Unleashing My Inner Monster
By Michelle Cao
Beauty Standards. Body Image. Insecurities. Are our feelings even valid? With social media usage and promotional advertisements at an all-time high, it’s so easy to feel less than and isolated. But remember, you’re not alone.
As I reach to grab the rainbow sprinkled chocolate cupcake, I suddenly sense the all-too-familiar beady glare. I freeze, my insides tense up, and it feels as if long spears protrude from my skin, turning me into a monster. Her delicate fingers linger around my forearm, and in the next split second, her blunt fingernails curve into my squishy flesh.
I jolt and remember, it’s my mom. I watch in slow-motion as the cupcake lifted into the air before taking a crash, frosting first, onto the greasy kitchen floor. Gushing in anger and disbelief, I looked her in the eyes. But with no trace of laughter or a smile, she turned and whispered, “Good! You probably shouldn’t eat that anyway.”
Approximately 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, and this number reaches over 90% as they mature and become women. I now realize my experiences with insecurity and how I feel about my body are one of the many untold stories.
Women are taught to ridicule and change their bodies to fit into the ideals perpetuated by mainstream media and pop culture. From fantasizing about having pronounced collarbones and wide thigh gaps to complimenting the stark contrast between voluptuous curves and thin waists, our society inherently values thinness.
Today I stopped in front of the fridge, glancing at a sweet memory of my Kindergarten graduation, hanging from a French fry magnet. The picture radiated happiness; all smiles, proudly grasping my Student of the Year award and embraced by my teacher and my mom. But of all things, I stared at my oddly-fitting dress, my stubby fingers, and my chubby smile. It was ironic when I remembered I was the one who begged my mom for that ugly floral blue dress because I didn’t want to be the only girl wearing pants. We argued for hours at the time, but I wished she never gave in because of course, mom always knows best.
I looked once more, running my fingers along my dimple-infested cheeks, before trotting back to my room and plopping six feet from my bedroom mirror. Wide frame, pimple riddled chest, squinted eyes, full tender cheeks, blackhead plastered nose, and a faded droopy smile which was once full of life stared back. I removed my glasses just to avoid my reflection.
Posters and slogans like “Don’t Be Large. Take Charge!” and “Eat your veggies—have less wedgies!” continue to line our reality and fantasy world. The media industry instills these standards through promoting diet culture, beauty products, exclusive fast-fashion, and photoshopping natural beauty, to name a few.
In a world where beauty tops all else, women strive toward “perfecting themselves” to fit into the status quo of American beauty while alienating those who look any less than perfection.
It then becomes second nature to judge and compare those who are different from us, rather than stepping back to understand their stories and support their endeavors. As Americans, we welcome uniqueness and individualism, but not when it comes to deciding what a woman’s body should look like.
Part of my insecurities stems from deep within—the bloody veins of my Chinese roots. I grew up being ashamed of who I am because I’m not the typical Asian girl with stick-straight black locks of hair and a body built on delicate limbs or clear pale skin.
As Americans, we welcome uniqueness and individualism, but not when it comes to deciding what a woman’s body should look like.
As a matter of fact, I’m the complete opposite, often getting mistaken as Filipina and sometimes Latina too. Although I have grown numb to those comments, it still hurts when they come from a relative. And even then, my shyest aunts and uncles never leave without making a remark or suggestion. “Too big for a Chinese girl, maybe try dieting?” one comment after another, they would pinch my cheeks and share unqualified nutrition advice. And now, it’s hard for me to go a day without thinking about how I look.
I run my fingers down my thick arms, patting my belly, tracing the cellulite on my upper thigh, and eventually mumbling and wondering why… Why me?… Why can’t I just look and be normal just like everyone else?
The stubborn monster I once knew, with skin thicker than words can ever pierce through, is now broken, fighting back bloody tears.
My once thick, golden brown, smooth skin is now pierced with spiky thorns of negativity, self-doubt, and hatred. Lodged and stuck, with nowhere to go. But when I find it in my heart to give myself permission to live fearlessly, without a care in the world, my thorns seep back inside, planning the next attack. Each time I turn to the mirror, the thorns find their way out, consuming me whole.
Instead of resorting to the one-time, quick, and easy fix, I am learning to find peace with my body and acknowledge all it has done for me. Each day, I am taking baby steps in embracing my body and learning to be bold. That courage stems from stepping away from the media and affirming my right to be present, to take up space, and be enough. I journal to acknowledge and let go of my feelings before they bedazzle my mind with hopelessness.
And until then, I am still a work in progress.
Although this journey is far from being over, I will shed the golden-brown skin that caused so much trauma, and replace it with a glowing tint, representing who I am beyond my appearance.
This piece budded as the tiniest idea. I have been struggling with body image recently and brought up the idea of writing a short poem to let go of those feelings. We wrote for 10 minutes, and I had nothing down on paper. But in the meantime, my mind was blowing up with ideas, not knowing where to start. My mentor encouraged me to begin writing in prose, starting with the unfiltered, good stuff. Writing my personal experiences and stories reminded me of a documentary (Miss Representation) we watched in journalism class. Then it all clicked, and my mission was clear. I wanted to tie in my personal experiences with proven statistics about the body image versions of typical “coming-of-age” stories to bring light to these problems. Much of the process was going back and forth on deciding whether my experiences were even valid and worthy. But I am so lucky to have gotten endless and intimate support from my mentor, who shared her personal experiences and pushed me to be brave while affirming my right to take up space.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Michelle is the proud daughter of Chinese immigrants. She is passionate about the intersection between biology, social impact, feminism and culture. Michelle is eager to explore her identities and interests through creative works and collaborations at Girls Write Now. She hopes to study environmental science and Spanish in college with dreams of becoming a community scientist and cultivating a vision for progressive change. You can either find her taste-testing new cuisines with her friends, binging on a good show or tidying her little Etsy shop.