From a young age, a little boy is taught to view his body as a tool to help him towards success. A little girl is taught that her body exists for ornamentation; that she is a beautiful, delicate decoration meant to sit quietly on a pedestal of male validation. When I was a little girl, I liked to climb trees and catch worms. I loved clothes and I loved color.
My life was overflowing with things that brought me joy. As I grew older, happiness became more complicated than bright colors and fresh air. Happiness was reduced to how the world reacted to me. As I shed my string bean physique and grew curves, the world began to treat me differently. In some ways, the world communicated its dislike to my new body directly. Starting in sixth grade, grown men yelled at me as they drove by, picking apart my body for their satisfaction. Young boys, indoctrinated in toxic masculinity, tore me down to show their affection. Little girls faced their own insecurities by cheering on mine.
These direct attacks did hurt me but the blows that bruised the worst were the more subtle messages. They showed me how I was becoming a woman incorrectly. Everywhere I looked I saw ads telling me how to get rid of every part of my body, how to condense myself into something smaller and more “beautiful.”
The world had planted a seed of self-hatred in me and it took root. I spent my entire adolescence fighting my body and nourishing a parasitic mindset that was sapping my life and my joy. Every time I failed at something, I thought that I could make up for my failure if I was just skinnier. Despite the skipped meals, exercise on an empty stomach, and dark minutes kneeling on a bathroom floor, every time I looked in the mirror all I saw was someone to be disappointed in.
Once I was in college, my life began to fill with people who made me feel accepted as I was and who showed me how bright my future could be. My relationship with food grew better during my first two years in college, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of shame surrounding my body. I could never imagine loving my body without thinking there was a way to make it better. I started modeling in an attempt to find that love. I saw models talking about self-love, acceptance, and recovery. I saw their bodies and their souls. I thought they were beautiful, and I believed that if I could think they were beautiful then I could find that beauty within myself.
In this year of creative work, I have watched my body transform before my eyes even if no part of me changed physically. I felt like a veil was lifted and I was seeing myself for the first time. I may not remember the first moment I looked into a mirror and felt disappointment, but I do remember the moment I looked in the mirror and felt true love and acceptance. I saw all the parts of my body I was taught to loath, and I suddenly recognized how beautiful they are, for they are what make me who I am.
A year ago today I couldn’t see my life without disordered eating or body dysmorphia. I thought that those feelings would be beside me forever. I can't begin to describe the feeling of freedom it is to walk unburdened by voices of self-hatred and insecurity. Although there is much credit to give to all the amazing creatives that have helped me along the way, representation is what inspired me to take my first steps towards recovery. Seeing people who looked like me, who were proud and comfortable in themselves, made all the difference.
In my career as a creative, I plan to work on expanding representation within the modeling industry. I may have struggled with body image for a long time but I also live in an exceedingly privileged body. As a white person I will never face the immense hardships of systemic racism and due to my smaller size I do not face the systemic obstacles of fatphobia. I want to spread awareness about fatphobia and racism through representation, open conversation and the inclusion and support of marginalized creatives. I hope to one day see a world where every person’s body is loved and accepted as it is and everyone can look at beautiful works of art and see themselves in them.
Photos by Kayla Alexis (@kaylaalexis_photography on Instagram)