Sometimes I think if I can just do another rep or push back from the table the minute the food touches my belly, I could earn my worthiness coins and cash in on days my body is ravenous, and a chicken breast and salad won’t suffice. These are the days I want to stick my head out the window and howl at the suggestion that my body isn’t beautiful because my stomach spills over my jeans when I sit down, my breasts are an A-cup, and my butt isn’t large enough to carry a small serving tray.
When I learned ‘Wild ‘N’ Out’ star and mother of three Jacky Oh was scheduled for a “mommy makeover” before her sudden passing at age 32, I felt sick to my stomach. Are we so obsessed with achieving physical perfection that we’re willing to die for it?
Every year, thousands of women die from senseless acts of violence like domestic abuse and genocide. Women are also dying from another kind of violence that is becoming just as deadly: the violence against girls’ and women’s bodies through unrealistic beauty ideals.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2020 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, surgeons performed 15.6 million cosmetic surgeries in 2020. Women accounted for 92 percent of those procedures. While cosmetic procedures aren’t cheap, costing $5,377 in the U.S., on average, the real price women pay is the excessive hits to our self-esteem, as it takes us on an endless quest for perfection. Our bodies become projects we must fix to be more suitable for someone else’s viewing pleasure rather than temples used to birth babies and our creative ideas or serve our communities.
I’ve had my own struggles with body image. When I was a teenager, I was thin with a boyish figure. As a Black girl, you had to have curves to be desirable, so I stuffed copious amounts of food down my throat and choked back vomit to gain weight. In my twenties, I discovered weightlifting, which presented a new set of mental challenges. My whole life revolved around how much protein and carbs I ingested and how long I trained. I habitually pushed my body past its capability, spraining limbs and joints regularly.
At 43, I’m still diligent about my fitness routine and the food I put in my body. However, Mother Nature and gravity have tagged team me, so body parts now sag and protrude out from underneath my clothes despite my greatest efforts. But now that I’m older, I’ve learned that physical beauty will not keep you safe. The more you chase it, the quicker it will turn on you – and even kill you. More than 25 women died from BBL procedures between 2010 and 2022 in South Florida alone. The National Center for Health Research estimates that 100 people die annually from cosmetic procedures.
Little girls are not born hating their bodies. It’s learned behavior, meaning it’s something we can unlearn. My first step to recovery was self-awareness. Being able to spot my triggers, like social media and television, allowed me to unhook myself from the trance of male validation. I also began to examine my inner dialogue. Whether I care to admit it or not, I’ve wondered at times if the date or relationship didn’t work out because I wasn’t pretty enough or lacked something in the physical department. Maybe if my thighs and stomach were smaller and my butt was bigger, I could escape the comparison trap and feel better in my skin. Then again, even the women who have transformed their figures into male fantasies are not absolved from feelings of self-loathing.
Women have been chasing physical perfection since the beginning of time, and while beauty ideals have evolved, the impact on the self-esteem of girls and women is the same. For many women, we think being more attractive will protect us from the world’s judgment and get us the acceptance we crave, but it doesn’t. The more we obsess over our outer appearance, the more control over our bodies we’ll place in men’s hands. As we’ve seen with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, this can be disastrous.
The next time you feel the urge to criticize your body, think about all the things it has done for you – the babies it birthed, the creative ideas it brought to fruition, and the times it held you up during insurmountable heartbreak – and thank it.
Photo by Ricardo Garcia