Writing Memoir

Why is it so hard for women to accept themselves?

Last week, my Public Speaking and Debate students gave their first formal speeches. As always, I was intrigued by what each new set of students will talk about and how they will deliver their speeches. One student in particular gave a speech called, “How to love yourself without losing weight” that brought a tickle of tears behind my eyes.

It wasn’t a nine point list of things you could do to love yourself, but instead she told the story of how she gained weight during her primary school years and how she started to see herself as ugly and chubby. She mentioned how she belongs to the ‘selfie generation’ and her decision to take photos of herself only from the waist up throughout high school.

There was a turning point in which she made the choice to stop beating herself up for her appearance, but what struck me was how personal and vulnerable her speech was (this class is only a few weeks in), and the fact that she’s quite adorable-looking and not overweight at all. I felt myself relating to tale of looking back at old pictures and realizing there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, but boy did I think there was.

Ironically, at the beginning of class, when we were standing in a circle and I was leading them in warm-up exercises, another student casually mentioned how she felt fat. I turned my head towards her and said, “No, you are not. Not even close.”

“I exercise so hard every day, but I still look like this.”

Incredulously, I took her words in, as well as the slim dark leggings she was wearing.

“You’re NOT fat. You’re fine.”

This, unfortunately, wasn’t the first (or last, I’m sure) time a teenager or young adult in my class has declared that she’s bigger than she really is. I always insist that they’re not and I try to nip it in the lotus bud as quickly as possible without making a grand deal about it. But to be clear, no one who’s morbidly obese or who is in medical danger has said, “I’m fat” to me.

Now, don’t think for one minute that Asians are not getting larger like Americans because like acne, teens around the world are experiencing the phenomena of a more sedentary lifestyle along with tasty junk food and sugary drinks. For the ‘selfie generation’ I do wonder what’s in store for a future life without the filters.

But I know how my students feel because I was once a teenager and even now, I sometimes battle with it, even though I know that I’m considered lucky to have never gained a lot of weight, and I’ve been told all my life that I’m thin.

Admiring the different shades and shapes. Chiang Rai, Thailand, 2014.

Then on the following day or two, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I saw a post from a fellow blogger friend on turning 45. She confessed it was challenging to see herself age, to see the wrinkles and to understand that her eye sight and body wasn’t what it used to be. However, she was going to try to be more mindful and enjoy life’s little moments. But since she’s just six months older than me, I found her words thought-provoking.

She reminds me of another friend who I met in Thailand, teaching at the same school. She’s striking, tall and I’m fairly certain she’s been told that she’s beautiful from a young age, and has she ever modeled? I remember when she started freaking out because she was turning 30. I thought she was overreacting, but then the reason why I brought the two women together in my mind is because they are both very attractive.

My thoughts next turned to celebrities and how I find myself scrutinizing to see if they’ve “had work done” or when I see friends from high school on Facebook, who’s aging well and not-so-well. Following that, I started to ponder America’s obsession with youth and appearances.  So, it’s really no wonder we women find ourselves staring at the mirror again and again throughout our years.

In my 20s, I felt like I didn’t appreciate myself as much as I should have. I was taking on the task of being an adult and that was serious business. When I was in my 30s, I finally relaxed about the way I looked. And those can be great years of looking youthful, but also having the brains behind it.

When I turned 40, I minded, I mean it is a big number, one that I used to associate with ‘mom’s’, but I told myself it’s just a number, it’s a privilege and honestly, I didn’t feel forty. I learned how much our perception of age changes with the years. And it’s with great hilarity that I try to convince my students that 41, 42, 43, or 44 is not old, and to borrow my brother’s words, “simply half way there”.

But I have to admit, nowadays, I’m glad I was never told I was beautiful or gorgeous. I think for the “Elizabeth Taylor’s of the world”, getting greyer is tougher because society often reminded you of how wonderful you looked. We can’t help, but form an attachment to our appearance. Watching yourself change with each passing year is something that I don’t think anyone can quite prepare you for though. Aging happens to other people.

You know, I never understood botox until I saw the lines around my own eyes. It’s hard not to cringe. Yet, I’m determined to stay natural and accept the years on my face and body.

Asia in many ways is absolutely horrific when it comes to judging by appearances which is why I was concerned that I’d never be able to teach English looking Asian. But the difference here is at least the older generation gains respect. I feel like in the States, older people are considered ‘in the way’ or ‘slow drivers’. When my eldest student gave his speech he started off with a traditional greeting of putting his hands together and all the students greeted him back in return without thinking, just muscle memory, pure culture.

Then again, maybe Asia is simply a good example of the old and new ways clashing. Braces on your teeth are a sign of privilege and wealth; SUVs are status markers and traveling outside the country, a big benchmark of success.

Making new friends, Cuenca, Ecuador 2010.

The world seems upside down, but if we understand history, it always feels this way and yet, I can’t help but wonder why we keep recycling old negative messages: profits over people, and appearances over actions.

Isn’t it funny how when you first meet someone you might think they are attractive or not so attractive, but then you get to know them and how much their looks can change? As an expat I meet people from all over the world, all different ages and as a teacher, my students surprisingly vary a good deal, too. I can say with certainty that everyone has an opportunity to raise your eyebrows and furrow them as well.

But the point is this: you will age, but your attractiveness lies in how you treat other people, animals, Mother Earth and yourself. It’s in what you say, and how you say it. It’s in the stressful situations you find yourself in, how do you handle it? It’s in the micro-moments. It’s in what you expect of others, the language you use, and, of course, your deeds.

So I think the reason why women (and men) find it difficult to accept themselves is because the world doesn’t seem interested in training us to be good people. They want us to behave, and living in fear is a powerful way to control a population. But if we could remember that we are beyond our bodies, I think we’d rediscover words like ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ which don’t necessarily have to be heavily-laden religious terminologies so much as an intuitive expression of what we already sense and know to be true. I am more than the physical, a husk or empty shell. I’m a living breathing person, damn it, and there’s more to me than this.

 

Do you struggle with your appearance?

WP advertising fail on my blog
My brother brought this ironically placed WP ad on this blog post to my attention.
Advertisements

48 thoughts on “Why is it so hard for women to accept themselves?

  1. I’m 43, newly single, and today I tried (unsuccessfully) to go bathing suit shopping for the first time in a couple of years. So this post struck a cord on many levels 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, dear. Newly single? I suppose you’re not going to blog about that, are you? Geez. Sorry. But then again, I need to head over to your site to catch up!

      Ahhh, the dreaded bathing suit shopping. *groan* The good thing about living in Asia is that the ladies cover up, so you can wear a ‘grandma-looking’ suit as a young woman and no one bats an eye lash. Hahahaha.

      But I’m sure you look fine. 🙂 Remember that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oooh boy, I could be here all day if I rehash all the times I’ve struggled with my appearance, but it would be rude to take over your comments section with enough text to write a long blog post. Let’s just say growing up Asian was tough on the confidence. The first time I went back to Korea to visit family after immigrating to Canada, I was 11 years old. I distinctly recall the shock of having comments made about my body so freely, having grown up in Western culture where you don’t often get people that say point blank to your face “you’re fat”. Comments ranging from “you would be so pretty if you lost weight / why waste a pretty face like that?” to “you’re gonna break the trampoline if you jump on it, haha!” Lovely.

    If I think about it too much, then I find myself falling back into a spiral of self-consciousness. I shift my mind to being grateful that I have strong legs to get around, delicate hands that create art, eyes that can see (albeit with the help of corrective lenses), and ears that can hear the most beautiful of sounds. I appreciate that my body is a sum of its parts, and as a collective, it can do incredible things. And plus, my dog loves me no matter how I look, so I try to imagine loving myself through my dog’s eyes. It’s silly, but works!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG. I love that. Yes. I remember hearing the advice from an old woman about love saying, “find someone who loves you more than you do”. There’s something defintely in that. The pure adoration of an animal works, too!

      Yeahhhh, Asian culture. I know. I was shocked when people I didn’t know (distant family) would touch my face and mention how bad my skin was.

      Or that I had gained weight, but that’s considered a compliment in Thailand. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time and again, I was taken back.

      But your absolutely right, it’s such a gift to see, hear, move and be free. Truly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha yes, nothing quite like the pure loving gaze of a dog… as it tracks the tasty treat in your hand, lol.

        Ooof, comments about gaining weight is a compliment in Thailand? That is a new one. I love how natural it is for my aunts to be like, “EAT SOME MORE” and then “WHY YOU SO FAT” in the same breath, like, how do you expect me to not be fat with the amount of food you’re giving me? Asian culture can be baffling.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For me it’s “Don’t eat too much, you’re going to get fat” from my mom. But when you’re in Thailand, a little fat is a good thing for some and for others it’s an obsession to be thin, thin, thin.

        Like

  3. Wow this post was really beautiful and eloquent. Thank you, Lani.

    I agree with you 100%. I remember when I was in high school I thought I was severely obese, despite being much thinner than I am now. I may be “fatter” now, but I’m just happy with the way I look. It’s all about our minds and our self-reflection. In some ways, it all boils down to confidence and loving yourself. I *feel* more attractive than I’ve ever felt, although in reality, I’m probably not as attractive as I was when I was 18-20, which was when I thought I was butt ugly. Back then I didn’t think much of myself. Now, I do.

    I think what you said about spirit and soul have a remarkable effect on how we age. Enjoying life, loving yourself and not being too caught up in hollow objects of happiness such as good looks and monetary wealth is, I think, the the *true* secret to aging well. I have encountered so many 50-60 year olds that feel and act so young. They may not look 20, but they definitely don’t look their age. They usually don’t wear make up. They are smiling, happy, carefree, open to friendships, traveling–they’re just full of that soul and spirit you’re talking about. These are the women I look up to and hope I can one day become.

    I hope my ramblings made sense, but your post struck such a chord with me and was really inspirational. Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. What’s that quote? “Beauty is wasted on youth”. It’s craaaazzyyy how much we look down on ourselves during the ‘prime’ of our lives.

      I’m glad you liked the ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ bit. I felt like I was taking a risk putting that in. But you brought up a great example of meeting older women who shine and sparkle with energy and good humor.

      I think it’s good to be around women like that. Not only for their wisdom, but to see what aging can look like, that reality doesn’t have to be a representation of “Hollywood” ideals.

      xxoo

      Like

  4. It was fun listening to your audio! I am 62 years old, walk 4 kilometers a day, and not always at a fast pace, but my calves are sure strong and toned. In Portugal I see women 20 years older than I am wearing dresses and heels and absolutely owning the skin they are in. I can’t wear heels…because I was not born walking on cobble stones my entire life and I would probably break something. So, I dress comfortably and I hope a little bit stylish too. Sometimes I see a really sexy dress in a shop window and tell my husband, “Oh, Look!, I would have worn that when I was younger!” To which he says, “And you would have looked damn good too!” He still calls me beautiful and I am grateful for every moment I have in this body that I try to keep moisturized and fed with water, lotions and fresh good food. I love my scars, wrinkles, age spots, the pretty grey streak in my naturally brown hair and the little aches and pains that happen when you aren’t even doing anything! It beats the alternative!

    As always I send my love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww. What a beautiful answer. You and Mr. Hat are such a lovely inspiration. I hope you know that!

      Oh, yeah, I’m not a high heel person either. In Ecuador, they’d walk with a friend, arms looped and I figured it was the only way they did it without falling. 555

      I naturally give thanks for my body when I’m doing yoga or stretches, but not when I’m bicycling. Perhaps if I did then I’d get less furious with traffic…hmmm.

      Sending love back!

      Like

  5. What an interesting article. I actually have problems with my appearance. It started when I quit my professional sports and I gained a lot of weigh/ fat. Then I was able to get in shape again for a few years till I got ill in 2015. Ever since then I haven’t been able to stick to a healthy diet at all for more than a week, somehow in my mind the part which made me focus on personal things just vanished in the course of a year of illness. I somehow have the feeling that in case my wife or my kids would say something like “get in shape!” I might actually do it and stick to a more healthy diet again…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have another friend who gained a lot of weight during his illness. And what’s interesting is when I think about friends throughout the years who have struggled with the same thing. You’re not alone. And how could it not really take you down mentally, too?

      The good news is, my friend got better and so did you 🙂 I think children can be a great motivator to get your diet back in shape. I had a friend who quit smoking for his kids. You can do it. You want to be healthy for them, right?

      Like

  6. Oh, I always struggle with body image. I have to remind myself how superficial and artificial beauty standards are. By Rubenesque standards, after all, I am hot af.

    Excellent and thought-provoking post, Lani.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good. Because beauty standards really are. Living in Southern Cal. can’t be easy either. We don’t celebrate unique qualities anymore, it seems, and we’re too stuck with the outside and not what matters on the inside. It’s really weird, actually.

      Thanks 🙂

      Like

  7. As someone who has struggled with her appearance her whole life this post really resonated with me. Basically I’ve thought I was fat my whole life (even when I wasn’t). Moving to Japan, where I was constantly surrounded by skinny Japanese girls, was a huge blow to my self esteem. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others and we really shouldn’t. We need to look deeper inside the people we think are beautiful outside to find out if they are beautiful inside too where it counts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wrote an article about this some time ago that you might like to read: https://lanivcox.com/2010/02/06/beautiful-you-and-me/

      Basically, it’s how I stopped being jealous of other women and stopped comparing myself to them, too.

      I know for white women living in Asia, it can be quite a blowback to hear that you are suddenly ‘large’ or ‘fat’ in comparison to them. I feel like those words are used quite freely without the cultural context/understanding behind them.

      Yes. Be beautiful on the inside! Now, that’s something we can change and have it last forever.

      Thanks for finding me. I’ll go visit you now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such an important question, and the issue of self-image has always been a rather touchy one. Sometimes we can’t help the way we look because of a certain condition – for instance we might be naturally skinny due to metabolism or due to some kind of illness, and likewise if we are on the heavier side. ‘profits over people, and appearances over actions.’ Agree that this rings true to a large extent these days with what we see in the media…and how many of us perceive others. I think there’s some innate fear in us that we fear to be judged; we don’t want to be attacked and first physical impressions can make a break a kind of connection we might be hoping for.

    I’ve never had much of an issue with the way I look. Like you, I’ve been skinny most of my life. But as I’m growing older I do notice my body changing physically and mentally – like some clothes feeling tighter compared to last year, or having mood swings because of eating certain foods or stressing out too much. Guess it’s true our body isn’t as flexible as it is so many years ago. One thing I don’t like about myself in all honesty are the dark circles under my eyes. I’ve always had them, even as a kid. Always been that way and tried so many ways of getting rid of them, from drinking lots of water, to getting a good night’s sleep…nothing works. That is the only part of me that makes me feel insecure. A few years ago I discovered a concealer that works excellent at covering it up – and now I look more awake and less scary sleep-deprived at work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My friend B, struggles with dark circles, too. I can’t say she found a cure, but it’s funny I never noticed them until she pointed them out.

      I think she mentioned her family fondly refers to her as having ‘panda eyes’. Which reminds me of what we usually consider our ‘worst’ feature somoene else will consider endearing, or won’t consider it a problem at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My whole life and it’s exhausting! I too always thought I was awkward, especially in middle school and have also looked back at pictures and realized I looked fine, but definitely didn’t feel that way. I’ve always been thin but have had years of focusing on my stomach needing to be flatter and acne/skin issues have been my greatest stressor! I do find my 30s to be the most comfortable body image time since being little and being carefree before those obsessions set in. I even removed a dark freckle from my nose at 14 because I was so horribly self conscious about it. It truly is what’s inside that counts but society has a really bad habit of judging and making decisions about others based on appearance. Health should be the main concern for us, not looking perfect for others. I’ve found when I feel good, that’s when I appear to be the most confident, and I worry less about the little things that I tend to obsess about. Great post Lani! 💕🌻😊~Anne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! It should be health, right? OMG. You nailed. it. Sometimes I have a hard time believing it’s 2017 and we are still chasing our tails over the silliest and most fleeting objects.

      When we excercise and take care of our mental health, we definitely feel more relaxed, probably more ourselves, too.

      Like

  10. Great post, Lani. I think I’m lucky I never really struggled with my appearance… because I never cared about it! I cared so little that you should see the horrible hair and clothes I had when I was more or less between 16 and 23, haha. But your text resonated with me anyway because I’ve seen this insane body obsession in some of my friends. I know it also happens to men, but it’s definitely way worse in women. It’s like our “value” is proportional to how pretty/how skinny we are. It’s simply disgusting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you brought up a good point. Even if we are accepting or have learned to accept our bodies, it’s crazy when we see how our friends (and family) act around the issue. Well, creating an issue. Seemingly well meaning remarks like “You should…” or “You’d look better if…” certainly don’t help either.

      Like

  11. I struggled with my appearance when I was younger—as a teenager my skin wasn’t exactly perfect (though it still isn’t now, but I’ve learnt to accept it!), but what made it worse was that I always had “helpful” family members who were always keen to point it out and their amazing things they used to clear up their skin. Just made me feel even worse!

    Getting old I’ve found it easier to accept my little body quirks for what they are—I have a bit of a belly, my upper arms are a bit big, my butt and hips are big, but hey those things are what make me, me. That doesn’t stop me from occasionally staring at myself in the mirror scrutinising my body a little bit. Or more trying to remember if I always looked like this! 😀

    The only thing I’m being more aware of are the increasing number of grey hairs that keep popping up! My mum went grey in her late 30s/early 40s, so not too far off. Though I’ve already said, if I start going grey I’m just going to go with it and rock it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, family, and even myself saying things to others. I cringe. When we were younger we didn’t know any better, we didn’t realize how lucky we were, or how good we had it.

      I remember when a friend accidently burned a little bit of her cheek with a curling iron and how she didn’t want to go outside in public because she was so embarassed by it. Funnily, I had to give her a reality check, as in you are not permanently disfigured or something, like get a grip, it’s just a minor burn and you can’t even tell! And that brought her to class where she tried to use her hair to hide her face. *rolls eyes* Hahahhhaa.

      Oh, yeah, people love to say how thin I am and then I have to confess that I have ‘hidden fat’ and then they look at me like I”m insane and yeah, I probably am because I’m scruitnizing myself tooooo much. And trying to be an ‘ideal beauty’. Bah!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is lovely and thoughtful. I especially like this statement: “But the point is this: you will age, but your attractiveness lies in how you treat other people, animals, Mother Earth and yourself.” I realized all that sometime after 40, and like you, I am just embracing who I am and what I like like, at every age. 54 doesn’t hurt at all, and I can’t wait to see what 75 looks like. Thanks for the reminder of what’s important.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I like what you said, “54 doesn’t hurt at all”. It’s funny how we have these preconceived ideas of what age and aging means and then we discover that on the inside we’re the same!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. S. Korea is just awful in this regard. One major reason I’m allergic to the idea of visiting (as I’ve never been back since leaving as a mite.) It’s all about looks, even the men (they look so fruity, makes me gag). We are awesome compared to how we’ll look in 30 yrs. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yessss. We slay. I look at younger women and I’m never envious. I never want to be that age again, all worried about what other people think of my appearance, feeling insecure in my own skin, inadequate, etc, etc. I’m sooo much better now.

      Ah, yeah, the men there wear more makeup than me! It’s the plastic surgery capital of the world, isn’t it? No, thank you!

      Like

  14. I suspect in Asia in the professional groups and higher up, I would be gently forgotten or disparaged on the side: I haven’t worn makeup in the past decade. I have sunspots, fine wrinkle lines and some grey hair strands.

    Yes, I work in the office with men and women daily. I dress decently if not boring conservative…and shockingly I bike in the most unfashionable way… 50% my clothing don’t match, colour-wise, etc. I carry ugly panniers, not chic purse.

    In some ways in certain North American workplaces, it’s SLIGHTLY easier to be a woman without overly conforming 100%. As for personal style at non-work related gatherings, I just stop worrying how I look. My health now is most important.

    Sure I obsessed over my looks in my teens and 20’s. Good thing I was never valued as a beautiful chick: it makes aging and other uncontrollable physical matters abit less worrisome.

    Like

  15. Your students complaining about being fat reminded me of the day I took my daughter and her twelve-year-old friends to the lake. They were sunning on the shore, all of them complaining about being fat. I was shocked because they all were so slim. It must be the age.

    I think I’ve always been at least somewhat concerned about my looks. Being a lover of sweets and not very athletic, I’ve had a hard time over the years keeping my weight down. Being ten pounds or so overweight has not been unusual for me. Now that I’m 74 years old, I simply accept my looks, wrinkles and all. I’ve never considered a face lift. After a face lift I figure you’d have to do something to the rest of your body so it would all fit together. Where would it all stop?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. I think that’s the problem. I think once someone starts, they are thrilled with the results and then do something else and it becomes an addiction and that’s how we end up with some folks looking quite unnatural and freaky.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I relate to this SO much. I’m at my heaviest ever and hilariously cannot lose weight because I’m on steroids for life to stay alive after my fourth baby (I died, was revived, have tons of health issues from all of that). But I saw a meme that said, “I wish I was as fat as the first time I thought I was fat” and I was like- MY LIFE. I remember thinking I was fat my senior year of high school- I over heard a popular girl snicker about me being larger than her. But I was a size 8- dream size now!! But that’s what started the thought and every year I got more and more self conscious. It’s really awful and I feel like I have a duty to get a handle on it because I have 3 girls (and a boy) and I don’t want them to feel this way ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really tough. The way we perceive ourselves and the pressure we feel from the outside to look a certain way. Pretty deadly. Hello, eating disorders.

      Wishing you healthier days and thanks for sharing your story. It means a lot to me. xxoo

      Like

  17. Excellent post Lani! It brought back some uncomfortable memories. When I was around seven or eight I became very chubby. My mom worked in a school cafeteria and she would bring home the extra cinnamon buns and cookies. I had an insatiable sweet tooth and I was in heaven. The weight gain took me surprise, but I remember how people stopped smiling at me and how boys started scalding me with glares that could melt glass. It was very traumatic. In the fifth grade I went on 1000 calories a day and lost the weight, but ever since I have been terrified of ever getting a weight problem again. For a while as an adolescent I actually lost so much weight I had to see a psychiatrist because my dad thought I was getting anorexia. But after I lost the weight the scalding glares disappeared and people began to smile at me again. Officially I prize inner qualities over physical ones like wisdom, knowledge, and kindness, yet when the scales creep up or I see signs of aging, a feeling of panic sets in because a seven year old inside of me is afraid the smiles will go away again. Thanks for expressing the problem so eloquently and succinctly! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How horrible to feel such pressure at a young age. Some things break through the skin and become scars, eh?

      I think we are better off in some ways these days, but other times it feels like self-loathing is at an all time high. I can’t tell!

      Thanks, Lisa.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments create conversations. Let's talk.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s