While everyone is touting the “Love your body the way it is” movement, there’s still an epidemic of people using Ozempic to lose weight, Botox to get rid of wrinkles, and an entire beauty industry that is decidedly anti-aging.
A few weeks ago, I went to see a doctor. I’d gained about 15 kgs in the last year, and no amount of working out, calorie counting, intermittent fasting, juicing, you name it, moved the needle. Not only did the weight refuse to budge, but I felt bloated and I was forced to wear my maternity clothes again because none of my regular clothes fit.
I walked out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of perimenopause (we’ll get to that later), supplements, and a prescription for a drug called Mounjaro. For those of you who don’t know, Mounjaro is the twin (same drug, different manufacturer) of the prevalent and ultra-controversial diabetes medicine Ozempic which has gone viral as the “miracle weight-loss drug” supposedly used by celebrities like Mindy Kaling and Kim Kardashian.
And it shocked me how desperately I wanted to take it.
Why, in today’s day and age of self-love and body positivity, do I still struggle to feel good about the way I look in my current size and shape? Truth be told, I didn’t even feel good about myself when I was a size eight. If I am brutally honest with myself, the reason I continue to tout, share, and applaud the body positivity movement (despite the fact that I’m losing the self-love journey) is that deep down, I want it to be true so I can finally feel validated.
While I hear everyone (including myself) shouting from the mountains “love your body the way it is,” there’s still an epidemic of people using Ozempic to lose weight, Botox to get rid of wrinkles, plastic surgery, injectibles, and an entire beauty industry built to combat our imperfections. We are all failing at loving ourselves just the way we are.
That begs the question: why? Is it because of impossible beauty standards perpetuated by the media in coverage of celebrities and models, who have a whole team of people making them “picture perfect?” Is it our innate desire to idolize the perfect, the symmetrical, and the aesthetically pleasing?
Of course, there are the occasional outliers when it comes to body inclusivity, like Ashley Graham – although she’s pretty perfect-looking in many ways, let’s admit – and yes, the movement has done some good by giving rise to more mainstream inclusivity, and a slew of body-positive influencers whose sole purpose in life seems to be to beg people to please wake up and love themselves. But even so, most of the time, I feel like I’m failing at pretty much everything because I’m constantly straining to achieve some form or other of perfection and I just can’t.
Channing Tatum, someone whose celebrity persona is associated with a flawless physique, defied expectations when he was asked if he had to “eat healthy” to prepare for roles like Magic Mike. “To be that kind of in shape is not natural,” Tatum told Kelly Clarkson on her talk show. “That's not even healthy—you have to starve yourself. I don't know how people who work a 9-to-5 actually stay in shape because it's my full-time job and I can barely do it.”
Perfection is not only impossible, it’s unrealistic.
In reality, my battle is on two fronts. The first is the very real consequences of being overweight. Whether it’s politically correct to admit it or not, being overweight or obese does heighten the risk of deadly diseases like diabetes, heart diseases, and some cancers. The second front is mental. Being a thinking, rational woman, I feel like I am succumbing to the undesirable characteristic of vanity by considering taking an injection to help me lose weight.
The truth is I want to look good and feel good in my clothes. I want my waistband to stop digging uncomfortably into my flesh. I want to be able to wear my wedding ring without fear that it will cut off the circulation in my fingers. I want to feel comfortable in my own skin and stop feeling like every bit of me is straining to burst through my stretched and taut skin or stuffed into my too-tight clothes. I want to not be fat. Society might say that, because of these things, I am a vain person.
However, when you look up the definition of vanity, Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance: conceit: something that is vain, empty, or valueless.” And…I am confident in saying I am none of those things.
There’s still an epidemic of people using Ozempic to lose weight, Botox to get rid of wrinkles, plastic surgery, injectibles, and an entire beauty industry built to combat our imperfections.
What is the difference between vanity and simply wanting to feel confident in my own appearance? Where is the socially acceptable line and standard drawn when it comes to confidence? If we are too self-assured, we come across as arrogant, and that pisses people off, but if we have no confidence, we come across as a wet blanket and that also pisses people off. I find this particularly true of women. Even in 2023, women (and men, although it does seem to be less so) are constantly judged by the way they look. Our value as women comes primarily from our appearance. Furthermore, any changes that we make are scrutinized, criticized, and commented on by complete strangers to close friends and family.
Look at famous examples like Adele and Rebel Wilson, who have simultaneously received praise and criticism in the media for their decision to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Am I vain if I read a self-help book because I want to work on a specific area in my life? Am I conceited if I go to the gym? Am I lazy if I don’t? And by taking the drug and getting a kickstart on shedding weight – even when recommended by a doctor for my health – am I just perpetuating this whole vicious cycle again for the next woman?
What is it about fat people that is so unacceptable to society and to ourselves? Don’t believe me? How did you feel just now when I used the word “fat?” Did you feel awkward, shocked, as if I’d said a bad word? If we are supposed to accept ourselves the way we are, then why do we apply a socially negative connotation to a mere adjective?
Fat shaming is still very much a ‘thing.’ A plus-size (and therefore statistically average) American woman named Alicia McCarvell is married to a man who, according to his Instagram account and ab snaps, is really into fitness. The couple often posts stories of the two of them working out together, enjoying their city together, remodeling their new house, and being affectionate with one another. She also posts photos of him gazing lovingly at his wife with absolute unfiltered adoration – just like any other couple on social media.
Yet, McCarvell is body-shamed daily. People feel the need to comment on the fact that she is overweight. Multiple posters tell her that her husband must be cheating, that he can do better, and without knowing them personally, will categorically deny their love because they are so “different”. What the trolls are saying, is that McCarvell – a bubbly, kind, funny, and doting wife – is unlovable. Why? Because she’s not a size two.
Fast forward to last week. There I was in the kitchen, holding a needle over my thigh, hating myself for hating myself. I’d always said I’d never go under the knife or the needle to change my appearance, but if I’m willing to inject myself with a drug for weight loss, why not Botox? After all, impossible beauty standards don’t stop at our bodies. Oh no, we have a whole industry that thrives on us believing the natural act of growing older and getting wrinkles is bad.
Look at the aggressive language used by the beauty industry in regard to your life-earned lines. It speaks of “eliminating dark spots,” “anti-aging,” “splintered split ends,” “attacking blemishes”, “eradicating wrinkles,” “erasing pores,” “scrubbing skin,” and on and on the violent terminology continues. The whole premise assumes that everything about you is wrong. You are broken, and you are in dire need of correcting, fixing, and repairing this damage. Maybe if we weren’t told and constantly reminded of our flaws, there would be no beauty industry at all.
We are obsessed with looking young because we have been reduced to our exterior appearance. Botox, stem cell-powered lotions and potions, obnoxiously expensive creams, chemical peels, and invasive and non-invasive treatments alike are designed to diminish the appearance of the wrinkles that I paid for in laughter. Why are my wrinkles so offensive? When did grey hair go from your “crown of wisdom” to the “bain of your existence”?
“The unrelenting societal expectations of beauty and femininity exert a heavy toll on women, leading to heightened levels of anxiety and depression,” says Maneet K. Singh, M.S. Clinical Mental Health Counseling/Psychotherapy at Lux Life Therapy. “These expectations are so pervasive that they seep into our subconscious, even if we resist them. We may not even be aware that we are succumbing to these pressures, but the toll it takes on our mental health can be exhausting and deeply demoralizing.”
Madonna was recently criticized after her appearance at the Grammys where the icon appeared on stage having clearly undergone plastic surgery. She responded by saying “Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45. And feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong-willed, hard-working, and adventurous. I have never apologized for any of the creative choices I have made, nor the way that I look or dress, and I’m not going to start. I have been degraded by the media since the beginning of my career but I understand that this is all a test and I am happy to do the trailblazing so that all the women behind me can have an easier time in the years to come.”
She wasn’t wrong. Hollywood has a commonly accepted expiration date of 40 years old when it comes to female actors. Models and athletes are often obsolete in their fields even younger. If a person’s entire career and self-identity are built upon their athletic prowess or how beautiful they are in front of a camera, is it any wonder that we see those beautiful faces we used to admire pulled, tightened, and reshaped with plastic surgery or frozen in time with filler as they try to hold onto their value in a fickle world? The thing is we are all aging every day no matter what new miracle cream, drug, or procedure they launch next. Perhaps we all fear it because it reminds us of our own mortality and this finite life we are living.
Blatant ageism, which is often overlooked or memed into a joke (something far more sinister because it denies all those being ridiculed the goodwill to point out the bias) is rampant in society. No longer do we revere the elders and seek their counsel. We scorn their advice and disdain anyone we perceive as too “outdated” whether it be their wardrobe, their wrinkles, or the way they struggle to operate TikTok. And as a woman, it’s not just the outside that Time is changing. Everything on the inside is going through a brand new chaotic process that literally turns our world upside down. And nobody wants to talk about it.
Before I went to the doctor, I didn’t realize what was going on in my body. My brain seemed to stop working at the most inopportune moments – it was like pregnancy brain but 100 times worse. I was forgetting important details. I was having the epic mood swings of a teenage girl, even when I was not PMSing. I was struggling with irrational anxiety and panic attacks, often in the middle of the night, something I’d never been predisposed to before. My hair, which was once my pride and joy, had begun thinning and looking brittle. I was tired all the time, and not just because I’m a working mom with two young kids. I gained an inordinate amount of weight, began having headaches, and had to start increasing my font to size 14. I felt alone and powerless.
Ask yourself what you know about menopause other than “hot flashes,” and “no periods?” Then ask yourself if you have any comprehension of what “perimenopause” is. Because I sure didn’t. Did you know the average woman’s span of perimenopause – which means “around menopause” and is the time during which your body makes its natural transition from the reproductive years into menopause – is around ten years? Exactly. Our bodies are living in a state of transition for a median timespan of one entire decade. Why is this rarely talked about? Why are our symptoms dismissed as “all in our head” or “just being moody” or “tired” or whatever other excuse we are not only given but accept for ourselves?
Professor Susan Davis AO, Endocrinologist and Clinical Researcher from Monash University in Australia, was speaking with Simon Hill on his podcast The Proof about menopause and how women frequently don’t recognize all the signs that are related to perimenopause and menopause, like anxiety, and therefore no triggers or warning bells alert them to what is going on with their bodies which ultimately leaves them in a very scary place. “They feel alone and vulnerable because they don’t know what’s going on with their body. If you’re empowered with knowledge about what may happen, you can say, ‘oh, this is happening to me’ and understand why it’s happening. If you don’t know why it’s happening or what to expect, it’s a very frightening experience.”
The ruthless and inevitable truth is that menopause is coming for all of us. It is as inevitable as the sunrise. No matter how old you are right now, no one is immune. It shouldn’t be a case of “the first rule of menopause is nobody talks about menopause” because that helps literally no one. We need to erase the stigma of getting older and start normalizing all conversations related to it – especially perimenopause and menopause – because knowledge is power. It helps us not feel so damn lonely.
So back to my kitchen. Here, I am looking at a box of Mounjaro injections trying to decide what to do. There, I am staring at my bathroom sink at an inordinate amount of bottles promising the fountain of youth in exchange for a good portion of my paycheck. Here, I am trying to decide what is to be or not to be.
In psychology, there is the concept of the Real Self – the one that reflects a person’s true qualities, aptitudes, inclinations, and characteristics – and the Ideal Self – the one constituted by the characteristics to which one aspires, or rather, a guide to the self. Neither is better than the other. However, we may find ourselves in a place of unhappiness when the two selves are too far apart. We are constantly striving towards converging the two together by either altering our Ideal Self into a version attainable by our Real Self or by altering our Real Self into our Ideal Self as we learn and grow. We can either race towards one end of the spectrum or the other, or we can try to work on both to bring them to meet somewhere in the middle.
I want to be healthy, and for me, that means learning how to have a healthier relationship with food and exercising or moving my body in ways that make it stronger. I also want to love myself, unconditionally. No, wait. I want to finally, finally accept myself for who I am. I don’t want the number of years that have passed since my first birthday or the numbers staring back at me from the scale to determine how valued I feel. I want to value myself. I want to recognize the constant slew of negative thoughts I’ve been telling myself about how unworthy I am and transform them into words that remind me that I am loved, I am lovable, I am enough, I am worthy – wrinkles, rolls, and all.
Just the way I am.