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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Is My Beauty Really Only Skin Deep?

Recently, my friend posted a link to this article on facebook, about combatting body dysmorphia by teaching by example - the author of the article makes it a point to tell her daughters that she, herself, is beautiful.

I really like the message of this article, and I think it's incredibly important for mothers to teach their daughters to be happy with their bodies.  From my own experience, it works.  My mother struggled with her weight for the majority of my childhood and teenagehood, but she always taught me that starvation was never the answer, that moderation was key, and even when she was frustrated that she couldn't fit her clothes, she never said things that made me think she hated her body or who she was because of that.

And that is something that I internalized.  I've never had problems with how I look, or at least, within reason.  I wish my nose didn't have that bump, but I recognize that it suits my face and my other features. I wish my feet were a little smaller, but only because it would make finding shoes a lot easier, and feet are generally ugly anyway.

But I was always told growing up that I was beautiful, and pretty.  Quite quickly, that turned into "hot" from the boys I knew; I developed early-ish and had breasts and hips by the time I was about fourteen.  Even now, almost eleven years later, I have nice breasts and a slender waistline, and curvy hips.  I'd like it if my butt were a bit rounder, but again, it suits my frame well enough.  I know that men and women find me attractive, and I consider myself attractive.  I am certain that a large part of that is that I fit into conventional standards of beauty - tall, slender, large-ish breasts, blue eyes - and so I have not recieved quite as much negative media reinforcement for certain traits.  Instead, what I got growing up was the message "tall and thin is beautiful".  Well, lucky me, my genetics have made me tall and thin.

But what about the other side of the coin?  My mother never taught me to hate my body, but she did a pretty thorough job of teaching me to hate myself.  I spent my teenage years being called a variety of names - stupid, selfish, manipulative, a bitch, a whore, a cow, among others - by my mother.  And just like the way I internalized accepting my body, I internalized those thoughts about myself.  I was told things like "Don't let your good looks go to your head," and "Eventually, people are going to look past how pretty you are and see the real you."  I was being told that I was pretty and beautiful, but that it was just skin deep and that beyond that, I was worth nothing, or that nobody would want what was inside me if they ever got a glimpse of it.

It got to the point where as an older teenager, I truly believed that the only worthwhile thing about myself that I had to offer was my body.  My body was beautiful, but I was not, as a person.  So of course people were only going to like me for my body, because who in their right mind would like me as a person?

So I dressed in ways that showed off my body, I felt most comfortable when I was showing cleavage, and wearing short skirts to show off my long legs. I felt far more comfortable when people were distracted by my looks than when people were learning about who I was.

I still struggle with this today, and I am terrified of not overcoming it.  I recognize the issue, which is, I think, the first step, but I continue to fall into the thinking traps that I have become so used to.  But it worries me that I may not overcome it, because what happens when my body begins to change?

I am going to grow older, and my physical body will start to change. Eventually I'll sag in places I don't know.  I'll get wrinkles, and I'll probably gain some weight.  If I ever have children (who knows?) I'll have stretch marks and my breasts will change.

What happens then, if I still believe my body is all I have to offer? Without that on the table anymore, will I believe I have anything to offer? Will I continue to believe I am beautiful as I get older?  I hope so, but even if I do believe that I am still beautiful, will it be wrapped up in "Well, I look good for my age" rhetoric?  Will that affect how I believe others will find me worthy?

I know it's important for me to believe I am beautiful, and I do.  I've never had a problem with that.  Maybe that's part of the problem.  Yes, I fell into the body type that the media told me was beautiful, but that's all the media ever told me was beautiful - commercials and ads didn't also add that being creative or honest or a good reader was also attractive.

But I know that it's also important for me to believe what's inside me is beautiful, too, and worth offering.

People focus really hard on telling the girls who don't fit the conventional beauty standard that it's what's inside that counts, and this is so important, because they're getting way more negative reinforcement than I ever got about their bodies.  But I think it's also so important to remind the girls that get the positive body reinforcement that they are so much more than just their bodies.  That they can be beautiful on the outside and on the inside.

It's something I'm working towards believing about myself, and I truly hope that if I'm ever in a position where a girl like me looks to me for guidance, that I can teach her that while she's young - that who she is inside is just as worth offering as who she is outside.

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