrayed with their ‘perfect’ bodies was giving me an entirely unrealistic and distorted perception of how I was ‘supposed’ to look and what was important.
I valued myself in terms of my body and things that are only skin-deep and I failed to see that I was beautiful inside; as someone who was kind, intelligent and a good friend.
These images of models that girls today are forced to compare themselves to through the internet and social media have been edited and photo-shopped excessively to make the models appear ‘better’ by making them thinner, smoothing their cellulite and removing spots and imperfections. But this is so WRONG.
There is nothing to be ashamed of with our bodies the way they truly and naturally are; we must embrace this and accept our imperfections and part of what makes us, us. A scar is a reminder of pain that has made us stronger, a birthmark is something that makes us unique and we deserve to be proud of these things that make us special and set us apart from one another as individuals.
My own experiences of being shamed for my body and my appearance occurred around between the ages of 12 - 16 at secondary school.
The strongest memory for me is how a group of boys in my math class would often talk and laugh, loud enough for me to hear, so I knew they were making comments about me.
One day I was walking out of class with some friends across the playground and a group of these boys called out to me; they said that I was “chunky”, I had “thunder thighs” and “tree-trunk legs”.
I felt a sudden pain of panic in my chest, tears stinging my eyes and I felt sick. I could not believe that they were calling me these names in front of my friends when I had done nothing to deserve it.
I was already conscious that I was curvier than some of the other girls. Deep down I knew that my thighs were strong and muscly because I went for swimming and dancing lessons every night after school and I should be proud of being strong and fit. But I couldn’t help feeling so embarrassed that I just wanted to run away and hide, I could feel my cheeks turning red and it felt like every single person was staring at me and I couldn’t get any words out, so I just walked away.
I let their comments affect me and hold me back for a long time before I learned to love my body and feel confident in myself but now I do, there is no going back. Now these boys will see me in the street and cannot look me in the eye because they know that what they did and said was unacceptable.
Being told we are too much of one thing and not enough of the other is so damaging to confidence and self esteem. Four years after my experiences of body shaming I have only just learned to accept my body because it is so difficult to forget the words that people say when they have hurt you so much.
These past 4 years have taught me a lot about what is truly important; and that is being happy and confident in my own skin. Inside we all possess our own unique beauty that makes us who we are, and what is on the outside is not something to be judged by anyone other than ourselves.
If you want to exercise more often or if you don’t want to exercise at all then that is OK, if you are slim that is OK and if you are curvy that is OK too; because ultimately how we look does not, and will never define who we really are as individuals because if you are happy, you are powerful and that must come from within. Nobody is perfect and there can be no such thing if we are all to embrace ourselves as individuals.
My experience of being shamed for my body is by no means uncommon. I believe that almost every woman in the world has felt some shame about their body at some point in their lives and this cannot continue.
Society must evolve and stop judging women by their appearance and actively take steps to support girls and women to achieve their potential by giving them confidence and acceptance.
No girl deserves to feel shame about her body or how she looks. Ever. Our bodies are ours to celebrate, be proud of and enjoy, but they do not define our worth.
So I believe we must teach girls to love themselves and embrace their bodies, knowing that how they look will never define them – Every girl is beautiful, courageous, powerful and strong.