By Maida Azhar, October 24 2023—
Trigger warning: Eating disorders
Human existence graces us with the gift of remarkable bodies, yet, tragically, we often choose to regard our physical vessels through a lens of harsh judgment, all in a desperate attempt to conform to societal standards of beauty. This relentless pursuit of beauty, as dictated by the Y2K culture and its relentless pursuit of lean-figure obsession led countless souls to scrutinize their naturally gifted forms with a self-deprecating gaze that left them tainted with a sense of revulsion and dissatisfaction. It is this despondency that, in many tragic cases, manifested as eating disorders, with anorexia reigning as a sinister consequence.
Under the sinister spell of media influence, pop culture and the siren call of fashion, individuals unwittingly embarked on perilous journeys, mirroring the dangerous steps of celebrities who seemingly epitomized the “ideal” figure. The lens of societal expectations heavily influenced by celebrity culture, cruelly fostered an atmosphere of beauty conformity, forsaking individuality in favour of perilous conformity.
I recall an unsettling memory of my childhood, a time when I, merely an 8-year-old, cast a disapproving eye upon my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Dissatisfaction courses through me, a discontentment that extended to every contour every curve and indeed, to my entire appearance. It was an initiation into the labyrinthine world of self-loathing. The turmoil of my youth was driven by a ceaseless quest to metamorphose into someone that I was not. Ugly they called me, piggy they teased. The toxic words vomited out from the vicious snake tongues of the ignorants and slowly flowed their way through my ears suffocating my fragile mind. Every day my mind wandered into lonesome thoughts. If no one is born perfect then why is pop culture, media and society in general heavily pressuring beautiful individuals to look a certain way? I knew for a fact that I wasn’t the only one dealing with the unhealthy and toxic beauty standards that are brainwashing beautiful souls into believing they are not good enough. Even in the spotlight world where celebrities are praised for their hard work and looks, they still are and will never be good enough in the public eye.
There were occasions when the judgment of others, those who chose to ostracize those who deviated from society’s beauty ideas, played a cruel part. My mind escaped from the current moment and went back to the Grammy Awards of 2000 when the incomparable Jennifer Lopez donned her iconic Versace green dress, an ensemble that celebrated the contours of her body. However, instead of being lauded for her fashion choices or appreciated for her remarkable talents, she became the target of ridicule and merciless body-shaming. I recall sitting in my living room, my eyes glued to the TV as a poignant moment shared in Lopez’s documentary Halftime, where she revealed the deep scars this situation left and how she grappled with the weight of derogatory jests aimed at her body, a stark contrast to the curves she had been raised to embrace. Not only Jennifer Lopez but other current celebrities such as the striking transformation of Bella Hadid, an American model who, to the consternation of her admirers, has shed an alarming amount of weight. Her skeletal appearance is a distressing site that has left her fan base riddled with concern for her well-being.
Is this what it takes an individual to be happy? The perilous depths of eating disorders, intensified by extreme weight loss methods fueled by societal pressure, result in grievous damage, not only to the physical form but also to the fragile psyche. The ceaseless cycle of self-loathing, insufficient nourishment, depression, anxiety and a weakened immune system opens the door to life-threatening scenarios, stark reminders that this perilous journey continues even in our contemporary era.
My mind wraps into emotions of anger, and confusion and cannot help but pose the poignant question: Is this the toll human beings must pay for acceptance in society? Must we contort ourselves into an unhealthy mould, relinquishing our unique authenticity and squandering invaluable time and energy in our quest for conformity? Why must we resort to the corrosive practices of fat shaming and body judgment rather than fostering a culture of self-love, acceptance and appreciation for the diverse beauty that resides within and among us? Should we not be aspired to influence especially the younger generation to embrace and love themselves for who they are in their most authentic forms and free from the shackles of unhealthy beauty standards? As members of the human race, we are full of passion and so much potential to do better. We must learn to love each other and ourselves in the right way. We must create a culture that teaches all individuals to love themselves and appreciate their gifted beautiful bodies.
Now as an 18-year-old healing from the toxic beauty standards and in the pursuit of learning to love myself again, I write this story to encourage those grappling with self-care challenges and to all to embark on a journey of self-love and self-appreciation. As I sit comfortably in my bed reflecting all this, emotions gather inside my soul, seeing a way out. Eventually, they escape in the most exquisite words creating poetry that delves deep into the heart of this nurturing journey, a journey one must learn to truly grow as an individual and realize that they are more than what they perceive.
My mind was an ongoing war/ for it drowned in a pool/ of the traumatizing past./ In some days, I forgot to look/ at myself with kind eyes/ forgot to speak to myself with soft words/
forgot to bathe myself in a tub of self-love./ For these experiences are a life lesson /throughout regrets and healing of time/ I’ve learned to melt into surroundings/ where peace follows/ where I’ve learned to love/ myself in times I once/ was blinded to
This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.