“Learn to Love Yourself”

Students and their own experiences with body image and how their childhood and environment affected them.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Emily Chen

In the modern world, many people are obsessed with the “perfect body” portrayed on social media. The “perfect” body for women is a slim but toned figure, and men are supposed to be tall and muscular. In magazines and advertisements, the bodies of models and celebrities are the results of highly skilled modifications and photo editing. These beauty standards make their way from billboards and television into high schoolers’ minds. Many students have struggled with body image, and students from both Stuyvesant and other high schools have shared inspiring stories of how they are overcoming it.

“When you don’t look a certain way, it’s hard to fit in and be just like everyone else,” freshman Sakib Khan said. For Khan, not looking like the people he saw in magazines or at the gym contributed to his insecurity: “I hit the gym, took my shirt off, and saw how jacked all the other men and women were. [Meanwhile,] I was stuck as a stick that couldn't work out efficiently because of how little I can eat,” Khan said. The pressure on students to live up to the expectations they see in their everyday lives is one of the roots of the problem.

An anonymous student (A) described how she felt pressured to change her body to fit in: “At the beginning of this year, a lot of the people in my friend group were really slim, and I felt as if I had to be that thin too,” she said. “So, sometimes I would skip my lunch or breakfast so I wouldn’t become ‘fat.’”

It’s often the feeling that they don’t look as good as their “more beautiful” counterparts that can start to stir negative body image in the minds of young teens. “It’s easy to compare yourself to everyone else,” A said. “There are so many beautiful people, and when I look at my body in particular, it makes me feel bad about myself. [It makes me feel] like I’m not as good as everyone else, and I so badly want to be that.” Society presents the idea that there is only one kind of beautiful. The standard is so specific and exclusive that it's naturally inconceivable and even genetically impossible to replicate. The feeling of being judged can tremendously magnify the negative body image many teens have when they don’t meet a certain standard.

Khan’s insecurity stems from the fear of not being able to control others’ perspectives toward him. “The insecurity of always wondering if people are staring at me is something that I can never seem to ignore,” he said. Many teens like Khan fear judgment from other people.

For another student (B), social media was the main trigger. She explained how she started feeling insecure about her body in middle school, and her distaste for her height started much earlier, in elementary school. She attributes social media and TV shows as the main contributor to her negative body image. “From a young age, we watch a lot of shows or look up to figures on social media that have the perfect features, and it makes us think we aren’t as good as them because we don’t look as good,” she said. Social media intensifies the common negative mindset toward body image. Being behind screens makes it so easy to judge others, and it may be the reason we sometimes feel that there are people staring and secretly judging us. However, B believes she is in the process of healing, as she’s no longer skipping meals and she’s eating healthier and caring for herself from within. She credits the realization of social media’s intense editing and narrow spotlight on other body types to feeling better about her body.

Many of the people that have recovered from their experiences with negative body image can confirm that the feeling of constantly worrying about how our bodies look can take a toll on our mental health. It is not always how we look that is important. It is who we are as people that can truly make us beautiful.

“I would tell someone else to be kind to themselves because being so insecure and hating your body is lonely. You have to build the strength from within and realize it's time to come back to reality,” A said. Though she herself is not done with her battle with her own body image, she hopes that no one else starts theirs. Since hers started with bullying, she expresses hope that everyone would be kinder to others and watch out for their triggers.

The reality is that many people are struggling in silence, so we must be careful and mindful and look out for each other. “You have to learn to love yourself no matter what the social expectation is, and [you shouldn’t] change yourself for other people—change yourself for you,” B said.