Being an Ugly Betty in a world full of Emily Ratajkowski’s, Elsa Hosk’s and Yasmin Wijnaldum’s is a difficult job, but someone’s gotta do it. I would think something self-deprecative like this at least 50 times a day. Funnily self-deprecative, though, to mask the fact that I was deeply uncomfortable with myself.
Waking up and going about my day feeling excruciatingly insecure about the way I look: my face, my outfit, whether or not you can see my stomach through my clothes – it was an everyday occurrence. It got to a point where I wouldn’t leave the house; I’d take days off from university or miss events that I had been previously really excited about because I would be crying over how bad I looked in an outfit that looked perfectly acceptable not even an hour prior.
Lusting over someone’s gorgeous thigh gap, and someone else’s beautifully concaved stomach, it became an unhealthy obsession, and both my Instagram and Twitter feeds were filled with the likes of Kim Kardashian promoting “literally unreal” appetite suppressant lollipops, and a plethora of other influencers gushing about the benefits of Slim Tea. The repetitive diet and weight loss ads on TV, in newspapers and magazines, and, of course, social media failed to help too.
Social media was the tool that allowed me to feed into my own warped body image. With the promotion of stick-thin supermodels like Emily Ratajkowski, paired with the bombardment of girls like Jorja Smith who are well – endowed in all the right places, it dawned on me that I had none of the physical attributes that everyone found attractive. At 5 feet and 11 inches tall, I stand two inches taller than the average British man, in conjunction with being heavy – set but not curvy, and very much boyish in every other way. I’ve been mistaken for a boy more times than you could ever imagine.
It stunned me that there were other girls who were feeling the same way as I did – more down to innocence and wishful thinking than ignorance or a lack of common sense. Even the girls who had my dream body were insecure. According to the Centre for Change: “… research suggests that 86% of all women are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to lose weight. Women and adolescent girls regard size, much like weight, as a definitive element of their identity”, meaning that, unfortunately, this is a womankind issue, not an isolated one.
I spent a large amount of my time trawling through social media, looking at girls who I would kill to look like, who were pretty and successful with an equally attractive boyfriend, and basing my worth on the way I looked as a result. Because, surely, if I was skinny, I’d be pretty AND I’d have a boyfriend to match. I would spend hours on Brandy Melville’s online store (being too embarrassed to go instore), compiling expensive “one size fits all” outfits and imagining how I would treat myself to one of the ensembles when I reached my goal weight; which would result in me being extremely underweight for my height. It was a vicious cycle that I had put myself through since I was 14, and it wasn’t until recently that I decided something had to change.
Following influencers/models like Sonny Turner, Barbie Ferreira, and Iesha Hodges, amongst others, was a good place to start. I am a firm believer that you can’t rely on other people to make you happy, however, positive influencers, especially on social media, is one of the best places to start. Many of them speak candidly about how they too used to struggle with accepting their body image in a world where skinny, blonde and Caucasian is the pinnacle of beauty.
Sonny Turner, a 20-year-old model who has amassed 300k Instagram followers over the span of her career, and a staunch supporter and advocate of the #BeautyBeyondSize and Iskra Lawrence’s: #everyBODYisbeautiful movements, posts frankly about her body. Unapologetically posting pictures with visible and untouched stretchmarks, stomach rolls and thighs that actually touch, she uploaded: “Holding my bloat because this is my reality. Behind all the smiley beach pics, snatched outfits & curated photo shoots is a real body. My body … a body that is still worthy of respect … So quit policing my food intake & giving unsolicited health advice to women. Remember you are not alive just to pay bills & lose weight”. Turner also appeared alongside model friends Felicity Hayward and Hayley Hasselhoff on Channel 5’s mini-series: ‘Curvy Girls Stripped Bare’, the first show of its kind giving the public an insight into the world of plus size modelling.
Watching Iesha Hodges on Youtube is also inspiring. The 24-year-old who has graced countless campaigns such as Urban Outfitters and Target, as well as walking for Victoria’s Secret last year exudes happiness and a pure heart, and advocates self-confidence in spite of whatever flaws you may have. Adorned with a tooth gap, a bald bleached head, acne scars and hyperpigmentation – things that society deems ‘unattractive’ – she takes it in her stride, vlogging about her struggles and her journey. In her own words: “you have to own who you are … you have to own every aspect of you, every single flaw … you pick those flaws that you don’t like and you turn them into your superpowers girl!”
I’ve started to become more at peace with myself, and even though I could blame social media’s algorithms for making 14-year-old me hate herself by promoting the accounts of beautifully thin girls on my timeline, I could also commend social media’s algorithms for eventually promoting the girls who looked like me, who ate like me, who had hair like me, who had acne like me, all while being successful models, influencers and entrepreneurs.
We are moving into a time where bigger and curvier body types, darker skin and hair with more texture than the standard ‘long and straight’ are being accepted as standards of beauty in their own right. It’s a work-in-progress, and we cannot truly change our mindsets until we are shown a wider variety of beauty.