When I was 12, what I wanted more than anything in the world was surgery to pin my ears back.
Picture me: hair cropped to my (slightly) pointy ears, braces, glasses, pale and scrawny as could be. I earned straight As in class, but knew that any academic success was fruitless. Unless I was beautiful, I’d never be happy. Ever. This fact had been made abundantly clear.
Every day, as I gazed into the mirror of my parents’ hall bathroom, I’d run through the list: Can’t change my skin, can’t change my eyes, can’t change my teeth… but maybe I could fix my (slightly) pointy ears! My horrible, disgusting gargoyle ears! If I could just get those taken care of, maybe the rest would follow and I’d finally be seen for who I was inside.
This thought became an obsession. It was the dawn of widespread internet access, and I learned about ear pinning surgery, the procedure that could “cure” me. A doctor would open flaps in my ears and sculpt the cartilage away, shaping them so they’d lay flat against my head. There would be stitches, and annoying follow-up visits, and pain – sure – but then I would be normal. I begged my mother for the procedure. Not only did she flat-out refuse to allow cosmetic surgery, she denied that my ears were unusual at all. (She was right, but I didn’t know it then). She also reminded me how money works. Even if I were allowed to have the surgery, the amount of money it would cost would mean I’d have to give up my adored music camp that summer: no solos, no seeing my long-distance friends, none of the things I looked forward to all year. She seemed sure that would put things in perspective.
“Music camp?!” I roared through hot, self-pitying tears. “What’s the point of singing if everyone hates me because I’m ugly?!”
I was willing to give up my song for a tiny physical change.
What strong, dark feelings for a person who’d only been on the planet 12 years. I was so caught up in wanting to be found attractive that I would have traded anything – my grades, my talent, the things that made me happy – just to feel OK within my body. And this happened despite loving, supportive parents. It happened despite being involved in sports that taught me my body was strong and useful. It happened even though there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me. And it will almost certainly happen to my children someday. That knowledge angers and terrifies me, and makes me want to go back in time and hug myself… and then change the entire system.
Have you ever skipped a day of school or social event because you just felt too unattractive to be seen by other people?
Do you suck your tummy in, sometimes even when you’re alone?
Have you ever doubted you were lovable because of how you look?
I have. I do.
And that’s why this is body image week.
As I’ve grown up, life has helped me move way past the ears crisis. I love living in my body now, and even when it’s bloated and tired and sporting a bad hair cut, I try to be kind to it. I speak from the heart when I say that I find everyone beautiful in some extraordinary way. And I focus on the idea of physical “beauty” not because I think it’s more important than minds, hearts, or souls, but because we as humans live in bodies. The way we feel about the form we inhabit can’t help but color the way we move through the world. Owning that truth, and figuring out how to improve our view of ourselves, is worth at least a week of thought.
So here are the re-blogs and new pieces you can expect in the coming days:
Tuesday: In which I find out I am considered “plus size” – The first piece I ever wrote for this blog, about how I originally became furious with the fashion and media industries for skewing perceptions of beauty
Wednesday: All women are real women – As I delved deeper into the positive body image community, I started finding some sneaky phrases chipping away at the true message of the “self-love” movement
Thursday: Beauty is truth, truth beauty: models from my community – After reading a study showing that the more we look at diverse body types, the more accepting of them we become, I decided to compile photos of the beautiful people from my community. What I learned from them changed everything.
Friday: Finally, I’ll be asking for help. I’ve always wanted to share Thursday’s “model community” project more widely – but I’m nervous. By Friday, I’ll have written the draft of the piece I plan to submit to a few bigger online forums, and I’m hoping to crowd source a review of it from you amazing writers.
To wrap this up: I’m playing with the idea of extending Body Image Week into two weeks, as I’ve had some offers for guest posts. In my experience, when I talk with people about body image, what moves me the most is when we all make ourselves vulnerable and reveal the times we’ve struggled with loving ourselves – that shared experience is, strangely, so uplifting. If any of you feel like sharing your story (or action plan for change, or just a righteous rant), email me at email@example.com.