Boys, Breasts and Self-Esteem

The lovely Mara @ Medicinal Marzipan is hosting Teen Week: Words that Heal, which “is an annual blog series that occurs the last week of March, where bloggers use their sites speak out about their experiences with body image, sexuality, and self-esteem during their teen years.” Please check it out to read all of the other lovely posts.

How does one talk about their teen years? With a fun anecdote? Or something apt while being deeply informative and moving?

Let’s talk about how I looked forward to being a teenage because it meant boys and breasts – something I didn’t exactly have in grade school. Most ten year old girls aren’t thinking about dating, and even fewer seem to care about their cup size. But I did; and it consumed me. I remember thinking how I’d finally date, and all those boys who were jerks to me would be sorry. With my big, bouncing breasts, I’d finally be beautiful and my childhood would just be an unpleasant dream.

But when my teen years arrived, the only thing puberty graced me with was a face full of acne and period cramps that should’ve led me to the nearest hospital. By high school, I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that boys hated me and I wasn’t dating anyone any time soon – if ever. My body remained stubborn, as I sneaked into my cousin’s room to admire my make-shift bust in her full-length mirror. “Do high school girls still stuff?” I wondered, as I layered on two sets of bras, stuffed them with socks and put on my stretchiest shirt to admire my false, new bosom. I’d look great as a C cup…

But the Universe enjoyed rubbing salt into my wounds as my younger cousin seemed to be developing at a much faster rate. She went from a string-bean to a busty teen in under a year, regaling me with stories of the boys she was dating, or kissing (or whatever). My self-confidence settled in the red when she confessed that her and her friends were making fun of how small my breasts were.

Everything came crashing down; I hated my life. Why couldn’t I be beautiful and curvy? Why did I have to be so skinny and unattractive? I thought back to my friend, someone considered very attractive by her friends, who was curvy and bubbly. I seemed to only sink deeper into my depression, wondering who (or what) I had pissed off in a past life to end up with the one I’ve got now.

The conflict with my body – and what I wanted my body to look like – marred my young adult years as everyone seemed to be blossoming and I felt stunted. How can I be sixteen and some lady is telling me that I look nine!? How can these fifteen year olds not believe that I’m only a year older than them?

Rinse, wash and repeat – and you’ve got my life.

And that’s it.

Am I in a better place now that I’m older? No, not really. Many of the patterns I’ve created or experienced in high school are still repeating themselves today; cycles I don’t know how to break. I have a lot of problems, and I need a lot of therapy. But, my understanding and emotional relationship to some of these problems are evolving, changing or at least being challenged. I have an awareness of myself that didn’t exist back then, and I’m super grateful for that.

Being Ugly and the Power of Beauty

I’m an ugly girl. 

That’s right – I said it. The big “U” word. The word that people run away from, or try desperately to cover up with make-up, compliments and pseudo-self esteem. Call yourself ugly, and you’ll be under the barrage of:

1. Beauty is subjective! Isn’t it in the eye of the beholder anyway?!

2. Everyone’s beautiful! You’re beautiful!

3. *Lists a bunch of reasons why you can’t POSSIBLY be ugly*

4. Says you’re delusional/insane (re: being completely dismissive)

Part of this problem is that people tend to imagine in extremes. Ugliness is defined as horrific – like Hunchback of Notre-Dame type stuff – so if you don’t look like Quasimoto, then you can’t be ugly. This is irrational. NO ONE looks like Quasimoto, except for him, and few people would go around calling survivors of accidents with physical deformities as ugly. So basically, ugliness is reserved for fictional beings and monsters – which humans are not.

Granted – I understand it, really I do. With great beauty comes great power; to be called a model is probably one of the highest compliments a person can receive. Humans are so fixated on beauty that whole enterprises have been constructed in order to dismantle fabricated beauty (ie: Hollywood stars, magazine covers, etc) in exchange for “natural beauty” (ie: Lady Gaga’s Born This Way type stuff).

And I can understand the sentiment: everyone (well, most of you!) want power because power makes things easier. Money is power, but not everyone has money, but  nowadays anyone can be beautiful, right? I remember my friend, who is from Appalachian, telling me about how beauty pageants were one of the few ways to get out of their town.

So yes – I deeply understand the influence being beautiful has over people – even those who wish to bunk beauty standards. Not so that they can be ugly, but so that they can be beautiful in their own way.

This is all well and good but ignores the truth: not everyone is beautiful (and in some cases, don’t want to be!). I’m not a beautiful girl. Most people focus on my personality, and what’s going on in my mind, not so much my body.

Being ugly, and being willing to call myself that, is always tricky business. When you’re conditioned to believe that ugliness is bad and prettiness is good, well, most people will do anything to show you how “good” you really are. But here’s what I’m here to say: being ugly isn’t a death sentence, it doesn’t say anything about your character (any more than being pretty does) and it’s not mutually exclusive from being awesome. 

Yes – I am a ugly girl but so what? Why do I need to soothe myself with compliments in order to make myself feel better? Why is happiness so directly related to “feeling/being beautiful”? Why can’t I be ugly AND happy, successful, accomplished and unafraid? Why is ugly such a dirty, fucking word? 

Ugliness is a descriptor, like anything else. Being ugly doesn’t make me less than. It simply is. 

Even in the quest to “re-define beauty” why is beauty even a necessary part of the equation? Why force people into believing they’re beautiful? There is power in all things, including ugliness. Many people are terrified of being ugly, but if there’s power in exactly who you are, that includes being ugly too.

 

People are often quick to prove you’re beautiful, even if it’s just one feature.

Why do you think that is? Why can’t people be both ugly and happy?

This is definitely a discussion I want to have with as many people as possible. I really want to understand – why do you want to be pretty so bad? And why are you so quick to downplay people’s assertion of their own looks – which has NOTHING to do with you?

Preferences and Prejudice: Which Is It?

Is it classist to reject someone because they don’t have a job? 

Most of us know that it’s fairly racist to reject a potential partner based on race or on the color of their skin. Many self-identified feminists mourn the perceived standards being projected onto the female gender, and there is more than enough discussion about how people feel in regards to women having short hair or natural hair. (Unfortunately, I am not as well versed about the criterium projected onto same sex/alternative couples, so if you know any – feel free to list them in the comments for added discussion!).

A great deal of people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that we’re each unique individuals and aren’t required to abide by arbitrary beauty prerequisites.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of beauty and whose opinion matters the most. When I was a Senior in high school, there was this guy, CJ, that I liked. He was a white boy; tall and rail-thin, and I remember chatting with him online. In my usual style, I told him I liked him and he responded with: I only date white girls.

Most people would respond with complete disgust over this – How dare he!? That’s so racist!  I lived in a racially diverse area where a myriad of people attended my high school, so you would think that most people would have a more “open” view of who they’d like to date. But -

My whole life, I’ve never really been attractive enough for anybody:

1. my skin wasn’t clear enough

2. my breasts were too small

3. I wasn’t perky enough, hood enough, outgoing enough… the list continues

Of course, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Do many white people reject black partners out of some racist agenda? If we had a more egalitarian media (since television and cinema influences many people’s understanding of relationships and who they’re attracted to) – would more people be interested in dating outside of their race, economic class, sex, (etc)?

Many women (and perhaps men too) spend a lot of time looking at how they’re not represented in the media, and how this somehow suggests they’re not attractive by conventional standards. I’m not exempt from this; I spent a few minutes on Twitter yesterday lamenting how small breasts are rarely touted as being signifiers of attractiveness. Essentially, large breasts are considered more “womanly” and “feminine” than having a “boyish figure”.

This is a complex problem: on one hand, the world is giant mirror, reflecting back to us what we believe about ourselves and the world at large. On the other hand, I see this as a type of Second-Hander rhetoric – where I long for other people to give me validation about myself in some capacity. It’s almost like I don’t exist until someone else decides I exist. All of this pertains to self-esteem, and the value being placed in one’s own ideas and opinions.

I don’t want to be a Second-Hander, and have other people’s prejudices and preferences dictate Who I Am.

 

What About You? What are some of your preferences or prejudcies? 

As anyone said you weren’t enough because of the way you look?

Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Kinda.

What is age?

This is an interesting question for me because I’m very much against age gaps in dating. I don’t even have age gaps in my friendships – all of my closest friends are within two to three years of me.

Flickr credit to: c a r a m e l

Part of the reason why I’m taking the question on is because I found two posts that discusses age and our expectations:

1. Power + Grace of: aging

2. A Burden of Expectations 

My addiction to the conversation around age is because I look really young. I’ve been getting the “you have a baby face” thing since I was sixteen. At least. When I was a sophomore in high school, people were telling me I looked twelve.

Self-Esteem: -1

Ouch is putting it mildly as I basically went through the rest of puberty being told how young I looked. I remember being at a relative’s house, standing next to my cousin who is four years younger than me (and significantly more attractive) and being told that she looks older, and I look younger.

Self-Esteem: -2 

It doesn’t help that I blamed my rail-thin figure as the leading cause for this nonsense. Many adult women – most well into their 40s – complimented me, telling me that I should be happy because when I’m older (re: their age) I’ll be happy. This comment seems to blatantly ignore how much of one’s self-esteem is tied up in how one looks – particularly to others. Having a high pitched voice and a face plastered with acne doesn’t help either.

Self-Esteem: -3 

Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve gotten the chance to meet a variety of people within the “Generation Y” sphere; from my age to those in their early 30s. And I’ve met the gamut: people my age who seem to be flourishing in their careers, relationships, blogs, or possessing such a wealth of information about a wide variety of topics I thought they were much older. I’ve met people older than me who seem to be in the same place as me emotionally, as we all struggle through this abyss called Life (or Hell – depending on who you asked). And there as just as many people in between.

The same thread seems to run through many of these people: We have no idea what we’re doing.

Currently, I only have three large focuses that take up a majority of my attention, and I’m trying to enjoy the process instead of longing for the finished product. And sometimes I think age is about that – longing for the finished product.

I recently found a post about the “perks” of dating older men, and the “reasons” they gave for it pertained to issues of being a finished product. A finished product is something (re: someone) that’s accomplished or experienced in certain things in life, so they “know” already.

This places an unseen burden on those of a specific age to have all the answers, to be at a specific point in our lives when this is simply not the case. Our life experiences can only pertain to our age when we discuss issues of pop culture: what movies we grew up on, the music we both loved and loathed, the latest fashion trends. And even then – it varies so wildly, as I’ve met many people my age who long for the 80s, 70s and 60s; eras we haven’t personally experienced.

To me, age is important, but it doesn’t pre-determine who we are, what we know or where we come from.

What do you think about age? 

Ayn Rand and the Fight Against Beauty Ideals

Stop blaming society and the media for your low self-esteem dammit.

I love Ayn Rand because she speaks at length about self-esteem. The characters in her books are under constant assault; having their choices second guessed and being belittled because of their differences. Any other person may have crumbled under the scrutiny that Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart faced, but Rand’s characters have something that few people in real life do: a self sufficient ego.

Her characters are self-assuared in their decisions, and how they go through life. In The Fountainhead, many of the female characters didn’t find Howard attractive. Something about his overall demeanor repulsed women. Yet he doesn’t cry himself to sleep over it. In fact, he seems to pay very little attention to other’s opinions about him.

This is the approach I take in regards to women, media and self-esteem.

Who is to blame for your low self-esteem and self-hating beliefs?

You.

By resting all of the blame on an abstract entity like “society”, you become prey to the Victim archetype. It’s societiy’s fault that I am miserable and society will pay for this infraction! 

But -that’s a half truth. The full truth is that you allow these messages into your subconscious. You accept these illusions and fantasies as reality, instead of acknowledging them for what they are. Falsehoods.

But instead of re-directing the attention inward, and re-shifting the focus, the obsession is directed even more powerfully to destroying the illusion. The things we see daily are merely projections- our own thoughts, feelings and ideas for others to consume. The magazines and billboard ads are projections of the world their creators live in.

We live in a world where oppression, violence and privilege run rampant. Many of the individuals who enforce these illusions are products of this: white males who hold sexist ideas. Women who buy into patriarchy while becoming female chauvinist pigs.

Magazine covers, billboard ads, commercials – all of these are a reflection of deeply held beliefs in our culture. By attempting to destroy these images, you’re attempting to force these illusions to change their opinions about you instead of simply re-adjusting your opinion about the illusion.

For example: whenever I see a magazine cover I dislike, I simply ignore it. I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about it, or buy it to show to my friends so we can complain about it together. When conversations come up about body bashing, I don’t participate or give in to their self-destruction. I keep a reminder that the people in TV aren’t reflections of who I am or what I believe. And that I will only support media that aligns to my own personal belief system about myself and the world.

 

So instead of trying to fight an enemy that has no name, why not take it upon yourself to be more like Randian characters; self-sufficient ego bearers. Rejecting fantasies – not through dismantlement, but by shifting our own individual relationship to ourselves. For as long as women, men and children continue to have low self-esteem (an ideology that is passed down from generation to generation), nothing will abate the insatiable thirst for self-hatred.

You must take your battle within, first by looking in the mirror. And so the image in the mirror will change.

The battle for self-esteem can only be won within, not outside of ourselves.

It starts here – with you. 

 

What about you? What personal opinions and ideas would you need to change to make yourself less susceptible to external pressure to look a specific way?

Ugly Duckling Syndrome

Flickr credit to: -MAKI-

Yesterday I saw Shallow Hal  – a film I’d already seen many times. The entire premise of the film impressed me, and watching it again (with my new and improved mentality about beauty privilege), I thought I was going to start crying.

Hal is an average looking dude who likes above average looking women, which is his only criteria for approaching a girl. So when his perception is altered by Tony Robbins via hypnotherapy, he starts to notice the inner beauty of all the women he meets.

So, what I wanted to touch on precisely is what the film calls, “The Ugly Duckling Syndrome”. This is when a girl who grew up ugly, ends up developing a personality out of necessity. The character talks about how some girls are ugly for so long, when they do become pretty, they don’t even realize it. This is considered a rare but desirable find; an attractive girl with a personality who doesn’t know/believe herself to be good-looking.

All the ugly women are virtuous: volunteering with burn victim children, helping their sick grandmother, working at a non-profit for blind children. Overall, these women are funny, gracious and selfless. They’re just really, really ugly. So, despite how wonderful they are as people, men don’t seem interested in them.

In the film, Gwyneth Paltrow tells Jack Black that she knows what she looks like, and doesn’t appreciate it when he calls her beautiful. I know the feeling of knowing what you look like, and people not really understanding that. Of people trying to convince you of a reality you don’t believe in. Even though in the ugly duckling fairy tale, he eventually becomes a beautiful swan.

However, it’s worse when you see what it’s like to be born a swan, when you’re just a duck.

When I was in high school, participating in some sort of production backstage, a girl said to my friend, “You’re so pretty.” And at some later date told her that she earned her beauty, that she deserved it.

I remember when I much younger, and me and my best friend at the time had a crush on the same person. Our shared love interest knew, but ended up choosing her over me. I was devastated. Then one afternoon, he had written her a (love) letter, suggesting that maybe I was jealous of them. Of course I was! But my friend – blonde-haired and blue eyed – was significantly more attractive than me. I knew, even then, that I didn’t really stand a chance. 

So as I sat there, tearing up at the not-so-great film Shallow Hal, I wondered if I would ever stop being a duckling, and become a swan myself. I try desperately to find other ducklings, but it seems few people like to admit to not being attractive. In a culture where “everyone is beautiful”, people are afraid of what it means to be a duckling, a sort of social pariah. Everyone wants to embrace their flaws, fall in love with themselves. I mean… that’s all well and good but…

Am I the only person willing to admit to being an ugly duckling?

How come the first step to self-acceptance isn’t admitting that we’re not all swans?

 

 

Beauty in Being Black

Image Credit: T.A.S. Photography on flickr

I’m currently reading a book titled The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. I found this author because I was searching for more black, female bloggers to read and stumbled upon her own. Ms. Durrow is mixed, or multiracial, with Black American and Danish. When I first saw her picture, I thought, “WOW! She’s really attractive!” and I envied her blue-green eyes.

And in her book, the main character has a similar back ground; mixed with a white mother and black father, always being told how pretty she was as a child.

It reminded me of a conversation I had in college, sitting at a table with other black girls. I had commented that Terrance Howard had nice [green] eyes, and the girl across from me exploded into a mini tirade about how her “shit brown eyes” were just as attractive as Howard’s. Every part of me ached to say, “No. They’re not.” But I kept silent, wondering how she’d become under the delusion that brown eyes were appealing. 

At some other point in my not-so-distant past, I was talking with my grandmother about actors and actresses I thought were attractive. I can’t even remember who I chose, but I remember her reaction; why didn’t I find darker skinned women attractive? Someone like Angela Bassett? 

Then I’m reminded of how black women go natural to reclaim their own sense of beauty and power. And how straight hair is often times seen as black women trying to imitate white female beauty. Or of how black women will claim a dozen ethnicities under the sun, as if to exaggerate a mildly exotic looking trait. Or attempt to achieve some sort of otherness, that isn’t completely black.

My closest friend is mixed, and she would often tell me about how people would ask if she’s Indian (probably because of her hair and complexion). And jealousy would bubble to the surface and I reminisced of the few times where people asked me if I was Haitian. I talked about over and over (though to no one in particular) about how exotic or other I must look, especially when people remarked that I resembled two friends I had who were also mixed. I thought it meant that I looked mixed too.

I don’t.

I think about all these things as I struggle to read through the book, written by a black woman with blue eyes. I think about The Bluest Eye, an incredible story by Toni Morrison and I wonder if I’m like that character. In a way, I used to brag about being light skinned, as if it brought me closer to being exotic. I thought about how my mother sent my baby cousin in to tell me what color I was; “Yellow” he said, and I swallowed my excitement.

Do I want to be white?

Not necessarily. But I struggle find beauty in my own blackness, as I admire biracial girls, or girls from various ethnic backgrounds that aren’t mine. I spend quite a bit of time, wondering about my physical normalcy – how there’s nothing particularly exotic or interesting about the way that I look.

Self-esteem is so closely tied to our physical bodies, and I wonder how am I supposed to reconcile these feelings of not looking like Heidi W. Durrow, Halle Berry or some other individual?

I don’t have any answers, just loads of questions while I try to deal with my belief system regarding my body, and how unbelievably average it is.