I’ve never been considered “conventionally pretty,” and I always knew it. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a (what I like to call “pleasantly plump”) pear-shaped body was never considered an ideal “look,” but it’s the look I was born with and I make it work even if I’m not always super confident. With that mindset, I’ve carried myself to this point in my life, believing consistently that I am a good person and that’s what matters most. If people want to get to know the real me, they will, and if they don’t, then they’re the ones at a loss. As much as I’d like to believe that this plays out in reality, I know that it doesn’t. It wasn’t until I joined Greek Life on campus that I got into the nitty gritty of what self-image meant for so many women I know and love dearly.
I am a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority, an organization with three philanthropies that I hold near and dear to my heart. One of these organizations is The National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), and DPhiE’s association with ANAD is probably one of the things that I am most thankful for, not only as a sister, but as a woman. In essence, ANAD sets out to provide support and resources for those who are struggling with eating disorders, and subsequently promotes body positivity and self-love. With ANAD behind us in our efforts to end the stigmas surrounding eating disorders, the sisters of Delta Phi Epsilon host events and participate in activities that encourage our peers on campus to set their insecurities aside and embrace the things that they love about themselves and each other. While all of these events are wonderful and incredibly empowering, the movement behind body positivity cannot heal the wounds so many people have as a result of eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and a slew of other problems related to self-image.
Robyn- an incredibly talented young woman, a sister of Delta Phi Epsilon, and one of my best friends- is among those who have experienced the especially harsh reality of expectations placed on the bodies of women today: “I have danced my entire life and being in front of mirrors all day long really skews your judgement of yourself and tends to shape the way you view every piece of who you are intrinsically. Every day there would be a comment from a friend, a teacher, a family member: “Robyn, you have such chubby cheeks,” “Robyn, you know your body type is not right for a ballerina,” “Robyn, when I was your age, I was 96 pounds.” These comments made me hate myself. I refused to eat breakfast. I would bring lunches to school that only fed the garbage. Then I would go spend hours doing what I love to do: dance. Dance was the one place I was supposed to feel free. It was supposed to give me an outlet from these thoughts but it wound up only feeding the dysfunction. I would watch myself in mirrors all night long. Turning across the room, glancing in the mirror and at my friends who were not only better dancers than I was, but also thinner. With every turn, I disliked another part of me- my eyes, my hair, the shape of my face, my voice- everything about myself was suddenly odious to me. While I would constantly get compliments on my appearance, I never saw what others did and many days still don’t. However, I now understand the importance of loving yourself. I understand that self-love is really the most important thing that someone can attain. You can’t depend on others to make you feel good about you, and while I don’t ever think I will be completely satisfied with the way I look, I am on a happier path.”
At this point, you may have a vision in your head of what Robyn looks like. Our brains do that sometimes, we like to give a face to a name; And while I won’t give you any details as to what Robyn looks like, I can tell you a little bit about her. She dances less now because she realized the toll the environment was taking on her self-esteem. She studies Public Relations and Communications, she became a youth representative for American Girl before she was ten years old, and she is a natural-born leader. She could live off of coffee exclusively if given the opportunity, she’s an amazing friend, and her heart is bigger than she gives herself credit for. You can’t tell any of this just by looking at her, and you shouldn’t try to because the effort would be fruitless. You would never know about the internal struggles she has faced by looking at the style of her hair. You couldn’t tell that she is intelligent by the shape of her eyebrows. You can’t guess her life goals based solely on the measurements of her waist. You’ll never come close to knowing who she is just by looking at her, and even though she participates in the events that aim to promote body positivity, there is nothing that can undo the things she has experienced as a young woman.
I, too, am still self-conscious about my body and how I look sometimes, but I’ve learned that I am so much more than what I look like. It is difficult to exist as a young woman in a world where juice cleanses, workout schedules, and detoxes flood media, and where the body positivity movement has implications that sometimes simultaneously bash specific body types (I’m talking to you, Meghan Trainor). Beauty “standards” are higher than they have ever been, and more times than not, they are unrealistic. It’s been said before, but I’m going to say it again: you cannot judge a book by its cover. What truly matters is invisible to the eyes- and in the words of TLC,
“You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if you say so
You can buy all the make-up
That M.A.C. can make, but if
You can’t look inside you
Find out who am I to,
Be in the position to make me feel so
Special thanks to Robyn- you are so loved and appreciated.