I used to love fashion magazines. As a middle schooler, only twelve years old, I used to play a game with them. I would look at a model’s stomach, her arms, her thighs. I’d pick out one thing I liked most and imagine switching it for mine. Goodbye, rounded stomach. So long, big feet. I’d imagine what it would be like to wake up in a new body the next day – shocked and amazed by my newly slim physique, tanner skin, or long flowing hair. I thought about how different my life would be if I were ‘beautiful.’ Would I be popular? Would I be dating? Would people like me more if I were prettier?
It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with body image growing up. My eating disorder and recovery are all over this blog, and I’ve detailed how perceptions of my body and those of others affected my self-worth and self-care as a teen. For years, I dreamed about plastic surgery – breast implants, liposuction, and any other major corrections for minor imperfections I could think of. I thought that was normal, because my friends were the same. We would all complain about our bodies and appearance, wishing we looked different, wanting to trade our legs or chests or stomachs for each others’. Sometimes, on bad days, I still play the game. I still imagine being and looking different. I still ask myself those meaningless questions: would I feel more successful if I were thinner? Would I be happier if I were more beautiful?
A few weeks ago, I was playing the game again. I imagined waking up with a different body – one like mine, but a little taller, thinner, smoother. And I realized I would be disappointed. Because as imperfect as this body is, it’s the one I know. As I’ve gotten older and spent more time in this body, I’ve learned to love it better. I’ve learned to appreciate my long legs, even if they are dimpled with cellulite. I’ve learned to appreciate my broad shoulders, my rounded face, even my marked stomach, because they are mine – the only ones I will ever have. And even if I were to take to my body with thousands of dollars and a surgical knife, they would still, at their core, be the same. My skin; my bones; my flesh. Changeable. But not replaceable.
For years I’ve heard that simple phrase, “there’s only one you.” But it never really hit me until today. When you look at deer, or cardinals, or goldfish, they’re all the same. Within their species and families they look almost identical to us. But humans come with such complexity and detail. Freckles and moles, dimples and wrinkles, skin tones and body types and differing heights and weights. We are, each of us, completely unique. There is no one in the world with this face, this body, this mind. Why would I ever trade that in to be “normal?” To be “beautiful” by someone else’s standard?
You, reader, are important. Every little bit of you that you see as an imperfection is just another thing that makes you unique. Every part of you that deviates from the norm is exactly what makes you special. We may not all be beautiful by the standards of our cultures. We may not be beautiful by our own standards. But we are amazingly intricate, remarkable, and lovable. Just as we are.