By Gabrielle Pan
My Journey to Self-Love & Acceptance
I have low-self esteem.
I’m not beautiful enough.
I hate myself.
Was this you? Because that was me, too.
Deep down, we all want to be loved, and to be accepted for who we are.
In the ’90s, beautiful, white models were the dominant representation in many marketing and advertising campaigns. White women were considered to be the standard of beauty. As an Asian-American, I looked nothing like a white woman. I remember my first experience with the white beauty standard: it was gifted to me by my mom’s friend in the form of a Barbie doll for my 9th birthday. Barbie was so beautiful with her ashy blonde hair, sapphire blue eyes, and perfect dazzling smile. I would style Barbie’s hair into a big-top ponytail, which I would style my own hair into as well. When I looked at myself in the mirror, the result was completely different from what I expected. I noticed that in place of Barbie’s beautiful blue eyes, mine were dark brown. Barbie had a thin, pointed nose, and mine was sort of wide and flat. And lastly, Barbie had a heart-shaped face and a beautiful smile that captured my heart. My face was round, chubby, and some of my baby teeth had fallen out. I looked at Barbie for a while, and back at my reflection, feeling gloomy. In my mind, I wasn’t the striking portrait of beauty that was portrayed by Barbie. It was one of my first experiences with ugliness.
I would spend most of my adolescence trying to obtain physical western features that were not only displayed by Barbie, but also by magazines and movies, as well. These sorts of thoughts and insecurities only seemed to pile up as my self-perception of beauty became more developed.
During my time in high school, Victoria’s Secret models were all the rage. Girls envied and aspired to look like them. The models looked like goddesses with their tall, lean figure and prominent western facial features. I was one of those girls who was a sort of wannabe as well. I did some research and found out that the models were sizes 0-2, some nearly as tall as 6ft. I was a size 4, which was nearly 2x to 4x the size of a VS model, and of average height.
I made a stupid goal, for myself, that I would lose 2 sizes by the time I graduated high school. I would skip lunch and starve myself, which caused me more suffering(I did lose a size, though). Some days the hunger was so unbearable that I would just stuff myself, only to feel guilty about it again later. Gradually, my collar bones stuck out like daggers, and my wrists were nearly as thin as the skeletal structure under the skin surrounding it. No matter how thin I became or looked, my facial features didn’t change, my chubby cheeks didn’t get any thinner, and I didn’t become white at all…except for my face. My pale, ghostly complexion was the portrait of pain, not beauty.
Despite how skinny I became, I would always notice and lament at how chubby my cheeks were in photos, and how they only seemed to make my face look fat, in comparison to those of white models. Thankfully, my friends would patiently reassure me that it was all in my mind, and that my cheeks were cute and not chubby, at all. I later came out to my friends about my struggle with my body image. They were sympathetic and supportive, especially my best friend. “I wish you told me earlier,” she said.
While hanging out with my friends, a lady approached us about a free introductory class in meditation for 30 minutes. She explained that the class taught meditation techniques and how it could help change our lives. Albeit suspicious, the lady somehow managed to convince us to try it out. It was free, anyways.
Remarkably, my friends and I came out of the session feeling refreshed, and calmer.
My favorite meditation technique from the session was mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a mental state which helps a person become more aware of the present moment through focus. Meditation is a way to train the mind to become more relaxed and calm through focus. Hence, mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that involves focusing the mind on the present moment.
During the mindfulness meditation session, I sat with my neck and back straight, and steadily breathed. I focused on doing away with thoughts of the past and future and tried my best to be in the moment. I paid attention to my breathing, and how my body embraced the oxygen as it entered and left me in the form of carbon dioxide. I calmly let my thoughts, especially about my body image, come and go. I thought about my goals, about who I was. My mind would race at times, but I willed myself to stay calm and to focus on my breathing again. After a while, I relaxed, and let out a happy sigh.
So did I become more mindful, and accepting of myself?
Mindfulness meditation made me love myself more by helping me realize that the more I kept comparing myself to other women, I would always be unhappy. That no matter how many pounds I shed, I still would not look like a white woman. My expectations of what I wanted to be were unrealistic. With my stomach growling, I slowly started to eat more again. I ate whatever delicious food and snacks I could get my hands on, from ice cream to pizza. And some meat and veggies from time to time. I became aware of how much better and happier I felt as time wore on. I soon forgot my original weight loss goal. For a very short time, when I was weighing myself, I grimaced at gaining 5 pounds, but overall I felt happier and more accepting of myself.
How can I become more mindful and accepting of myself?
The first thing we can do is to be self-aware, by trying mindful meditation. Then, from that experience, take action to change your mindset from that of a negative one to a positive one, mindfully. Lastly, consider making that change in mindset and realization permanent, and let it become a practice. Realize that you are your own unique individual with your own beauty, talent, and value. No one else can ever take that away from you. It also helps to have a positive and supportive friend group filled with people who encourage you to become a better you.
When I fondly look back at old photos, six years from now, I sort of laugh at myself because I realized that I was skinnier than I am now. Although I didn’t have that supermodel body, I learned that life goes on. Some people still found me attractive. And that’s the beautiful thing about mindful meditation, self-love, and acceptance: when you start to accept yourself for who you are and care less for what other people think or expect of you, you realize that you are enough. That you are beautiful in your own way, and that no advertising or marketing campaign can change that.