Embracing confidence, self-admiration

Issues surrounding body image, public perception permeate modern culture, distort notions of beauty

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

In today’s society the definition of beauty has been warped by unattainably high standards and lies that spread false ideas of what constitutes the perfect outward appearance and what it means to be beautiful.

For those who struggle with the notion of the “perfect” physical features, such as height and weight, the challenges faced in building self-love can be a long and daunting process.

“When I was younger I was told by friends and family that I was too big to be a girl,” 19-year-old psychology major Athena Estrada said. “This made me feel insecure, so I pushed myself to lose weight. But it was hard because I couldn’t be their type of thin and I got frustrated.”

Eating only one small meal a day, Estrada said she became really depressed and began wearing baggy clothes to hide her fat.

“I felt like I was competing with skinnier girls because they could wear whatever they wanted.”

It wasn’t until after she had her baby that she became comfortable with her body.

“I saw this really nice dress that I thought would only look good on skinny girls. But when I tried it on I looked beautiful and felt really comfortable,” Estrada said.

“It took me a long time, but I love my body — It’s unique. The stretch marks I got from my baby, I’m proud of them. I went through a lot to love my body.”

According to DoSomething.org, only 5 percent of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.

Approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their body, with 40 percent considering plastic surgery in the future.

“Currently, I see all these people and I’m like ‘Maybe I should be skinnier or look like that model,’ but I just remember who I am,” 18-year-old Middle College High School student Mikaela Pollard said. “In middle school I weighed more. I didn’t feel pretty and the friends I had didn’t think I was pretty.”

Pollard, who is biracial, said people use the cliche of the black girl, big butt perception but because she’s mixed with Indonesian, she isn’t “manufactured” like that.

“I had a butt but that’s because I was fat. Me being me, I was like ‘whatever,’ flat butt,” she said. “It took me a while to say ‘hey, I’m not that bad.’ You just have to be confident and nurture yourself with things that make you feel beautiful.”

But the struggles people have with body image don’t begin or end with women.

Men, often portrayed as anything but body conscious within mainstream culture, are oftentimes disregarded when it comes to body image.

“I’ve always been the fat kid and struggled all the way through high school. I hated the way I looked,” 23-year-old theater arts design and technology major Cody Poehnelt said. “I thought no one looked at me like they look at other people and I began to see myself like other people saw me, like ‘man I must be ugly’.”

After having a mental breakdown and almost attempting suicide, Poehnelt said that’s when his perception of himself changed.

“I was tired of feeling like crap and started living with my own body standards,” he said. “ I don’t let anyone else’s expectations of me control my life. I’m comfortable with myself. I am who I am and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s their problem.”

Being a man with body image issues seems to carry a label of frailty that spurs judgment amid society when brought to the public.

But for those who already experience a world of discrimination due to skin color or sexual orientation, the stigmas that come along with body image only elevate the pressures and struggles of everyday life.

Nineteen-year-old Gateway to College student Aireus Robinson said he was bullied extensively because he wasn’t black enough.

“I was a skinny short black kid and I didn’t play sports. Everyone would tell me to eat more, to the point where I would spend all my money on food,” he said. “I used to really hate how my knees looked, so I didn’t wear shorts much and when I did they were long, like cargo shorts.”

Hollywood movies portray high school stereotypes perfectly, Robinson said, because of the stressed social bubble that is constructed of cliches.

“It’s a place where you grow and encounter social problems that can shape you as a person,” he said. “But I began doing things that made me comfortable in my own skin. I just started to love myself and it grew. I began accepting myself and doing what pleased me and not everyone else.”

The struggle with body image can consist of many different layers of insecurities that affect members of society in a variety of ways.

Business major Jeremiah Sayson said, throughout his life, height has been the root of many struggles that has guided him into his love of fashion.

“I would be looked at as weaker because I was short. It would make me jealous of guys who were taller than me and I would put up a guard that really played a factor,” Sayson said. “I found my confidence in shoes. I really just used that as something to boost my ego. That helped me develop passion and the mindset to not care what people think.”

Societal beauty standards and what is deemed as “perfect” can go beyond that of weight and height and into more physical judgments.

Like the elevated nature of body image for those already facing adversities, multiple social “imperfections,” only add to the burden of self-love. 

Twenty-eight-year-old drama major Irena Miles said she’s not only curvy but she was also born with lazy eyes that elicited teasing since the moment she was born.

“These both come with their own sets of challenges. When you are different you can feel it, but then you start to appreciate it,” she said. “When I was younger I would try to mimic what other girls were wearing, but it was not until my late 20s that I began to realize that what I thought about myself  is all that mattered.”

Working in customer service, Miles said she still encounters people who stare or make comments about her appearance.

“I’m human, so sometimes it affects me and I go cry or vent to my friends,” she said. “But then I remind myself of who I am, people love me and my opinion is the only one that matters.”