This post is about a girl who, for four years, suffered the epidemic of poor body image. A girl who literally hated her body, her skin complexion, her vampire-like teeth, her beaked nose and tiny ears. A girl who hid, who wept and grieved silently, who turned down opportunities – all because she believed she didn’t look a certain way that was more likable than who she was. This girl came to define herself as nothing more than an above-average-mind encased in a below-average-‘ugly’-body. She lived an imposter life and in a way that was self-limiting, self-shaming and self-depreciating. This girl is me.
Ten or so years ago, back in high school and before social media was really a thing, not many of us were concerned about how we looked. Kenyan public boarding high schools have a way of leveling everyone, especially in mine, where we wore loosely fitting skirts, unflattering blouses, knee high socks, zero make-up (not even lip gloss) and no accessories except for an inexpensive watch and a school tie. Everyone looked like a little Khoisan boy, trying to get through a day without a punishment and score good grades. Then we completed high school and were free to roam to the ends of the earth, that leveling was stripped away.
Fast forward to when I was formally introduced to selfies and social media, when I met this modern narcissistic society that places increased importance on appearance above everything else, that’s when my ‘body dysmorphic disorder’ somewhat began.
See, I am an overweight fat girl. Fat in the sense that; of course I weigh above seventy-five kilograms, I have some loosely hanging skin here and there, my neck has a roll, my arms are the size of someone’s thigh (okay not really) and in a swim suit, you can enjoy the sight of cellulite that makes my thighs look like the beautiful scenery of the rift valley; tiny hills, calderas, craters, plateaus, plains and valleys. To add on that, my body shape (cough, PEAR, cough) can never find jeans that fit, from butt to boot, or denim that will not betray my muffin top, showcase my plumber’s cleavage or rise to floodwater proportions, which essentially usually makes me feel even fatter. I treat every glove-fitting pair like a miracle.
My skin is dark. Not as night as Adut Akech’s which I think is so beautiful, but also not as caramel as Tracy Wanjiru’s or as milky chocolate as Maxine Wabosha’s. It is a tinge of Toblerone, one that glows in Fenty Beauty pro filt’r shade 445. On my thighs, it is spotted, tiny black spots of protruding hair follicles that are prominent on the upper side and disappear down my knees making it look like safari ants on a brown loamy anthill.
I didn’t naturally have dog/vampire canines. My fear of losing teeth made that happen. My dad was so ungentle about it, and after he plucked out my incisors at the age of six, I swore I would never tell him of any loose teeth. When my canines were unrooted and ready to leave the gums, my lips were zipped. I didn’t say anything until I realized the permanent canines were pushing their way on the inner side and voila! angry Damon Salvatore canines came to be and have been ever since.
My dwindled self-perception began in kindergarten. I was the grandest elephant in a jungle of tiny perfect impalas and hares. Every kid barely spoke to me. That coupled with my timidity, made the situation dire because I felt isolated, not being able to run as fast as the others, not being able to recite poems in front of guests without tearing up or just feeling judged all the time because the other kids thought I ate too much. Funnily enough, ask any of my family members, I barely swallowed anything, I disliked food but somehow still managed to swell up. It quieted down in standard one when I lost my baby fat and then resurfaced after high school when I regained weight.
So…for a long time I harbored, watered and nurtured that nagging voice that always whispered in my ear that I wasn’t meeting the standard. That inner critic that was always subtly attacking me; “You can’t wear that, your muffin top will show. Just cover up”, “Your gazelle like ankles are very unflattering in that skirt”, “You call that a beautiful smile? You look like you’re about to pounce on someone’s jugular!” “Girl, you’re way too dark to rock that shade of lipstick.” I allowed
it to scream those insecurities at me because I believed it was being realistic and truthful. I felt like society was sending me a message of how I was supposed to look and living in a culture where peers and the media transmit an ideal in a way negatively influenced my body image and plummeted my self-esteem further.
For four years, I believed that my face was too long, my thighs were too big, my chin was too square, my lobes were too tiny, my cheeks were too flat and the sight of me was just unwelcome. I felt like Brienne of Tarth, a misfit with only one thing that made me somewhat a relevant topic of discussion. Whenever anyone gave me a compliment such as “you look bomb, love how that trouser fits”, my inner critic would revert almost too quickly with “really I feel like it makes me look like a kangaroo,” as if they were just on a mission to make me feel better but didn’t really mean it.
But thank God for body activists, and books and podcasts that keep teaching about self-compassion such as conquer your critical inner thoughts and Jim Kwik’s podcast respectively. Books that teach us an attitude in which we are curious, open, accepting and loving towards ourselves. Boosting one’s self-esteem is not enough, self-compassion is the icing and the cake because unlike self-esteem, self-compassion doesn’t focus on evaluation but rather self-acceptance. It focuses on having the kind of attitude towards ourselves that we would have toward a dear friend and recognizing that we are not alone in our struggles. It teaches to be mindful rather than to over-identify which means taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions and our poor body image.
In case you’re wondering, I have grown and feel more comfortable in my own skin, thank you.
You can too!
(The picture attached is of yours truly, glowing and loving every inch of her body.)