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One of the greatest ailments of the younger generation today is: body image, our intelligence and overall, our social status. This starts to form an extremely self-conscious generation of dreamers and we often start to question ourselves during our smallest movements of the day. For example, I utilize the window reflections on cars to check my appearance. I walk out of my house or workspace and I ask myself if I look decent and if I feel okay. The issue here is that I don’t ask myself if I’m feeling okay mentally or emotionally, but rather if I’m acceptable. Am I okay to be seen in the presence of others? How am I perceived by the people around me?

There is a feeling that today’s society is progressing toward a community that embraces self love and a wide variety of shapes and sizes—so why do I focus so much energy on fitting a set of model-like aesthetics that are only going to go out of style anyway? The answer is simple: I have not learned to accept myself on my own terms. It seems obvious, but self love has to come from yourself.

Sure, it is extremely empowering to see such a large movement of acceptance coming across the nation. However, I can’t shake the feeling that I am still relying on celebrities, models and social media influencers to teach me how to accept myself. Societal norms are starting to reform but, reformed or not, why are we still basing our self worth on fulfilling norms? That’s hardly self love, is it? I’m beginning to learn that I am my only reliable source of self validation and acceptance. We have to find the things about ourselves that we can appreciate without relying solely on that outside influence. For example, when was the last time I listened to my Spotify playlist and complimented myself for having awesome music taste? Or the last time I ate an amazing meal and thanked myself for fueling my body plentifully? Positive self talk is key in determining how we feel about ourselves.

I have realized that current body image reform has also had other effects on my self esteem. While different body shapes are being celebrated, society is still setting limits and conditions on what’s a “normal” or “womanly” body type. Now, instead of frail wrists and toned legs defining womanhood, it is accepted and encouraged to embrace curves. Rather than being another option for how a woman’s body can appear, “curves” are just an addition to an already complicated body equation. Keep the slim waist, add a thicker ass, subtract the stomach rolls… what’s left is the continuation of an already exclusionary body culture.

This culture quickly becomes dangerous when eating disorders manifest when there is a constant need to assert control over one’s self and find things that need to be “fixed” or “perfected.” I would look for validation where it wasn’t applicable—such as in Instagram models who serve as physical representations of the current unachievable body ideals—and then would further strive for numerical goals that would reset themselves whenever I “reached” them. Like today’s ever-shifting expectations, I was constantly finding new standards for what my ideal body should look like. It was a never-ending acceleration that did not slow down until I learned to rely not on what my body type or weight should be, but on loving myself based on the body I have. I had to find ways to be happy that were not dependent on what jeans size I wore.

The smiling faces behind the iPhone screens also have a story. Contrary to popular belief, celebrity body icons and other public messiahs have real lives, real emotions and living, breathing bodies different from ours. People are people, not just images on a screen, and when we buy into socially endorsed ideals for inspiration and validation, we strive toward physical goals that have nothing to do with us as individuals. We lose the human aspect of it all.

When I scroll through my Instagram feed and longingly examine these celebrities’ lives and bodies, it is easy to turn around and compare their supposed happiness to my own. I misinterpret the lives I look up to. No matter how far I go to perfect myself, it will never be enough because I’m not loving myself on my own terms. Self love cannot realistically be on terms with societal ideals or my eating disorder.

At the end of the day, seeing other people love themselves—or present an image of happiness—will not help you love yourself. Happiness and self love require positive self talk, appreciation and acceptance. The world is a hard enough place externally without internal criticisms. I have realized that I am virtually in charge of how I feel about myself. If I can take mere seconds out of my day to thank my body and realize what an incredible feat it is to make it through the day and thrive in this modern chaos, there is no reason why self love shouldn’t be achievable.

Senior student studying at University of Kentucky. My goal is to inspire and challenge other female students on their ideas of normalcy through education.
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