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Life by Design


Mirror, mirror on the wall

Posted by Carren |

This was a difficult assignment, but I felt it was worth it. So many people walk the streets with an unhealthy image of themselves. For people looking from the outside, they may seem normal and unperturbed, but they are truly not. For me, this article was a lesson to be kinder to myself and to be more sensitive to others. Even though we think our actions don't matter, they do, because someone's taking notice.
Text by: Carren Jao
Published: MEGA June 2009

Healing a negative body image

“THIGHS? Too chunky. Arms? Too flabby. Skin? Yikes! Where did that spot come from?” These familiar thoughts run through my mind each morning as I prepare for the day ahead. All hope of salvation disappears as I lean closer to the mirror. More and more criticisms barge into my head until I turn away disgruntled.

While others may view me as an average-sized girl with nothing to worry about physically, I share the same failing with most of my kind—being our own worst critic. In fact, in a recent study published by Dove Philippines, it was found that only 3% of Asian women consider themselves beautiful.

Beholding beauty

According to Dr. J. Peter Rubin, a plastic and reconstructive surgery specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Body image is really a subjective, qualitative perception of how you appear to the world.” As our conversation progresses, he further explains that it is “an internalized process with external inputs.” In the labyrinth of a woman’s mind, media messages cross paths with offhanded comments from family, friends, and boyfriends, forming a cocktail ingested imperfectly through our brains. Innocent comments from our childhood grow and take on a life of its own as we mature.

“I realized [I had a body image problem] early on because I was a chubby kid,” shares Karen Ang, President of the International Size Acceptance Association Philippine Branch (ISAA). In a voice barely above a whisper, she hesitatingly adds, “I realized [I was a chubby kid] as early as nursery because the other kids were making fun of me. At first, I didn’t know what was going on. I just felt like I did something wrong.”

This negative feeling became so pronounced that even Karen’s personality changed. “I used to be really bibo back then, but then I became withdrawn. I didn’t socialize, I didn’t even make friends before grade school… just a select few. My parents only discovered my situation when I was complaining that I didn’t want to go to school anymore.”

A tall woman with a commanding presence, Sanya Faustmann, Michelis Gifts and Jewelry Marketing Manager, ISAA member, and plus-sized model relates, “As a child, I was skinny. Then, puberty hit and it sucked.” As Sanya reached her teenage years, her American lineage showed. More and more, she stood out like a sore thumb in a class of racially petite young women. She declares, “I’ve lived with my body issues all my life because I’m abnormal as a Filipino…. Even when I’m skinny, I’m large in the mga Penshoppe and Bayo.”

Both women admit feeling the brunt of thoughtless comments from people in their lives. “My mom [would] really get on my case,” declares Sanya. “Moms want the best for [their] kids, and sometimes choose their words wrong. Or we take it the wrong way, because we’re all emotional.”
Good-natured teasing can also lead to unintentional hurt, as is the case with Karen. “While working, I would get flak from the other workers or they would keep on teasing me. They’re not aware that it’s damaging, they think it’s cute.” Jibes like, “Sige ka, uupuan ka niyan” could elicit laughter in the workplace, but also cause self-consciousness for the unintended victim.

Imaging Reality

Dr. Rubin adds, “[Our body image] is firmly rooted in our sense of self-esteem.” Without positive reinforcing messages, many women become overly critical of their bodies and create unrealistic expectations of themselves. “When people are able to recognize a reasonable realistic goal, they are involved in a positive process. [Body image] becomes problematic when people set unrealistic goals they can’t reach.”

Over the years and past her “gym rat phase,” where she would be at the gym 6 days a week, Sanya has learned to be more accepting of her body. “I know I’ll never be Palito...[Now, I’m] just working on being fit as opposed to being skinny.”

Journey to satisfaction

Sanya credits two factors for her renewed self-esteem—friends and yoga. She says, “A lot of my self-confidence really came from my friends who just accepted me for who I was.” For her, college “was an eye-opener.” It was a time when the mold was literally made to be broken and being out of place was actually in style. At yoga, Sanya learned to work with her body. She explains, “[I’ve learned,] if you can’t reach the floor today, you can do it tomorrow. And, when you reach it, you realize, ‘Oh shucks kaya pala.’”

On the other hand, Karen self-medicates and takes care to expose herself to positive messages. “I try not to make pintas myself… I listen more to [myself] and what [I’m] saying. I also read up on [body image]—Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth is a good start.”

There are many other ways to deal with body image issues. The cures are as varied as the different dress styles for women. For Dr. Rubin, the key is “setting reasonable goals for changes and being able to reach a state of satisfaction when you reach your goals.” He adds, “[You have to be] able to accept yourself for who you are and say, ‘This is okay.’”

To help keep women on the right track, Dr. Rubin advises to “start with small goals.” He reasons, as women achieve the first goals they set for themselves, they become more confident of reaching even larger goals and their body objectives become more attainable to them mentally.

Though specializing in plastic and reconstructive surgery, Dr. Rubin makes sure that each patient goes under the knife with achievable goals in mind, even going so far as to refuse surgery for those obviously enamored with an impossible image of themselves. “Plastic surgery is only for people who are amenable and have realistic goals. [Surgery] is not for everyone.”

Karen and Sanya admit their relationship with their bodies is just as dynamic as their personal relationships. There are times when it’s wonderful, but there are times when it’s frustrating. “It’s really a cycle,” shares Sanya. Author of Heal Your Body Image: An Inspiring, Step-by-Step Guide to Loving Your Body and founder of First Ourselves , Karly Randolph Pitman agrees writing, “Loving your body doesn’t always mean bliss… As you journey into accepting and loving your body, aim for ease. Love? Yes, it will come, and it will be there.”

As a new day begins and I face my reflection again, I am reminded just which fairy tale character stared in front of a mirror saying, “Mirror, mirror on the wall...” and I realize that I’d rather be Snow White experiencing the wonder of the woods any day.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Carren said...

Hi Susan,

Thank you for stopping by. I think I might have missed replying for some reason, but I hope all is well in your part of the world. :)

ella bautista said...

i am doing research on weight discrimination and acceptance. as i was looking for a way to contact ms. karen ang of isaa philippines, i came across this blog. may i ask if i may know how to contact her? thank you.

ella bautista

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