It’s My Body & I’ll Love It if I Want To

I am a proud Mexican American woman. This means I have a curly, sometimes untamable hair. This means I have a hairier body than my white friends do. I have dark hair, so my leg and arm hair are immediately noticeable. When the hair on my upper lip grows back, I can see it as soon as I look in a mirror. When I put on a bikini or look at myself in a mirror with only a bra on, I can see my little happy trail, which is probably the darkest hair on my body.

 

I don’t have the healthiest diet, or the unhealthiest diet by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy food and never deny myself of my cravings. I don’t work out very often―in fact, if/when I’m asked if I work out, I say no. I get in health kicks where I work out often, but they rarely last longer than a month.

 

All this to say, I don’t usually see myself in magazines or promoted as the ideal body. When I was younger, this really bothered me. I remember the first time I felt uncomfortable with my body. I was in fourth grade, and I had to get up in front of the class to give a presentation. I hit my growth spurt before most kids did. I’ve never had a huge chest, but my mosquito bites started poking out before any of my friends’. I had to stop shopping in the kids section by fourth grade, and any child’s clothes I still had definitely didn’t fit me, but I wanted to match my friends, so I would squeeze into a t-shirt from Justice and go to school. This particular day, I was wearing a green t-shirt that had a little four leaf clover made of sequins in the middle of my chest. I was wearing shorts and had a grey zip-up jacket. Right before it was my turn to get up in front of the class, I realized my shirt didn’t go all the way down and part of my belly was visible. I’ll just say it: I was a chubby kid. I felt like my stomach was ballooning out, and no matter what I said to my class, all anyone would be able to focus on was my stomach. I tied my jacket around my waist and sucked in my stomach the entire presentation. I can’t tell you what anyone else in the class was wearing that day, or what our presentations were even on. But I remember what I was wearing and how ashamed of my body I felt.

 

In fifth grade, I was a part of Safety Patrol. I was standing with a group of kindergarteners one day, and one of them commented on the hair above my lip. Another commented on the hair on my arms. I was humiliated, and I went home and begged my mom to let me shave. She bought me some Nair, taught me how to use it, but refused to let me use it on my arms. I would go to school incredibly insecure, waiting for someone to comment on how much hair I had visible on my body. By the time I got to sixth grade, boys were making fun of my leg hair. My mom wouldn’t let me shave my legs but had gotten me a razor to shave my armpits, so I slowly began shaving my legs. First just around the ankles, then up to my knees. When my mom didn’t notice, I began shaving my entire legs, giving myself some serious razor burn in the process.

 

If I’m already in a depressive state, noticing that I’ve gained a few pounds has been known to push me further into said depressive state. Like I said, I never deprive myself of food, but sometimes when I don’t feel hungry and my body isn’t telling me it feels full, this means I don’t stop eating in hopes that I’ll eventually feel full. My anxiety usually keeps me from feeling hungry, and my depression haunts me when I’ve noticed I’ve been eating too much. Winter quarter, my depression was the worst it had ever been. I went to too many doctors to count, asking about mental symptoms and physical symptoms―can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t stop crying, can’t breathe―and when it came to food, I got all kinds of different answers. Just eat soup. Don’t eat soup, eat bread. Don’t eat bread, eat small meals five times a day rather than three so you feel like you’re snacking. No, that’s not healthy, eat soup. No, that’s not healthy, eat bread. No, that’s not healthy―you get the point. Finally, HAWC hosted an event about body positivity, and after the event, I talked to the dietitian who spoke at the event about my issue.

 

“I can’t find a healthy balance. I’m worried I’m eating too much or too little or the wrong thing. It’s been mostly small amounts of unhealthy food because a bagel doesn’t upset my stomach as much as a salad.”

 

“How long has this been going on?”

 

“Two, maybe three weeks.”

 

“Eat what you can. Listen to your body, and eat whatever it wants. In the grand scheme of things, two or three weeks is nothing. Two or three months, even, is nothing.”

 

And with that news, I was back to a regular eating schedule within two weeks. My meals weren’t as balanced as they had been before my anxiety hit, but I was managing to eat full meals. This was my number one focus. But when spring quarter hit, I could see that I had put on some weight.

 

Once, when I went to Forever 21, I saw a girl wearing a tight jean skirt and a crop top. She wasn’t as skinny as the models we usually see, and I could see her love handles in the (amazing) outfit she had on. I thought she was beautiful. Her sense of style was amazing, and her confidence was even better. She never tugged down her shirt or crossed her arms to hide her exposed skin. “I wish I looked like that,” I couldn’t help but think, and then when I looked down at my own body, I realized I do look like her. The only difference is she was visibly confident, and I was not. I try really hard to think of her whenever I feel down about myself, because it was one of those moments where I realized how incredibly stupid it is to equate weight with beauty.

 

Around junior year of high school, I stopped caring so much about the hair on my arms. I shaved my little happy trail, my legs, my bikini area, and under my arms all the time, though. I tried to trick myself into thinking it was because I wanted to shave, not because it was expected of me to shave, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t true. A couple things happened that made me reevaluate this mindset recently. First, even though I have my anxiety/depression pretty much under control now, I’m still playing mental and emotional catch up. I’m going to therapy, taking meds, and trying really hard to take care of myself. Sometimes I really struggle to find the balance between putting myself first and keeping up with work and school. This is all a really long winded way of saying that at the end of the day, I really, really don’t want to shave. This quarter I’ve been either putting it off or forgetting about it until I realize I’ll dull a brand new razor the next time I shave. Stupidly, this always makes me feel kind of bad. Enter reason two. There’s this girl in one of my classes who is honestly one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen in my life. She’s confident, she’s outspoken, she’s not afraid to ask questions. I’m wildly intimidated by her, but somehow, she’s my friend. I used to think (and still kind of do think) she’s way too cool to be friends with someone like me. One day she came into class wearing a skirt, and I noticed she hadn’t shaved her legs in, well, a while, and it didn’t change how beautiful I think she is. And I kind of just figured, if she can be beautiful and accept having hair on her legs, why can’t I?

 

I feel pretty shallow writing this article because there are many more important things going on in the world than whether or not I’m comfortable with my body hair and weight. But this has been on my mind every single day, because this is my body, and I have to live in it every single day. And, I know I’m not the only one who worries about this or spends their time thinking about it. I don’t see myself in magazines or advertisements, but that does not mean I am not beautiful. I have a nice smile, beautiful hazel eyes, and naturally curly hair people try and fail to mimic. My beauty does not match the beauty of my best friend, but that does not mean she is not also beautiful (and believe me, she’s stunning). Beauty looks different on everyone, but everyone is beautiful. This is something I recognize in every single person I pass on the street, but for some reason cannot see in myself.

 

So what am I doing to try to manage this? For starters, I’m accepting my body as it currently is. I am trying to balance my meals again, and I plan to start working out regularly once school is out, because creating a work out schedule is an added stress that I don’t need right now with finals coming up. I wear clothes that make me comfortable, and this changes on the daily. Sometimes it’s high waisted skinny jeans and a crop top. Sometimes it’s an oversized t-shirt. Sometimes it’s straight hair, sometimes (most of the time) it’s natural hair. Sometimes it’s make up, sometimes it’s not. I’m trying to teach myself to stop comparing myself to others and try to recognize that their beauty does not diminish my beauty. When I get jealous of my friend’s hips, I remind myself that just because my hips don’t look like hers, doesn’t make mine ugly. I allow myself to call myself beautiful and accept compliments rather than just brushing them off. It’s hard. Some days it feels impossible. But beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and if I want to appreciate all the beauty in the world, I need to realize that I contribute to it.