Cultivating Positive Body Image Throughout Life

I used to hate my natural hair (pictured above). It wasn't curly, but it wasn't straight. It was this messy, tangly, wavy thing that just sat there... it had no volume, yet no tame. Recently, a teen customer came into my store and complimented me, proclaiming to her mom: "Man, if only we all had that hair naturally!" This suddenly pushed me back to the time when I absolutely despised it.

Looking back on it now, I see that the notion of my hair being ugly was absolutely ridiculous. For years, I applied harsh heat, flat iron straightening my hair almost every day, praying that someday I would wake up and it would suddenly be an automatically straight, beautiful masterpiece.

I also used to hate my eyebrows. They were too thick and unruly. Now I pencil them in after plucking them WAY too thin as a young teen (and I mean pin-thin). Here's a flashback if you don't believe me. The left side is me as a child with my crazy brows and the right is me last year before I began letting them grow naturally again. *That was my all-time favorite sparkly dress as a little girl, by the way.

My current challenge is certainly my smile. It has been for most of my life. Ever since I was an infant, I've had a deep white discoloration on my front two teeth--either due to a bad fever or an accidental smack to the mouth. It bugs me. Bad. So much that sometimes I begin subconsciously not opening my mouth in photos and end up as the only one smiling with their mouth closed in group shots.

Let's keep going. My glasses. I was in the 3rd grade when I received my first pair of frames and felt incredibly embarrassed to wear them, along with the braces that would later appear as just another burden I had to deal with. I wasn't a conventionally "pretty," kiddo, so the awkward phase hit me.

Today, I couldn't envision myself without my trademark, "librarian," look and wouldn't wish to (I also couldn't see without switching to contacts, and I am not at all about that eye-touching life!). I still struggle with doing my makeup--I was never a pro at this growing up and didn't start truly doing a full face of makeup until I was around 16 years old. Even now I am just beginning to dabble in eye makeup.

Let's admit: we all use filters and edits on our social media portraits these days.

However, I have to say: no matter how much I make my skin look more porcelain than it already is, no matter how much I brighten the photo... I am okay with what I look like when all of the superficial edits are removed. When I look at the girl in the photo in the top right, I see a much more confident girl than I did five years ago. I hope this progress continues to grow as I become older.

Now, to address the elephant in the room: the all too popular obsession over body shape and our perception. I've always fluctuated in my weight throughout my life, seemingly gaining a steady five pounds each year. In the past year, I've gained some, then lost some. I haven't before been my current weight since I was 17, and I can say that I have made peace with the size I'm at now. It's not about size, necessarily: it's about health and wellbeing.

I strive each day to implement more exercise and nutritious eating into my lifestyle. I've been seeing a nutritionist to help me drop the initial weight and get on a better regimen, however I quickly noticed that my confidence was being jeopardized and I started to feel bad for allowing myself a cheat day. Now allowing myself to purchase food that isn't necessarily the most healthy, but also isn't full of crap, I notice myself ordering takeout almost never and in fact, adopting healthier habits!

We all must achieve a mindset of "tradeoffs," as one of my psychology professors would say. If I workout for 30 minutes, I'm going to allow myself a couple gluten-free cookies or a handful of chips. I'm not perfect and I won't hold myself to unrealistic standards that will damage my emotional wellbeing. Another issue I found with following such a restrictive regimen is that I could not regularly afford the items on my grocery list or activities that were recommended to me, such as regular sauna visits at $60-80 a pop.

This cultural phenomenon that is telling us: "You must be skinny to gain happiness," or, "You are not worthy of love and belonging if you aren't a pant size 4," is so toxic to our livelihood as humans living in all different body types, shapes and sizes. Taking in what our nutritionists and personal trainers say about living a healthy lifestyle is much more valuable than what a magazine or store mannequin is representing about our body image.

I'm learning when to say, "No, this isn't right." Slowly but surely I'm grasping the bigger picture of who I am, what I stand for and what will make me truly happy in the future, regardless of my weight, glasses or other unique features that make me who I am. We're all on our own special journey to becoming content with ourselves and the way we perceive our own beauty and identity, and I think it's okay to be patient with each other while we constantly flow through this state of uncertainty.

What are your thoughts on positive body image? How have you worked to cultivate your own confidence?

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