Discovering Womanhood: Body Image, Boys, and Living Beyond Labels

I’ve always had a tough relationship with my body. I hated being the “chubby kid” who was picked on as a little girl, and over time, I ended up picking on myself as I got older. My young teenage years were filled with constant comparisons of what I saw as too much skin and curves on my body, as opposed to girls with seemingly effortless small figures. All I wanted was to be thinner, have better hair, and not as many zits on my face. I tried all the beauty tricks in the book and some pretty unique products, too. The classic puberty story, right? Not when it goes to extremes.

There was a point in time that my strained relationship with my body turned into unhealthy eating habits and social acts of overcompensation. I started restricting my diet intensely, trying to be “healthy and fit” when really, I felt weak and alone. To cope, I looked for comfort in the arms of any person willing to offer it (in reality, take advantage). There was heavy drinking and marijuana use involved, too. It was a dark time. For months, I was pushing myself to extremes in the gym and limiting what I ate every day, only to put toxins in my system on the weekends. All the while, I was constantly battling the mirror and turning to other people to put my broken pieces back together. I was convincing myself these “sacrifices” would eventually lead to happiness – that I would be cool, sexy, and desirable. Instead, I hit rock bottom.

Discovering Womanhood: Body Image, Boys, and Living Beyond Labels: "I looked around one day and realized all the time I spent judging my body, I should have spent healing - both mentally and physically."

Discovering Womanhood: Body Image, Boys, and Living Beyond Labels: “I looked around one day and realized all the time I spent judging my body, I should have spent healing – both mentally and physically.”

I looked around one day and realized all the time I spent judging my body, I should have spent healing – both mentally and physically. One heartbreak too many lead to a turning point. I realized there was no one else to lean on but myself. My focus (obsession?) shifted from fitting society’s standards of “beautiful” and finding “the one” to mending the relationship with myself. This all happened throughout my junior and senior year of high school.

Suddenly, the door to self-awareness flew open. I started becoming more mindful of my thoughts and actions, learning to practice patience and understanding with myself and the goals I was trying to achieve. I also discovered the value of community during this time, thanks to a genuine group of people willing to accept me for who I was and encourage my true self to shine. These were the people who practiced alongside me at the local yoga studio I found, and the men and women I played beach volleyball with a few times a week. My tribe transformed. I started spending more and more afternoons deeply immersed in my body and my new community, rather than wasting time trying to be one of the cool kids. Then, college came, and I had to relocate from the groups I had come to cherish so much. I felt like I was on my own all over again. The difference is this time, I was smarter, happier, and truly excited for this new chapter, this fresh start.

Throughout my three years at university, my definitions of self-awareness, self-care, and femininity became much more real. They weren’t basic ideals or blind acceptance of society’s definitions anymore. They were truths I came to know intimately.

I believe it’s up to each person to define such matters and more for themselves. But, I’d like to share what I discovered:

The Meaning of Self-Awareness: To release the desire to be in control and for attaching stories to emotions and experiences. To be self-aware is to welcome each sensation in the mind and body as it comes, let it teach you what it needs to, then let it pass.

The Meaning of Self-Care: To recognize what/who does not serve you and to detach from negative energy and actions. To create more room for positive healthy relationships, activities, and emotions in your life. To make time for rest as well as movement and adventure, for play as well as work.

The Meaning of Being a Woman: To make your voice be heard without fear of being “intimidating”, “bossy”, or “demanding” – which are often good qualities perceived as negative from other people. To celebrate the women around you and the woman within. To be an ally against sexual violence and harassment, to hold the men in your life accountable for their actions, and to know – deeply and truly – that you are beautiful.

These are the truths that saved me. These are the realizations that taught me not to be so harsh on myself; that the only definition of beauty was what I wanted it to be; that before any person could accept me and care for me, I had to take on that duty first. Plus, as a woman, it’s also my duty to pave the way for other females to feel comfortable, empowered, and, of course, beautiful. In our skin, in our own ways.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, you have a role to play in redefining outdated social constructs, too. How do you take this on in your daily life?

Featured Photo by Kyson Dana on Unsplash