Self-deprecation leads to body image issues

Originally posted here, @ the Temple-News.com.

I hate New Year’s resolutions. I always promise myself I’ll quit smoking or drink more water or drink less vodka, but then end up falling back into my bad habits, only hurting myself. But this year is different.

This year I have a resolution that could affect my friends, family and relationships. I’m more motivated and more convinced that this one change could benefit my life in both the short and long term. In 2013, I will stop calling myself fat.

Now, realistically, I know I’m far from heavy. In fact, most people would consider me pretty thin. I work as a go-go dancer and a professional cheerleader, and I frequent the gym five days a week. My life basically revolves around being fit, yet I still pick apart my body, totally obsessing over what I call the “tummy pooch” or my muscular thighs.

I wasn’t always this way. In middle school I could scarf down an entire cheese pizza without feeling a morsel of guilt and I considered calories or grams of fat useless information reserved for the overly-worrisome. But as I got older and broke into the horrors of high school, I discovered something quite disturbing: The ideal female body is inspired by stick-thin models in magazines and plastic Playboy Bunnies on reality television.

First thought: How the hell do these women have huge breasts and Barbie-doll waists? Second thought: What can I do to look the same way?

I ended up with an eating disorder, an unhealthy relationship with the scale and a poor body image that followed me into my college career. And now, with graduation right around the corner, I can no longer accept that feeling fat, or not skinny enough, is just a part of my female mentality.

But breaking a habit can be hard when others surround you with the exact same attitude.

At work, when it’s time for me and my fellow go-go dancers to get dolled up, dressing ourselves in lingerie-esque costumes and highlighting our bodies with glitter, there is no shortage of self-deprecating comments. Someone’s always complaining about their “flabby arms” or “manly calves” or declaring their plan to lose 10 pounds and stop eating carbs.

How is this possible? How can girls hired partly due to their slamming bodies be so unhappy with their weight? And it’s not even just young women in ongoing battles with their reflections.

My mom, the most beautiful woman in the whole world — I swear I’m not being biased — recently quit smoking and is trying to shed the extra weight. While she is certainly doing it the healthy way, she often times beats herself up over a tiny piece of cake or missing a workout. She should be celebrating her amazing willpower to kick a nasty health-deteriorating habit, not worrying about an extra five pounds.

And guys, I haven’t forgotten about you. Although I do think the pressures on men to be thin are much less severe, I’ve seen more than one male beat himself up over not measuring up to the David Beckham’s of the world.

In fact, one of my best friends claims he feels even more pressure to be thin as part of the gay community. I’ve watched him yo-yo diet, struggle with binging and purging and idolize other men with super-skinny physiques.

I hate — no, despise — that the people I love are so hard on their bodies. And I can’t help to think that my constant negativity when it comes to my own looks just perpetuates their low self-esteem. I want to surround everyone I meet with positivity. I want to spread a healthy body image around like a disease, forcing my peers, my family and my friends to catch on to the idea of not only accepting but also loving themselves, flaws included.

So I’m asking all of you to join me this year in throwing out the “I feel fat” phrase and replacing it with positivity. Sure, it’s going to be rough, but I promise to cater this column to the obstacles you may face along the way.

I will delve into the wacky world of Photoshop and how it has skewed our perception of reality — seriously, I don’t buy that Beyonce’s cover photo on GQ Magazine was untouched. I will break the myth that being fat or thin is somehow correlated with certain personality traits, and I will try to inspire you to eat and workout to get healthy — not skinny.

Whether you think gaining the freshman 15 is the end of the world as you know it — it’s not — or you’re convinced that reaching a target weight can solve all your problems — it won’t. I promise to be honest and thoughtful in relating my own personal struggles to the body image issues you find yourself facing.

It might sound weird or corny right now, but I promise it won’t in a few months, so say it with me: I am beautiful the way I am, and I love my body the way it is.

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