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Paint me like one of your Instagram girls

By Tricia Ferdinandt

I remember when I was younger and in primary school, we started to learn about puberty in Health Education and how girls and boys alike would see changes in their bodies as they grow up. I did not really think much of it and instead, I welcomed these changes as they made me feel like a woman and not a little girl anymore. I started getting these changes when I was 9; I remember that not many of my classmates caught on as early as I did. I wore a singlet under my clothes, but I didn’t look into it much. I still went about my gymnastic and ballet classes all the same.

Over time, as I transitioned into secondary school, I was not as lean and skinny as I used to be. I weighed steadily at 55 kg pretty much throughout secondary school, which was acceptable for my height. I never really gained or lost weight. We ran a lot during P.E. classes to train for our 2.4 km run. Other than that, I did not really look after my diet or health. That would go on to be something that I regret.

Members of my family would joke about my weight and observed if I had lost or gained weight at practically every family gathering. I did not look to them for their approval nor did I understand why they were policing the way my body looked as if it were of any concern to them since it was my body. I would understand their genuine health concerns for me as they advised me to take less sugary drinks and eat less junk food. Other remarks like how my hips would get more round in the future once I had kids of my own just fell upon my deaf ears. Honestly, I loved my hips. I had a small waist and I loved the way my rounder hips would complement my figure. Of course, that’s a different story now that I gained almost 30 kg in the last 4 years.

I have been struggling with depression and anxiety over the course of my adolescent years. I have difficulty coping with my emotions, leading me to sometimes harm myself and others. There have been many low points in my life, some of which I brought upon myself. Others habits include horrible eating habits, a disruptive sleeping pattern, and a non-existent exercise routine. Looking after myself was not important to me at all. As the number on the scales kept increasing, I chose to avoid it and run away, like I always do with my problems.

The comments from family, friends, and even partners kept coming. They were mostly hurtful words stitched together with good intentions. I would think a lot about what people said after, about the “burger going down to my butt” or oil creating more “moon craters” on my face. Not only did I struggle with my weight, I hated my acne-scarred skin. The acne on my cheeks, forehead, and even my back could be connected with a pen to create constellations. I was extremely sensitive about my body, weight, and the way I looked. Something as simple as someone staring at me too long could send me into a frenzy. I remember my boyfriend staring at my protruding stomach when I asked if we could have our lunch at my favourite American fast-food chain. Although he had no ill intentions and did not mean it in the way I interpreted, it scarred me.

I wished with all my heart that I could just be like the girls of Instagram, with the killer figure and perfect skin. Beautiful, stunning, but not realistic. While praying hard to look like someone else, I learnt the hard lesson of acceptance and self-love. We are all beautiful and unique in our own special ways. Ironically, it might seem like the grass is greener on the other side, but I can assure you that everyone has their own insecurities. People who pick on others’ flaws and faults and take joy in bringing someone pain are battling demons of their own. That is why instead of getting upset with a classmate of mine who made a rude comment about my weight or appearance, I prayed for him. He can make 1000 comments to bring me down, but I will not give him the permission to hurt me. These people in your life are nothing to you and one should never give them the power to make you upset in any way, shape, or form.

My goal in this journey is not about the numbers or seeking a thumbs up from  others. If I do this to seek approval from others, then I will never be happy. I am doing this for myself, to be the best version of myself. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have flat abs or a bubble butt. Girls on the covers on magazines have their bodies photoshopped and retouched. Love your love handles, muffin tops, and thunder thighs. Treat your body right and it will treat you right too.

Author’s Bio: Tricia Ferdinandt is your resident brown baby. Her hobbies include adding memes to her album collection and binge-watching makeup tutorials. When she’s not stuDYING in school, she’s probably at Starbucks trying to convince the barista she has 60 stars to redeem a free drink.

Featured image by Colleen Clark.

 

 

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Winning the Impossible Fight

By Deborah Wee

“Life must be easy when you look that way.”

This thought used to cross my mind while watching the willowy, impossibly stunning bombshells of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show strutting across the runway and swaying their hips with confidence.

Model Cameron Russell in Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2012 Source: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images North America

I was aware that it was physically impossible for the vast majority of women to ever achieve that tall, hourglass frame. But I had always assumed that the 5 per cent who were blessed with the type of body glorified by the media would have nothing to be insecure about.

Little did I know how wrong I was.

According to a 2007 study by the City University in London, it turns out that fashion models are more likely to have lower self-esteem than people who are not models.

American model Cameron Russell made a similar revelation on TED Talks in 2013, when she confessed to being insecure about her body. “I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like everyday,” she revealed, adding that models are possibly the most physically insecure women on the planet.

I used to think that women like Russell never worried about looking “inadequate” because they already had that “ideal” image.

But it seems as if even the most conventionally beautiful women in society are not spared the intense scrutiny that women often face about their looks, and dealing with this scrutiny is a never-ending battle that chips away at their self-confidence. The message seemed clear: when it comes to women’s bodies, “perfect” isn’t perfect enough. There is always some “flaw” that everyone else is eager to point out.  

In other cases, body types perceived as “ideal” or “desirable” still end up becoming associated with negative stereotypes. Last month, American actress Ariel Winter spoke out on Refinery29 against body shaming after enduring a long history of social media backlash for – you guessed it – her body. Running a quick Google Image search, I quickly concluded that the Modern Family star fulfilled mainstream standards of physical attractiveness – she’s voluptuous, shapely and simply sexy. Didn’t society favour that kind of body, epitomised by the iconic fictional character Jessica Rabbit, whose desirability is consistently highlighted in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Ariel Winter for Refinery29, May 2017 Source: Danielle Levitt

Yet, it seems that society still finds ways to shame women who have been encouraged by the media to show off their curves. That was the case for Winter, who does not shy away from posting pictures of herself in bikinis and small dresses. “When I first got my curves I was so excited, but then people on the internet made me feel bad about it,” she told Us Weekly last October. Her large bust size has continued to draw negative attention – when Winter wore the same bathing suit alongside a thinner and lankier friend, she was still singled out and branded a “slut”.

It is already problematic that women are pressured to conform to narrow standards of physical attractiveness. I barely need to illustrate what such beauty standards do to the majority of women who cannot attain them. In fact, it has been found that women with normal body mass indexes and overweight women have lower self-esteem after looking at comparatively thinner models.

But what is baffling is that for the women who do meet such standards, “sexy” is still considered “slutty”, and willowy models are still judged for the smallest imperfection every time they step out in public.

The pursuit of the “ideal” female body is an impossible fight.

Feminist scholar Sandra Lee Bartky pointed this out in 1990 when she argued that prescribed and “ideal” standards of femininity are a “set-up” in which every woman will fail in some way. She argues that this is because the bodily transformations women must go through to achieve the “ideal” female body are too “radical and extensive”.

But, it seems that failure is also inevitable because it has long been determined that a woman’s body will never be free of criticism. When it comes to beauty standards, women can never win. The only way we can triumph is to reject such beauty standards and scrutiny altogether.

I understand that this is easier said than done; the peer pressure to conform to such standards is high, even without the media shoving them down our throats. But I realised not long ago that attempting to battle an unwinnable fight is just not worth it.

In the past, when someone commented on a physical “flaw” that I needed to cover up with cosmetics, I did as I was told. But when I returned with my supposedly “improved” self, they would quickly point out another flaw. Approval never came, and I’ve realised that it never will. So, I decided that I would no longer alter myself for someone else’s approval, and I’ve been happier since.

There is, of course, the grander and more onerous project of changing the general attitude that women’s bodies are eternally flawed and deserving of criticism. But until then, if society is always determined to find physical “flaws” in us, then why not just reject their criticisms and learn to see the beauty in who we are? If you no longer see your individual physical attributes as inadequacies, then you cannot lose.

About the author: Deborah is a popular culture-obsessed political science major who swoons over 1990s boy bands and holds solo jam sessions covering pre-2012 Taylor Swift songs. She is an advocate for gender equality and wants to promote a world where no one is or feels limited by their gender. She also gets a tad bit over-excited when given a keyboard and a blank Microsoft Word document, or when asked to share her opinion on, well, anything.

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Body Shaming: “Harmless” Teasing

By Jasmine Loo

When I was 12, I used to tease my best friend about her larger than average breasts. My nickname for her included adding the title “Big Boobs” at the back of her actual name. She’d tell me to stop, but I didn’t really think much of it – after all, it was just harmless teasing.

Back then, there was also a plump girl in my class. She was teased by everyone who called her mean names like “fatty”, “whale”, “fat girl”, amongst others. At that age, we viewed it as harmless fun… But was it really just that?

When I was 13, I started getting really bad breakouts. People started noticing and pointing it out. At first, I wasn’t really bothered by their comments. However, I started getting really upset when they constantly commented on my pimples. It made me feel very self conscious and uncomfortable in my own skin. I started getting pretty annoyed when people told me that I should “wash my face” or that I shouldn’t “eat peanuts or drink milk” because those food cause acne. Despite trying almost everything, my skin was still the same – disgusting, bumpy and damaged.

I really envied my classmates who had clear, blemish-free skin. I hated my own pimply and bumpy face.

Now, I’m 19 years old and still uncomfortable in my own skin. But, I’m learning how to love and accept it. I may not have clear skin, but it will not stop me from going out without make-up. The fact that I don’t have clear skin does not define who I am.

In retrospect, I should not have joined in on the “harmless teasing”. I should not have teased my best friend for having big breasts and making her less confident. However, I cannot change what has happened. The most I can do is to try and stop myself from making other people feel bad about themselves. I will strive to use my words to encourage others to embrace their flaws and be confident from here on out.

About the Author: Jasmine is an awkward teenager who wants to make a difference.

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My Looks Don’t Need Your “Concern”

By Gwen Guo 

When I was in kindergarten, princess dresses were all the rage. I’d wear them not just for special occasions, but also on normal days. You could call me happy-go-lucky — everyday was a day to celebrate something and feel good about myself. Those were also the years when my parents enrolled me in swimming classes. The first time I felt conscious about my looks was when I was celebrating my 6th birthday, where I wore a fancy white princess dress.

Everything was great — there were presents, a cake and singing. Yet, some of the grownups felt compelled to comment about my skin, asking me why I was so tan and declaring that princesses look strange with dark skin. At that age, I didn’t think it was anything. But after looking at the developed photos of myself from that birthday party, I began to feel that something was amiss. Growing up, all images of princesses in movies, TVs and books were always fair-skinned. Maybe the grownups were onto something after all.

Eventually, I grew out of the phase of wanting to be a princess and picked up basketball in primary school. I’m fortunate that the all-girls’ school which I attended valued sports, so there wasn’t much pressure to be more “feminine”. After all, primary school is about play, fun and exploration. My friends and I even roleplayed as Amazonian queens during recess; we would climb onto rocks pretending to be scouting for enemies, or create imaginary ammunition out of pebbles. Being surrounded by children my age without interference from adults, we could aspire to be whatever we wanted to be without fear of judgement.

But things changed in secondary school, where one’s image and physical appearance holds more weight in society. Being an outdoors person, my tan skin had remained with me throughout my life, even till this stage. Even my mother was concerned about me developing freckles and blemishes, and would occasionally comment about my skin tone. At this point, I had become more conscious of other flaws like my jiggly bits, sparse eyebrows and thinning hair. I felt like I didn’t fit in for a plethora of reasons – I was socially awkward, liked sports but wasn’t particularly good at it, abysmal in my studies, shy, and hideous compared to everyone else. While everyone else was coming the streets of Orchard Road to shop for new clothes that were “in fashion”, I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs.

Me during my secondary school days.

During this stage, I also picked up video games as a hobby. Going out to meet my all-male gaming friends in person was both exciting and terrifying. I could almost smell disappointment when these boys, who met me for the first time, realised that the “gamer girl” they’d been so eager to meet was just a tanned tomboy wearing her brother’s clothes. One even told me that my hips looked “too big” just because I was wearing bermudas.

Then, at 16, I met my first boyfriend through gaming. Having a boy like me despite the way that I looked was flattering, and I treated his opinions with great consideration. I thought he accepted me for the way I looked. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out so rosy – my boyfriend started policing my clothes, “recommending” that I wear shorter skirts, heels and makeup. Somehow, even my thinning crown became something he had to talk about. “I’m concerned about your balding,” he’d express. I’d buy hair tonic and desperately try to thicken my hair while trying on new makeup, just to appease him. But whatever I did to my appearance was never good enough for him. The only saving grace was that I genuinely began to enjoy applying makeup, but he still managed to find an angle for criticism. “Who the hell wears blue eyeshadow during the day?” he sneered.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back was what he said to me after finding out that I had suffered second-degree burns after irresponsibly playing beach volleyball without sunblock for 3 hours. “You look like a black piece of crap,” he snipped. For the first time, I decided to stand up for myself, and told him that his words hurt me. Predictably, he brushed it off by proclaiming that it was just a joke.

Harnessing the dignity that I still had, I finally left him after enduring unreasonable expectations for months. I went on with my life, more confident with the realisation that I was in control of my own appearance and that I had the power to say no. After all, lions should never concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. In Polytechnic, I experienced so much more freedom – I wore my makeup the way I wanted to, chose the clothes that fit me instead of forcing myself to fit into modelesque clothes… That positive energy was eventually translated into the outgoing person that I am today.

Me during my Poly days.

To be honest, there are days when I still suffer from low self-esteem. I didn’t dare to walk out of the house without makeup until I was 22, and I still feel conscious about my fluctuating body fat percentage till this day. But, as I continue to grow and form a deeper and larger identity beyond the surface of my skin, I know that these low phases will become shorter.

For those of you reading this, please understand that your body choices are a personal right, and nobody can take this right away from you. Go forth and face the world, whether you are fat or skinny, made-up or bare-faced, tattooed or not, bald or hairy, firm or flabby! If people comment negatively on your appearance, a simple reply would be, “Thanks, but I don’t think my looks need your concern.”

Me today!

 

About the Author: Gwen is one of the three co-founders of IMBA Interactive, a startup which provides audio services to video game developers. Being an avid gamer and lover of internet memes, she hopes for a world where games and game communities don’t shy away from inclusivity.