Body positivity: what is shaping our understanding of what is beautiful?
I was never happy with my body. Pressured by society, I always felt the obligation to put myself into a box full of stereotypes on how a woman needs to look. Maybe it’s because I came from a small country and people here are closed-minded.
“I’m too tall, guys don’t like taller girls; I’m too fat, I need to be thinner; I’m not pretty enough, I need blonde hair to look beautiful”. These were the thoughts that were going through my head since childhood.
I felt that I need to cover my legs because I was told they were too big; cover my stomach, because I had a bit more fat around that area. Looking back at the pictures which were taken seven years ago, I feel sorry for myself that I told myself such things, that I starved myself to look pretty and thought that the most important number in life is the one that I see on the scale.
My mindset didn’t change until I moved to London, and even then, it took my few years to accept myself and how I look. I was faced with a different outlook on body image and I met people who loved themselves for whom they are. The funny thing is that I am the biggest I have ever been; during the quarantine, I became overweight and my then-boyfriend told me that “it is a problem and we need to solve it”.
Such a comment made me realise that I am more than a body. My body isn’t the only factor that describes who I am. And it is so sad to see younger girls believing that they need to look like influencers on Instagram, even though all of the pictures are staged and retouched.
But times are changing; more and more influencers or people with a larger following, are sharing “real-life” pictures and are advocating for self-love. One of them is a Lithuanian traveller, photographer, and dentistry student Rugile Maslauskaite.
Being raised in a small town, she often felt being pressured by others as everyone talked about who gained weight, who is wearing what, and so on. “No one is born with it [complexes about body image], but the thinking comes from the outside,” says Maslauskaite.
Like every other teenager, Maslauskaite had to learn how to accept oneself and according to her, finding activities and passions helped her overcome body negativity.
“A person has to form self-love and self-worth himself. First, you need to accept the fact if you don’t love yourself, then, find something that makes you passionate and inspired.
“My hobbies helped me to cope with the lack of self-worth. Now, sometimes I look at myself from aside and think “you go, girl!”
A few weeks ago, Maslauskaite asked her 16.4k followers on Instagram, mostly focusing on females, if they think they are a beautiful person. The question wasn’t about the looks, but purely about personality. According to her, 30% responded that they don’t feel out of touch with their inner beauty.
“We, Lithuanians, never let ourselves to rest. We have this frame which tells us how we need to look, and we try to fit in it,” she says. “Perfectionism and self-criticism won’t help us in the fight with body-hate culture. Competition and distrust within ourselves encourage us to critique others.”
What is shaping our understanding of the human body? Is it really that important to compare ourselves to others and try to fit into a frame full of stereotypes?
Pablo Donas, a Fashion Marketing student, says that there are a big competition and comparison culture in the gay community. “It’s always about who goes to the gym, who has more muscle or who has better hair, he says. “I think it could have something to do with looks vs success; the better you look, the more successful as you must be.”
Although Donas says that social media has affected him more than the pressure in the gay community. As Donas explains, he was a “fat kid”, and after not fitting it amongst his peers, he pressured himself into diets and gym.
“The worst thing is that changing my old shape actually changed something. I was more popular, and people would want to hang out with me more than before, I also had my first boyfriend after losing weight,” he explains.
Donas agrees that social media and the gay community are changing, and people are becoming inclusive, though labelling is still an issue. Donas says that the community shaped him into a person he is now.
“For me body shape is important. I do kind of worry about what people or other guys think about me but I’m trying to work on that.
“Sometimes the community is very sick, this is not only about body shaming but also about your personality,” he says.
But at the end of the day, every person is different. In my opinion, people tend to judge bigger people, because fat is considered to be unhealthy. Not many people stop and think that being slim doesn’t make you fit and healthy.
I am still on my journey to accepting myself for who I am. The first step that I made was agreeing with the fact that I need to work on my mental and physical health. I started to exercise and looking into my diet. And I am doing it for myself, not for a boy who wasn’t happy with the number on the scale, not for my relatives, who think my legs are too big.
I learned that if I want to be happy, I need to do things that make me happy. And I wish that to you all.
You are beautiful. We are all beautiful.