- the physical structure of a person, including the bones, flesh, and organs.
- the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.
I am 18 years old. I have made it through life, thus far, with very minimal external challenges. I am healthy and able-bodied, and for that, I try to remind myself how blessed I am. I know that my body is not my enemy, and that it has been nothing but kind to me even when I have not been kind to it. But years and years of wrestling with outward appearance has buried much of my thankfulness and my happiness, and I think I may finally be uncovering the love my body needs and deserves.
My journey through adolescence and puberty is probably similar to many other girls, but I really believed I was the only one who had problems. Acne hit me in 6th grade thus the start of my skin product and makeup experimentation. I grew up with 2 older sisters and my mother, who all wore makeup. When my skin started to bump and redden, I tried a few different things to stop this abnormality. I got bangs to hide my forehead zits (which only increased the acne on my forehead because I’m a greasy girl). I started wearing concealer to make it less noticeable (but trust me, there is nothing more noticeable than a 6th grader wearing makeup). I tried to wash my face more frequently but honestly, at that point I wasn’t even brushing my teeth regularly, as if I was going to wash my face. At this time I also started to get chubby. I had to start shopping in the largest kid sizes, or the small women sizes. This is when fashion got real for me. I figured since I was never going to be noticed for my beautiful face or body, I could be noticed for my style. By 7th grade I had pixie cut, wore my navy blazer everyday, and played with tutus, rain boots, even neon tights. This was such vital growth period in my style journey. And while I was at my most awkward physically, it was some of the healthiest years for my self esteem. It was because I didn’t think I’d ever be “beautiful”, that I began to invest in other areas of my life. Fashion, theatre, school, and music became my focus. (And yes, it gave me a foundation built on something other than appearance but there were other problems that came along with still putting my worth in other places other than my relationship with Jesus, but that’s a whole other story!)
*Editor’s note: as a part of the experience I asked Martha to draw a self portrait (pictured above).
A year or two into high school, there was a shift. My braces came off, I had long blonde hair, and I had thinned out. In late elementary and middle school, I was praying for these things to happen. And while I knew I had grown out of the awkward stage, and noticed boys were paying more attention to me, I became the most insecure I had ever been. I suddenly became hyper-aware and fussy over every little thing, I compared myself to other girls constantly, and trying on clothes became less about finding something I loved and more about finding something I looked good in. In 10th grade I was apart of a touring singing and dancing group that practiced frequently and travelled all summer. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was convinced I was fat. And I was also convinced “fat” was the worst thing I could be. I wasn’t able to truly see what I looked like because I was so polluted with comparison and seeing myself as “never enough”. After that summer, I gained weight quickly because of the abrupt change in my lifestyle. Throughout grades 11 and 12 my weight fluctuated quite a bit, and the thinner I was, the happier, the heavier, the sadder. I was emotionally attached to my weight scale.
This January I was travelling in Australia with my three best friends. Before I left, I was at my thinnest since 11th grade. Living in another country, my weight was not even on my radar, I was so distracted by adventure and travel that I barely thought it about. I’ve been home for over a month and my body seems to be bigger than when I left. When I noticed this, my first reaction was “my goal is to lose [insert number] pounds before university”. I created a game plan immediately. I had this mindset for only a couple of weeks before I noticed some already damaging affects. It was a Sunday morning, and I had on my cream bee sweater, with my cream shoe skirt. (I love pattern on pattern, and same colour outfits, it’s a whole thing for me). While I loved the outfit, all I could see were the parts of my body I needed to change. I realized that my discontent with my body was standing in the way of my creativity. And right there, I dropped my weight loss plan and started a new one, a body positivity plan. While working towards being healthier is never a bad thing, it becomes damaging when the motivation for health only becomes a smaller number at the end of the tunnel. I wore the outfit to church.
Though it seemed my “big moment” for body positivity was only a few weeks ago, I’ve realized it’s been in the works for awhile. Body Positivity is mostly talked about in terms of weight, and shape, but it is really has to do with everything regarding your body! It has to do with my body hair, my acne, even my period. And while I’ve become less embarrassed about my acne over the years, and have discovered that I don’t need to treat my period like its something to hide at all costs (!), body hair has been my biggest recent battle and lesson. I decided to try growing out my leg hair to figure out if I actually preferred shaving or if I only did it because I felt like I was supposed to. For 3 and a half months, I did not shave, and I was so surprised by how I felt. I didn’t hate it. Not shaving was more convenient, I wasted less time, and it didn’t affect how beautiful or feminine I felt. Sadly, the reason I shaved at the 3 and a half month mark was not because I missed the feeling of smooth legs or just felt like it, it was because I was going to a party and was worried about what other people were going to think. After the party, I regretted doing it immediately, mostly because I did it for all the wrong reasons, and because I lost 3 months of leg hair! And that was a huge accomplishment for me! It has about 3 months since that day and I haven’t shaved my leg or armpit hair. I have been called gross, unhygienic and unfeminine. But the truth is, my body has hair, I’ve just made the decision to leave it alone. And I don’t just feel beautiful despite my body hair, I feel beautiful with my body hair. Feeling beautiful is about acceptance. Once I can accept certain parts of myself, then I don’t have to worry about what I look like.
Please don’t hear me incorrectly, the decision to not shave my legs, is not a mightier, holier one than frequently shaving, it’s just a choice. And while I would love to see a world filled with makeup less, body proud, hairy women, I’m not even there yet. I still love wearing makeup, and dying my hair, and plucking my unibrow. Choice is so important, and everyone deserves to make their own. I simply challenge you to analyze why you make certain choices. I don’t plan on giving up on makeup any time soon, but I know I feel more beautiful with it on because I’ve been taught that smooth skin, long eyelashes, and big lips are beautiful. I will continue to dye my hair even though I know it’s mostly because I think my natural hair colour isn’t beautiful. And while Frida Kahlo pulled off a unibrow, I will keep plucking mine because I know I’ll be stared at if I don’t (I was also nicknamed “unibrow Martha” in 5th grade, so there’s some personal opposition there lol). And, while I’m trying to unlearn this, I prefer myself when I’m thinner but it’s because skinny is valued in our culture. It’s so important to uncover why we do the things we do to feel beautiful, because challenging those simple ideas is what leads to real acceptance. I hope one day to truly love my natural self (not just in my home but in public!), but I’m still have some growing to do. I’m a work in progress and I’m practicing loving every piece of my unfinished puzzle.