The whole culture of trying to get women to love themselves still tends to isolate and alienate women in some way (fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, colorism, etc.). The body image project is a series that highlights what real, everyday women (and some men) have done to develop a positive perception of their physical appearance thus far — how they’ve gotten to a healthy place, what they’ve done to get there, struggles and setbacks they still experience, and what they’re doing to get to a place where they feel the best about themselves and stay there.
With editing by Adwaa
Maya Younis is an Arab-American essayist, activist, and aerialist based in Dearborn, Michigan. She has her mother’s eyes but wishes she inherited her work ethic instead. Peep photos of her plants on Instagram: @schoolgirl_qt.
What issues have you had with your own body image that you’ve learned to love and appreciate about yourself?
Growing up, I was always much heavier than my peers. At 12 years old, I was the youngest member and the only child at my Weight Watchers meeting. At 18, 30 lbs lighter still meant I wasn’t skinny enough. At 25, I checked into an eating disorder clinic to work on improving my body image and nutrition. At different points in my life, I grew obsessed with hating some feature on my body. I remember in one of my longer hate-spells, I focused on my wide hips and thick thighs. I spent most of my teenage years tugging at stretchy tank tops, pulling them down over my chunky bottom in attempt to cover up. Now, I generally celebrate my curves, which I have to credit the increased visibility of various body types labeled beautiful, as well as Kim Kardashian’s popularity, and also rap music.
What has been your experience with learning to be comfortable in your skin and love yourself?
The whole experience so far has been difficult but rewarding. It’s unrealistic for me personally to expect that one day I’m going to miraculously love everything about myself. It’s not about that. It’s about slight disruptions in and challenging your negative self-talk; a win is a win is a win.
the only child at my Weight Watchers meeting
What comments have you heard over time about your weight, height, or other physical aspects of your appearance that have made it difficult to develop that self-love and acceptance?
Oh boy. I’ve been told to wear heels regularly because I’m “too short.” I remember my mother (bless her heart) would pull on my legs every morning as a kid to convince me I was getting taller. One time, a family member told me that my size 7 feet were too small and were not meant to carry all this weight. (Who comes up with stuff?) I’ve had crushes tell me:
- I needed to lose weight so they’d date me
- “No offense, but.. I’m attracted to your personality, but not your body.”
- “My mom doesn’t think you’re pretty.”
- My nose is long and ugly.
- And more.
At the end of the day, you just have to cancel out the noise. The more I focused on developing my sense of self, the easier it’s become to drown out all the other voices.
What would you say to someone who came to you about their own struggles with self-love and acceptance?
Don’t compare yourself to anyone! Everyone is on a different path, even if you think you’re starting from the same place. Meet yourself where you’re at and try to develop your own identity. Surprise yourself. Be honest with yourself. Act in accordance with your values and goals, not what you think you should be doing or what you should look like. You are more than your body. Your body is complex and is working so hard for you. Respect it. Refrain from engaging in negative self-talk in front of children. Tip: It may be helpful to imagine saying all those nasty things to your child self or a loved one. Don’t be so hard on yourself if you slip up, just focus on not spiraling; healing isn’t linear! “Self-love is revolutionary.”
Since these issues never disappear completely, what are some things you currently grapple with and what do you do to overcome them?
I’m an aerialist. Since I’ve started my training, my body has changed dramatically. I joke that I went from being “pear-shaped” to “accidentally hourglass” because of all the muscle and upper body strength I gained. It’s been tough to find clothes that fit me and I’ve been forced to retire my old style of fit and flare and baby doll dresses to more body contouring silhouettes because that’s what Google told me accentuates my features (which does make me feel self-conscious from time to time). I had to update my sense of self — which had previously revolved around on my sense of style — and stop measuring my self-worth based on what my body looked like and instead celebrated what it could do now — temporarily defy gravity!
I’ve learned a lot about others during this transition. In the past, I was told I needed to lose weight to be “healthy,” but recently realized that those weren’t the real concerns at all. Besides, you can’t tell just by looking at someone if they’re healthy or not. I’m more toned now, but I’m still not small, and I know I’ll never be thin. I’ve been told it isn’t ladylike for women to have muscles and that I should pursue an activity that will lean me out. It’s been a powerful realization and has helped me tune out others’ opinions. To overcome it, I remind myself that I’m an expert on my body and long as I respect, trust, and nourish my body to the best of my ability, things will probably work themselves out. Fingers crossed!
In a short sentence or phrase, create and share your own personal mantra for positive and healthy body image.
It’s simple. But it’s not easy.