The best stories usually focus on the slightly awkward, painfully shy protagonist, beauty concealed beneath the giant glasses. He or she struggles with some dramatic personal crisis, whether it be body insecurity or a fractured family, but through it all we know that once we power through those 300 pages of struggle after struggle, we get to the good part, and are rewarded with our happy ending.
Growing up, I loved reading those young adult novels. They helped me escape from whatever I was struggling with in my own life, distracting me from my own insecurities, allowing me to be an outside observer into someone else’s world and to see that things do get better. During adolescence, dealing with acne, frizzy hair, and a body that doesn’t fit with Hollywood’s definition of beauty, I felt alone, especially as I watched the people around me grow and blossom into people that I envied. People who walked with confidence, who seemed to enjoy life much more than me, who seemed happier. I struggled to get through high school, feeling like an outsider in a town that didn’t seem to have room for people who weren’t bright, blonde, and beautiful.
There’s me in the middle, age 12, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Arthur
Last year, in my second year of university, I finally felt good about myself, and the person I was. I had slimmed down, my skin had cleared up, and I was happy about who I saw every day in the mirror. I had connected with people in ways that I never did at home, and felt like I was in a much better place mentally and emotionally. I went back to my home in California for the summer, and was lucky enough to travel through Europe with my family. I told myself that I wouldn’t indulge in the cultural cuisines, afraid that my body would change back to the way it was before I had found confidence in my appearance. But I am only human, a human with a sweet tooth, and I could not resist authentic Italian gelato. I returned from my trip feeling incredibly grateful and amazed at having been exposed to so much culture and history.
Me discovering the brilliance of Italian gelato
But I couldn’t help feeling disappointed in myself, and the hard work I had so easily reversed. I felt discouraged, knowing just how much time and effort I had expended to get into a shape that felt good for me. I was no more successful in the remaining months of the summer, and my motivation to work out and eat well was dampened by what I saw in the mirror. My acne returned, and with it the weight I had lost. Looking through pictures of my vacation, I didn’t focus on the beautiful city we were in, but the tightness of my shirt. I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the art, but instead zoomed in to see the acne on my chin. This summer was definitely not my healthiest, but that is perfectly okay.
Here I am again, clearly in love with this sandwich
Sure, if I had said no to the gelato or the pasta, or had exercised more frequently, maybe I would feel more confident in my appearance. But I also know that my confidence and my happiness are something I am going to struggle with for the rest of my life. I am overly self critical, my anxieties and insecurities always present in the back of my mind. And I know that no amount of weight that I lose or flawless skin is going to change how I really, truly feel about myself.
The start of school is always a stressful time, and when we’re stressed, we tend to focus on the negative. I’d like to remind you of some things to remember when your insecurities overwhelm you, and you begin to hypercriticize your appearance.
Insecurity comes and goes
No matter how hard I try to forget about my difficult high school years, those memories and experiences, and the feelings of self doubt and insecurity, will always be with me. Insecurity is like a wave we all ride, and we all have points in our lives when we feel really great about ourselves, riding the wave right to the top, and times when we wish we could change everything about ourselves, tumbling alone to the bottom. From what I have observed about myself, this ebb and flow of discomfort is only going to continue. There will be times when you may not feel yourself, like you’re trapped in a body that you wish wasn’t yours. And times when you love the way you look and the way you feel. When I’m feeling really insecure, I try to remember that I am always changing, and it is impossible to expect myself to always feel super great about the way I look. Everyone has off days, even the beautiful people that we envy.
Beauty does not equal happiness
I am still struggling with my acne, and am disappointed with the way my clothes look on my body right now. I don’t feel as confident as I once did when I was skinnier, and my skin was clearer. But I still feel really happy with where I am emotionally, and how I feel about myself. Those beautiful girls in high school, with their glowing skin and perfect hair? They were confident as hell, but were they truly happy? Everyone has their own story, their own struggles that they’ve gone through, even the beautiful people. Looks alone will not change how much you like yourself. But I understand that for many people, their insecurities are so intricately tied to their ability to find happiness. The only thing that they can think about is how uncomfortable they are in their own skin. I understand because I was one of those people in high school. If you are seriously struggling with how you feel because of your appearance, remember that there are solutions to many of the problems you may be facing.
I know how easy it is to get wrapped up and sucked into your mind’s taunting mantras, “nothing ever changes” and “nothing ever works” running on repeat through your head. All throughout high school I struggled with my weight, my body never matching society’s expectations of a typical California girl. After doing my research and finally wanting to change the way I felt, I began to exercise. I didn’t see the results I expected, but I began to feel better, because I knew that I was taking action, and was doing my best to be healthy. Recently, my acne has been the worst its ever been. After sulking about it for too long, I decided, with the encouragement of my family, to see a dermatologist. If there is something about your appearance that you feel is beyond your own ability to control, there are professionals out there who have the knowledge to help you feel more comfortable in your skin.
My family after a long day of walking 20,000 steps!
Focus on how you feel, not how you look
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how skinny you are, or how beautiful your skin is. What is important is the relationship you have with yourself. Observing your internal thoughts about yourself can show you the areas you need to work on. When you catch yourself criticizing an aspect of your appearance, remind yourself that you are engaging in healthy behaviours to become more accepting of your appearance. When I begin to criticize my appearance, I remember that I am eating well, and exercising more. This helps because it gives you a sense of agency, and empowers you to actively argue with the negative voices in your head.
Loving yourself every day is not easy. We mess up, make mistakes, and may not live up to the unrealistic expectations we hold ourselves to. But we don’t have to sit around waiting, racing to the end of the story to get to the good parts. We are writing our own stories every day, and luckily we hold the pen.
Edited by Sophia Savva