My generation has grown up in a society that places an appalling emphasis on body image.
As children, we received dolls and action figures that displayed figures that are nearly impossible to reach, bodies that are depressingly underweight or both. All the magazine models were (and still are) extremely skinny or extremely fit, never average or overweight.
As tweens and teens, many of us became self-conscious about the clothes we wore, the hairstyle we favored, the things we said, our level of supposed "popularity" in the social circles that were oh-so-important and the way our bodies looked. We were infected with wanting to grow up too quickly and devoured the "wisdom" of teen magazines. We saw the way "fat" people got picked on, the way the celebrities we looked up to were thin, the way all the tabloid magazines by the checkout lines in the supermarket advertised advice on how to lose weight and become the sexy, ultra-thin vixen with a thigh gap, preferably with breasts the size of basketballs.
Today, this pandemic has only grown worse, and we have yet to liberate ourselves from society's ruthless claws.
Over the years, this ideal of reaching perfection has fostered a nauseating disease -- a disease that society has protected and cultivated. Overall, my generation is insecure about our bodies, obsessed with dieting, tainted with high rates of eating disorders and more. It's not surprising, considering the way society has trained us to want what it tells us we need to have in order to be beautiful, popular or wanted.
That doesn't subtract from the fact that the pandemic is heartbreaking and awful.
The facts are dismal (all of the following statistics in the next two paragraphs are from the National Eating Disorders Association). The percent of adolescent girls partaking in "crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills or laxatives" is between 35 percent and 57 percent. More than half of teenage girls and almost a third of teenage boys "use unhealthy weight control behaviors." In the 2000s, the average BMI of Miss America winners was a mere 16.9, far below the medically optimal range between 18.5 and 24.9. These are the girls who are plastered all over magazines, girls that society demands we emulate.
It doesn't stop there -- the disease has clearly spread to younger and younger ages. We live in a country where 69 percent of magazine-reading elementary school girls say that the pictures they see influence their concept of the ideal body shape, and 47 percent of them also say the pictures make then want to lose weight. Meanwhile, 42 percent of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner -- these are girls barely out of toddlerhood -- and 81 percent of 10 year olds who are afraid of being fat.
On Twitter, I constantly see girls posting pictures of themselves calling them fat or ugly or cutting off or covering their faces because they're "not beautiful enough." In a single day, the average user probably sees at least 20 tweets with links promising to share dieting secrets or the quick, easiest way to get abs or that elusive thigh gap everyone idolizes. Girls are afraid to be seen without makeup, and photoshop is everyone's best friend.
Girls aren't the only ones facing this body image dilemma, either. Guys are forever being told that they have to be muscular, ripped with a defined set of abs. They can't have any fat on them, and they must live up to this outdated American idea of masculinity that, quite frankly, reminds me of the days of Manifest Destiny. Apparently, society doesn't realize that nobody is foraging into the woods to become a pioneer in the untamed West, where cowboys thrive and men build houses in a day. (Queue the dramatic eye roll.)
Just like girls, guys are being held to expectations that they shouldn't have to fulfill if they don't want to.
Worse yet, instead of joining together against these bodily insecurities, we go after each other like dogs. Guys refuse to consider girls who aren't skinny and sexy, and girls refuse to consider guys who don't have abs and muscles all over their bodies. Guys pick on other "weaker" guys, and girls pick on "ugly" girls. Why can't we just say no and refuse to buy into this ideal of what we're supposed to look like? Why can't we stop pulling each other down and stop tearing at each other's insecurities?
Sure, it's great if we're fit and have a body we're proud of, but should we really be placing all of these expectations and musts on people? Why do we have to fit the so-called "ideal body type" and shame people who don't have it?
I have nothing against losing weight to obtain a healthier lifestyle. I have nothing against changing the foods you eat from greasy fast foods to a healthy, balanced diet that meets all of your nutritional needs. I have nothing against wanting a healthier body and being proud of your physical fitness.
I draw the line at wanting to lose weight for the wrong reasons, like wanting to imitate the photoshopped bodies in magazines or thinking it'll make you more popular. I draw the line at starvation or forcing yourself to throw up as a method of "dieting." I draw the line when weight-loss becomes an unhealthy obsession and causes psychological problems.
Sometimes, I'm not sure whether to cry or scream when I see evidence of the disease that threatens to suffocate our lives. But when I'm angry, I'm not sure whether to be angry at society with all its glitzy magazines, at the parents or at the children themselves. I think each group has its own fair share of responsibility to own up to.
And at the end of the day, we -- tweens, teens and young adults -- are simply children. (Before anyone argues otherwise, current science believes that the brain, specifically the decision-making part, doesn't stop developing until we're around 25 years old; no wonder why society so easily manipulates many of us.)
We're just children obsessed with the number of abs we have or how large our thigh gap is. We're children who are hurting our bodies or committing suicide because the adults and other children around us are telling us that our self-worth is dependent on the number on the weighing scale. We're children starving ourselves, taking laxatives and throwing up food because we haven't been taught to respect our bodies. We're only taught to care about how our bodies look rather than feel. We're children who cut ourselves because we're not pretty enough, children who are bullied by other children for having a different body type, children who have been taught to define ourselves by our bodies.
We're children who are brainwashed into being just so scared of being different and so scared of the consequences of not conforming to what society hearkens as the ideal body. We're children brainwashed into believing that our self-worth is defined by how perfectly crafted our noses are, how large our breasts are and how minuscule the circumference of our waists are. We're children learning lessons on the art of body shaming, starting with the decimation our own bodies.
Stop. This is not okay.
We're just children, no matter how much we claim otherwise.
My response? Screw you, society, because I REFUSE to become another victimized pawn in your sick game. I don't care how many times you try to tell me what the perfect body looks like or how many different links you send my way on how to get the perfect swimsuit body. I don't care about what society thinks is perfect, mostly because it's trivial and oftentimes a complete contrast to what science says is healthy and sustainable. I don't want my life to be consumed with misery and to be forever chasing after impossible ideals. I don't want to be driven to dramatic means or develop eating or psychological issues in order to solve my "problem."
I'd rather accept my body, flaws and all, strive to be healthy and live my life happily without fretting over what other people think about my body. My lack of a thigh gap does not keep me from being beautiful, nor does any other "imperfection" I've been blessed with. I don't care to conform and look like every other girl, and I don't much care about what society's definition of beauty is because I know it's only skin-deep. There are far more important things in life to care about.
As Cristina Yang from Grey's Anatomy said, "Oh, screw beautiful, I'm brilliant! You wanna appease me, compliment my brain!"
The above YouTube video is me giving a speech based on some (but not all) of what I have written in this HuffPost Teen piece.