A few weeks ago, I was involved in a survey about body image in teenage girls. It was for a college student and, along with a lot of other girls from my school, I was pleased to help. It was really interesting and gave me a chance to think about what “body image” and “confidence” really mean.
In doing so, I realised just how little I am affected by my body image.
We had to write down things we were unhappy with about our physical appearance. There was space for several; I could only think of two. That’s not to say that I love everything else about myself, but those were the only two that really stood out. The rest of the issues I might have with my appearance, I thought for a second and realised, “Well, that doesn’t really matter.”
The survey went on to ask how long we spend, daily, thinking about the things we dislike in our appearance. I was surprised to see the shortest time given was twenty minutes. Often I’ll get frustrated and wish I looked different, but this never lasts long for me and I can certainly go days or weeks without worrying about the way I look. On average I’ll spend about seven to ten minutes applying make-up in the mornings, three minutes taking it off at night, and in between I might look in the mirror to fix my hair or something throughout the day. I try not to look at the mirrors at school, because really, as a leaving cert student, I’ve got enough to worry about…
There was another question which scared, perhaps saddened me slightly. It asked us to think about the topmost negative feature we had picked. I can’t remember which I chose, so it can’t have affected me too deeply! It was probably either my weight or that I don’t have very good skin. Anyway, the question was this: if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, does this feature affect yoru relationship? If not, do you feel that it would affect whether you have a boy/girlfriend?
I answered with a big, fat no.
Let me give my opinion on this. If your boyfriend or girlfriend is making you feel anything other than confident and beautiful, then there is something wrong. I’m not judging anyone else’s relationship, but personally I don’t think I would stand for that at all. And if you’re not in a relationship… it’s ridiculous to say that looks don’t have anything to do with attraction, but remember that everyone is attracted to different shapes, sizes and features. And that’s OK. Look at it logically: someone will be attracted to you. There are eight billion people in the world. The odds are in your favour, no matter what you look like! And your other half will not only be OK with the bits you feel self-conscious about, but will probably even love you for them.
But before you think about starting a relationship with someone, you should make sure that you feel confident in yourself first. Take care of yourself before you start looking for another person.
The same goes for friendships, too. It’s not necessary for a friend to complement you all the time, but you should feel comfortable around them, not self-conscious. A good friend might joke and laugh with you, but will know not to knock your confidence, and know when you need to be built up. Appearance should have nothing to do with whether or not you are friends with someone, or how you feel around them.
I don’t know if my survey answers will be useful to the project, but taking that survey certainly taught me an awful lot.
Do I think I’m gorgeous? No. Do I have the confidence to walk around in a bikini, or post numerous selfies on Facebook? Not really, no. Are there things about my body I don’t like? Of course!
But would I change myself for the world? I can’t say that I would. I might get spots all the time, and I’m still rocking my holiday pot-belly, almost two months after Christmas… but I really do like my eyes. I think my hair looks pretty good today. My spine is straight as the next person’s---which might not mean a lot to you, but for me it’s a gift. Perhaps having surgery has gone some way in making me feel lucky to have the healthy body I’ve got.
Really, I’m just like any other teenage girl. I envy the person with the flat stomach, or the perfect tan, or the legs up to here (imagine me doing an appropriate hand gesture). But the difference is: I don’t let this affect the rest of my life. My appearance is just a part of who I am, not the whole package. I’m more concerned about getting to university, becoming a professional writer, having fun with my friends and loving my family than I am about dropping ten pounds for swimsuit season.
So am I beautiful? Am I gorgeous? Or am I ugly? Do men turn to stone when I look at them, do children cry, do animals head for the hills?
I reckon I’m somewhere balancing between the two. I reckon I look all right, most of the time.
And I reckon that’s enough.