The following is a guest post by my oldest daughter Marcia, 13 years-old. Originally, this essay was written for her 8th Grade Sex Education class and was an assignment to complete an essay question. It is posted here with her permission.
Do I Need To Change My Body?
My body is perfect the way it is because each body is uniquely different. Different, in some people’s eyes can mean strange, or not normal. The concept of normal is something that we, humans use to describe what we think to be usually expected or typical. Each individual has their own idea of what is “normal”. Where did they get that? A lot of different factors contribute to their values in their body and other bodies. Everyone is normal. There is no “ideal” body. There is only what’s realistic. The media has a huge factor in defining what is “normal” in adolescents’ lives. Look at any middle school or high school to see what everyone looks like–they all look the same. If adolescents are unable to receive the accurate information they need from a trusted adult, they will turn to other sources of information, whether or not they are correct. These sources can include, but are not limited to: the Internet, television, magazines, or peers. This is where the role of the media comes in; because of the images and behaviors displayed all over, that stereotype is adopted by that adolescent because it is seen on a wide scale, in most of their life. The individuals in magazines and on TV are not an accurate representation of what a real human being looks like, but they way they are portrayed in print and on screen defines what people think to be “normal”. They begin to think that is “normal”, which can and will affect their relationships and interactions, for the rest of their life. That is why it is crucial that one learns to accept who they are, for if they do not, their need to be “normal” will control them forever.
For me, my mother has raised me being confident in my own skin, and to love who I am. Some, aren’t as lucky. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a body positive mother who imprinted that love for myself onto me, and told me that there is no “normal”. One example is that she often takes me to a spa in San Francisco that has women only, clothing optional days. Seeing all the unique bodies and body types of women naked in a non-sexual way allows me to be thankful for my body as it is without needing to change myself, and to appreciate all the other bodies out there. I see that everyone is special and beautiful in their own way. That sense of optimism and acceptance will strengthen my relationships with other people, my experiences, and my life as a whole. To answer that question: no, I do not need to change my body because it is beautiful, perfect, and unique, and I would not trade it for the world.
My daughter’s work on this essay makes me proud. Marcia interpreted the word “need” in the same way I do, not that she had to. Thirteen-year-old girls and boys already have so much happening to them and do not need pressure to be “perfect”. A healthy body image is the better target to strive for and is different for every body type. The hormonal changes in their bodies during puberty, the messages from media to decipher about what is “ideal”, unnecessary comments or critique from classmates, and things they overhear adults say about themselves – all of these influencers aren’t even things they can control. It’s no wonder some kids would want to change their bodies because that is the only thing they perceive they can control.
I do understand that desire to change; I know because I grew up with it as well. It wasn’t until I got confidence in myself (and subsequently my sexuality) that I could make the necessary changes in my life that have made things better. Before that, I was in an almost continual struggle to meet some specific yet unspecified beauty ideal. I came to realize that even as one seems to fit the model, s/he continues to fight with a notion that there is still something more they need to do. It’s a miserable and expensive struggle – and just like having a parent who does not accept you as you are, it takes its toll. I am trying my best to instill CONFIDENCE in my daughters – Confidence in their abilities, their schoolwork, the friendships they choose, and in their bodies. I can read this essay and “hear” confidence that I know I did not have at her age – and that makes me, even more, proud.