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Self esteem and conflicting definitions of beauty

Anime girls were my standard of beauty for much of my young life. I watched more of it from sixth to eighth grade than I did most anything, and I think it’s done some interesting things to me. Having no real concept of anime tropes or actual Japanese culture, I was bombarded with both American portrayals of women and Japanese ones.

We all know the story with the US, but have you ever paused to look at how Japanese women, particularly young girls, are shown in anime? In general, there are two categories of anime women: they’re either applauded and considered cute for “playing dumb” and acting demure, (often remaining flat, even as main characters), or they’re super powerful and busty with about a hundred different power-ups and more than a few attitude problems. Combine all that with the American standard of beauty. Allowing for overlaps, I was told at a young age that I had to be thin but busty, well-dressed without trying, self-conscious, talented and smart without showing it, among about a thousand other things.

Add bullying and a less-than-stellar father figure onto all that and it’s no wonder I had low self-esteem. I could get into how our society isn’t that great with gender equality and that systemically, we still treat women with less respect, but I won’t. Trust me, that’s all wrapped-up in there, too.

But knowing the cause of something doesn’t always make it easier to treat.

It took a lot of time, self-acknowledgement and quite a few good friends to get to where I am now, but becoming truly confident is still an ongoing process. Even with all these positives, I’m still obsessed with being “pretty” in the worst way. It doesn’t matter how many times my boyfriend or my friends tell me I am; most of the time, all I see is imperfection.

If I’ve learned nothing else when it comes to self-esteem, it’s this: There’s no magic fruit you can eat that will make you self-assured; no movie or diet or anything else. In this life, there are no easy answers. The best we can do is set up a network of protections, of positivity: friends that care about us, knowledge of our strengths, peace with our weaknesses and goals to strive toward.

For me, one major goal is fixing my weight. To look at me, many might say I’m chubby, though not overly so. But what they think doesn’t matter in this case: it’s how I perceive myself that’s the problem. I keep telling myself that I’ll be happier if I could just lose 20, 30, 40 pounds, but is that really true, or will I just find something else to agonize over? Sometimes I have my doubts. But maybe it’s in how we look at it. Attitude isn’t always a predetermined thing; we can choose to look at something positively, even when it’s hard, and how I see myself won’t always be based on the criteria of this collective consciousness we call society. In the end I have to own myself, for better or worse, and if it were up to me, I’d rather live smiling than with a weight on my back. 

Molly is a senior at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. When she's not pursuing an English degree she's either writing or thinking about writing. Passionate about the craft since she could hold a pencil, Molly gravitates toward prose and poetry. She's got a lot to say about a lot of things, and her need to create carries over to several other platforms. She's a sucker for books, video games, YouTube and nonprofits, and wants to be able to work in them all. Her dream is use her voice to make a living, though it's unknown what she'll attempt first.
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