Whenever my mom and I talk on the phone, she always asks me the same question: “Have you lost weight?”
The answer is always the same: “I’m working on it, Mom.”
As a 29-year-old woman, I’ve approached my battle with my body image every way possible. I’ve started and stopped diets. I’ve started working out. I’ve caved in and bought my favorite pair of jeans in a larger size. I’ve cried about it, and I’ve lashed out to others due to my own insecurities.
My body issues didn’t begin with my weight gain after I turned 24. When I hit puberty, my mom suggested that we begin bleaching my arm hairs because no one would like a girl with hairy arms. She had fine, light hairs you can’t even tell are there. I was blessed with the gift of darker hair from my dad’s side of the family. There were days I would look down and see a gorilla arm where mine should be. These were the days I was almost tempted to, but never actually followed my mom’s advice. Let’s not even talk about the hairs on my chiny-chin-chin. Look — I’m Turkish. It happens.
Then there was the acne.
Oh, the acne that plagued me until I was 25. I still cringe looking at some of my pictures from high school and early 20s. My senior prom and homecoming pictures present a girl that doesn’t even look like me, hiding under a layer of makeup to hide the glaring pimples I hated so much. My hair was too thick and short; my skin was never smooth and as a girl from my gym class pointed out in 9th grade, I had a big booty.
I love my smile — except when I smile too wide, or I’m laughing because I have big gums.
My hair has to be perfectly straight. If I have it up in a ponytail, it has to be slicked back. It can’t be loose. No one can see me first thing in the morning. I can’t step out of the house without looking 100% perfect. Oh god, the cellulite. Wait, are those dark circles? Is my hair thinning? My bangs aren’t perfect. Do I have too many moles on my arms? Is that a zit? Ugh — the scars on my face. Am I getting wrinkles?
The insecurities never stopped. When I became sexually active, there were fleeting moments of feeling attractive, but for the most part, I was fairly uncomfortable with my body. These days, about 30 lbs overweight, I feel uncomfortable when other people take pictures of me. When I hang out with friends, I spend a good amount of my time being conscious of how I’m sitting, which angle is the best to hide the extra curves, and whether or not anyone has their camera out.
All I saw — all I still see sometimes are imperfections. Flaws. Abnormalities.
That’s no way to live.
I’m going to be getting my first tattoo soon. I’m still working on the design, and while I’ve started thinking about that — I began thinking of my body as a canvas. Where can I put each piece to display in the best way possible?
Then it hit me.
My body is a canvas, and all the scars, imperfections, and wrinkles are just brushstrokes of a life full of beauty, laughter, struggles, pain, and survival.
The moles and hair that I was born with are gifts from my parents. They’re brushstrokes, like my eyes or smile, and the dimple I got from my mom.
The wrinkles are laugh lines. They’re stress lines. They’re brushstrokes marking every tear, every smile, and every emotion in between.
The extra pounds I carry around with me are the physical representation of the depression I battled. It’s for every time I was bullied, or torn apart verbally. They’re evidence of the nights I found myself at the bottom of a bottle, drowning in insecurities and loneliness. Every curve is a battle wound.
Just like the tattoos I’m going to get to add to the canvas that is my body, it’s time I take a good look at the canvas that stopped being blank the day I was born. I need to appreciate the brushstrokes, and the scratches — the good, the ugly, the confused, the broad, the absolute, the angry, the hopeful— for what they are.
I’m a walking canvas, full of brushstrokes called experience, with plenty of white space to fill by living.
It’s time to stop looking at our imperfections as failures and see them as elements of a masterpiece.