In a society that constantly sets unrealistic beauty standards for women, loving and accepting my body the way it is feels impossible. Throw in a pandemic, fears of gaining the “Quarantine 15” and two breakups (with the same guy), and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a mental health disaster.
I’ve always had insecurities about the way my body looks, but a year ago I was able to put a name to the thoughts that occupied my mind: body dysmorphia. I spent ridiculous amounts of time obsessing in front of the mirror. Constantly worrying about whether my stomach was flat enough or if my thighs touched consumed me, and it felt like I spent more time thinking about those things than not. Each time these thoughts came up, my anxiety would convince me that they were true. No matter how many times people told me I looked beautiful or that I had a nice body, I didn’t believe it and there was no changing my mind.
When the pandemic hit in March, the expression “Quarantine 15” infiltrated much of the media I was consuming. On social media, I saw memes and videos making jokes about the “Quarantine 15” where people posted about gaining weight while being stuck at home, unable to go to the gym and with convenient access to comfort food. The way these posts portrayed weight gain made it seem like there was a problem with putting on a couple pounds, rather than acknowledging the normalcy of weight fluctuations during significant life changes, such as a nation-wide lockdown amid a pandemic.
Similar to the “Freshman 15,” this arbitrary number became a fear for many women, myself included. I had experienced the worry of gaining weight when I first got to college and, this March, I was once again locked in an imaginary struggle with these “15.”
Only weeks after Oxy sent students home, my boyfriend broke up with me without any explanation. I hyper-focused on every aspect of myself — especially my body — attempting to figure out what was so wrong with me that we couldn’t work things out. Was it because my thighs were too big? Or was it because my waist wasn’t small enough?
Over seven months following the breakup, I slowly realized how little love I had for my body and how much I was beating myself up. After years of this mindset, I had reached my breaking point: I could no longer sustain all of those negative thoughts. I realized that something had to change.
I started with my social media feeds; I unfollowed influencers on Instagram that set unrealistic body standards and replaced them with others that promoted body positivity and self-love such as Victoria Garrick and Brittani Lancaster. Instead of Facetuned photos, I now see photos of girls who aren’t afraid to show their bodies as they are: stretch marks, rolls and everything. It’s beautiful and empowering.
After changing what I saw on my phone, I realized I also needed to change what I was showing myself in the mirror. I don’t mean I needed to work out more or change my diet; I mean I needed to be honest with myself about the way my body looked.
I had gotten in the habit of looking at myself in the mirror at an angle, with my stomach sucked in and my legs turned a certain way so that my thighs wouldn’t touch. To break this habit, I tried standing in front of the mirror head-on and completely relaxed. Kicking this habit has been difficult, but I can already tell it’s helping me realize there isn’t just one body type that’s beautiful.
I also changed the way I talk to myself, especially when I look in the mirror. Instead of criticizing my appearance, I tell myself that the stretch marks on my thighs are beautiful, that the fact that my thighs touch when I stand is normal and that my worth doesn’t depend on the way my body looks.
By exchanging my self-criticism for words of affirmation, I am being kinder to myself and slowly changing my perspective on what it means to be beautiful. It feels freeing.
There’s a power like no other that comes with treating yourself with kindness and being confident in your own skin. If I’ve learned anything after two breakups and a seemingly never-ending pandemic, it’s to fall unapologetically in love with yourself. Especially during this time of uncertainty and anxiety, be kind to the person you’re becoming and know that you are not alone in this journey of self-love and acceptance.