My daughter Paris has been wicked smart since birth, but her writing is where she really shines.
She has given me permission to share this draft of a paper she’s writing for a class called, Body Image and the Media. Her writing on this topic is stunning, and she has some interesting insight into body image in the big state of Texas.
by Paris Thomas
Growing up in an affluent neighborhood of the Bay Area, standards about beauty, intelligence, and success were always suffocating. When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Stanford University sweatshirt and told me that this was the school they knew I would get into and end up at because I was always bright as a kid. This was the beginning of feeling pressure to fill shoes that maybe weren’t going to fit me.
I remember being in middle school and seeing all of the older girls wearing the Victoria’s Secret, teen brand, PINK, yoga pants tucked into their rolled down chestnut uggs. I remember thinking, I cannot wait to be in eighth grade and to look so grown up and cool in my rolled down uggs. This was the first time I ever thought about emulating someone and dressing in a way that was not really me.
When I was younger, I was always a lot more mature than the kids my age, and prefered to sit and talk with the adults at any given outing. As high school started, there was more pressure to fit in with the other kids and to be like them. So, I started to change my mindset about pretty much everything. I found that it was “important” to dumb yourself down, to be quiet, and to look a certain way. My freshman year I was playing volleyball and a big part of the sport was developing strong leg muscles and a solid core. I always had a smaller, tighter stomach, but my legs were always way too big in my opinion. I remember the 2014 December issue of the Victoria Secret catalogue arriving through the mail slot at my house. I remember flipping through the pages and seeing Candice Swanepoel appearing over and over again. She was incrediby fit, blonde, and had a radiant smile. I always thought, wow I want to look like this. That Christmas break I started trying to slim my legs down and would do intensive workouts, log my meals, and constantly look in the mirror for hopes of immediate results.
This was the beginning of my body image dysphoria, and even today I think my legs are too big and that I could afford to eat better, look better, and work harder. Still to this day I think my mom is disappointed that I am not at Stanford University. But what has changed is that I really am incredibly happy with myself and the love and support that I have in my life. I am thrilled that I feel healthy and good about myself. And in all truthfulness, I really love the way that I look– well, most days at least.
When I got out there and started talking to some of my peers and my family members about the way they see themselves, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much my self love has grown as I reflected on myself through talking to them. As women, society and media has created a pressure for us females of all ages to pit themselves against each other. It has put a focus on always being better, always finding someone who is more attractive, or more thin, or more smart. It has created a false sense of perfection, when in fact, perfection simply does not exist. It is something we, in my opinion, as women have created to push ourselves to be “better.” What girls and women need to realize is that the only better we need to be, is better about our health– not just our bodies but our minds. It no longer should be about looking a certain way, but rather feeling a certain way.
18 YEAR OLD MODEL AND PHOTOGRAPHER
Ten years ago, my whole life was flipped upside down and changed drastically, so drastically that at the time I could not even comprehend the everlasting effects it would have on my life. I was born and raised in a small suburban town in the L.A. area. My family once consisted of a mom, a dad, and two children. We were happy for a long time, until suddenly we were not so happy anymore.
First my parents split up. Then my brother became very angry at the world. And finally, I began to doubt myself as the walls around me began to crumble as my sense of love and security diminished. This was the beginning of never feeling good enough. It started with my older brother always making comments about what I was putting on my plate or in my bowl. He would say to me, “are you really going to eat that ice cream Jade. Are you really?” My eight year old self would stare at the ice cream, my eyes burning so hot with welling tears, until eventually it would melt. Shortly after the ice cream melted away, I melted away too. I became cautious about everything from then on, and when I was not conscious of a certain aspect of my appearance or what I was serving myself up with, my brother was sure to make a note of it.
I know today that he did not mean to hurt me or harm my image of myself, I know that he was just angry at our parents and at the world, but some scars never heal, like the one on my leg. From then on, as I got older I started to notice the other girls around me. Some of them were prettier than me, and even the ones who were not, I always saw in a better light than I did myself because of how lowly my self esteem had become. Hannah, one of my best friends, was tan, pretty, skinny, blue eyed. She was the ideal “American girl” and I always felt lesser than her because of my ivory complexion and my body image issues that had derived from the constant verbal attacks at home. Of course my mother always tried to counteract the attacks, but this did very little, for as they say, once the paper is crumpled, there is no uncrumpling it. The damage had been done.
One thing my brother never taunted me about was my stomach, and thank god for that because today that is my most favorite part of myself. I love my flat, toned tummy, and my tiny belly button. Though it is just one part of a whole, my confidence in my stomach has led to an overall confidence. A few years ago I got into modeling. You see, modeling is tricky because you feel self conscious, you feel your insecurities being zoomed in on by the camera. It is all consuming. My legs have always been an insecurity of mine, because as a model you are expected to be toned and fit in today’s day and age. Although I have long and thin legs, I always feel that they could be stronger and more defined. But as my modeling pursuit intensified, I decided to get behind the lense for once, and here is where I really fell in love.
I fell in love with taking pictures of beautiful young women and capturing the beauty in their “flaws.” The greatest thing about photography, should it be a picture taken of me or of another, are the raw moments. I think there is nothing more beautiful than a naked face and no compliment more appreciated than being told I look stunning without makeup on. In my industry, I have learned that it is so important to not just lead a healthy physical life style, but to create a healthy mentality. I have changed my mindset about the way I look to myself and about how others will perceive me. But most importantly, I have surrounded myself with people who help me to stay mentally healthy and encourage me to have good habits, and to view myself in the most beautiful and feminine way.
23 YEAR OLD TEXAS BEAUTY QUEEN
Let me tell y’all a little about our mighty fine, great state of Texas. Here in Texas, we go big or we go home. And when I say big, I mean BIG. Our crops are bigger, our meat is bigger, our muscles are bigger, and our breasts are damn bigger. If you don’t have big breasts, then honey I suggest you go find the finest plastic surgeon in your area and you get that shit taken care of. Because here in Texas, the only things we like small are our women’s waists, legs, noses, and feet. Now, when I was in high school, I was a real stick. I had great legs, a great ass, and the cutest damn face y’all ever saw. But my breasts, not so great. All the girls would snicker at me in the halls, and the boys sure made a point of calling me queen of the “itty bitty titty committee.” So for my sixteenth birthday, I had my mama call Dr. Sloan, the best plastic surgeon in all of Texas. He does wonders on breasts, especially young girls breasts.
In eighth grade, my friends and I would go to tanning booths for fun, because here in Texas you have got to be as orange as the logo for UT Austin. We would go to the mall on Sundays and stop by the teeth whitening booths, where they bleached our teeth until they were as shiny as the pearls we would wear to our formal dances– here in Texas we are still pretty traditional with our Southern Charm. After we whitened our teeth we would head over to Victoria’s Secret where we stole hundreds of dollars worth of bomb shells to make our unful breasts look plump. As y’all probably know, appearance is important, but it’s all about the real deal and what you can feel. That’s why after my appointment with Dr. Sloan, all the boys wanted to get a little grab in, and I sure as hell let them. My new, bigger and better, breasts were the greatest thing since the birth of Christ for me. And if you know anything about the South, and how we feel about our lord and savior ,Jesus Christ, then y’all must know how amazing my new boobs were for me– they truly were the second coming.
Shortly after my boob job, when the attention started to filter away from them, people began to notice my fingers, which I had always been insecure about because fat fingers run in my family, I started going to my mama’s nail salon where I would walk out feeling like a real beauty queen, but of course that feeling of acceptance filtered away as the polish started to chip days later. Like my busty new breasts, the feeling of confidence always left and then I was left still feeling bad about myself.
The next thing I got teased for were my hips. Even though I was always skinny, because I liked to run, which probably accounted for my lack of breasts, all the girls who were rail thin made fun of me for having busty hips. Today, everyone wants hips and the nice ass that’s supposed to come with them, but back then, it was a sin to have curves. To try and make myself appear smaller, I would skip lunch everyday to try to fit in with the anorexic skinny girls, and this made me feel better for a long time, because I loved the feeling of seeing the changes my body was making. I wasn’t patient and I didn’t want to wait for the long term results that came from getting older, or working out, or things like that. Like I said, in Texas, y’all go big or you go home. There is no waiting around, patience is nothing more than a social construct. In Texas, you make sure you get what you want, no matter how bad it may hurt.
19 YEAR OLD DANCER
I began dancing when I was three years old, but it was not until I was thirteen that it became more than a hobby and I started to really take the art seriously. The thing about dance, is that it is an incredible amount of pressure on the body. Yes, physically it pushes and challenges your body, but it is more of a mental pressure. Have you ever looked up pictures of professional ballerinas on the internet? Well, if you have then you know that all of these woman are the most muscular stick figures you have ever seen in your life. To make it in ballet, you have to be powerful, but more importantly you have to be thin. Very thin. At eleven years old, my best friend and I began something of an anorexic tag team in which we pushed each other not to eat with hopes of becoming thin enough to be professional dancers. Like I said, in dance you have to be incredibly small and this does not create a healthy mind set, especially for young girls.
When I was going through this toxic phase of my career, I had a friend named Jaya. She too was a dancer, but the difference between the two of us was that she was much skinnier than I was. I thrived to look the way that she did, but I never seemed to be successful and this only deepened my anorexia and drive to be thin. My condition never got to the point of needing to be hospitalized but it did get to the stage where I was at the lowest mental point I have ever been.
My freshman year I become very depressed, as this was the peak of my disease. I found myself incredibly sad all of the time, and I had been so focused on being skinny for dance that I had isolated myself from my friends and felt entirely alone. They say there is a dark side to dance, like the Black Swan, but no one really knows how dark it can get until they experience it. Some days at ballet, when we would do bar work and I had to see myself in the mirror, I would have soft, silent tears rolling down my cheeks because of how upset I was about the way I appeared. It was not until my sophomore year of high school that I was finally able to get healthy again and learn how to be happy with what I had when I looked in the mirror.
Today, I am healthy. I am extremely confident in the way that I look. I have learned that my body is mine and I have to take care of it in order to be successful at the one thing I love the most in the world: dance. Although it has not been a smooth path getting to the place that I am in my career, dance is the one thing that makes me feel good and happy in my own skin. When I step into the studio now, there is no judgment towards myself or towards others. I have found a happy medium in which I have learned that eating right and dancing regularly makes me feel good inside and out. It makes me feel confident when I watch myself dance in the mirror. I love my body, from my eyebrows on my face to my ass on my backside. Today, I feel good. Today, I am the best I have ever been at dance. I have learned to love myself, to trust myself, and to embrace each new day. No longer do I worry about being the thinnest dancer in the room. Rarely do I look at my friends and feel envy. I do not look in the mirror and hate myself anymore. Of course there are days that I feel I may relapse, but then I look at myself and know that I am beautiful. I am strong. I am healthy. And most importantly, I am alive.