I gotta confess: for the longest time, I thought I was ugly.
Whenever this comes up in late-night or girl-night conversations, the response is always a drawn out “Whaaat?” and then with furrowed brows, “Why?”
The answer to that question is simple. Growing up, I never saw anyone on TV, in books, or in advertisements who looked like me. So, I assumed that people who were looked like me were not beautiful enough to be in TV, books, and advertisements. My elementary, middle, and high school were in the suburbs of Georgia. Although there was a healthy dose of diversity that included first and second generation immigrants from many different countries, the female beauty standard is the stereotype–the light-eyed, tan, and delicate-boned blonde. She was the one winning love and conquering nations in the tween novels and feminist fantasy books, respectively. Never once was she ever described as having pimples, dry skin, or–god forbid–visible pores.
In contrast, I had pitch black eyes angling into slants, skin that was more butter-toned than honey- colored, and stubborn hair that was too kinky to be brushed but not curly enough for ringlets. As for my skin, it was as far from perfect. But the characteristic I was most insecure about was my build.
With big proportions, a wide rib-cage and even wider hips, I was far from delicate. Never mind that I was healthy, strong, and active. To me, that meant I was fat, indelicate, and undesirable. My exterior image reflected my interior image, and I dressed in discount tees and shapeless khakis. There were also a few friends who were just as media-indoctrinated as me. They reinforced my poor body image by saying things like “Girl, you’re a Plain Jane.” Although those comments weren’t in malice, they really instilled my negative beliefs. On nights when homework was particularly difficult, I half-jokingly motivated myself by promising that once my education helps earn me money, I would commence drastic full-body plastic surgery.
MEETING MYSELF ANEW
My relationship with self-image only improved in university. After I found out how interesting my body could be as a canvas for self-expression, I began dressing well for fun. As I gained confidence, I also began participating more in leadership positions, reaching out to others, and hanging out with more diverse people with diverse perspectives. Although these people didn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical image of American beauty, their unique combinations of features and proportions were exquisite and stunning. Sometimes it’s the unusual fashion, coiffed hairstyle, or bold makeup. Other times what sucks me in are the unique way their forehead curves into their nose-bridge, the fascinating shape of their eyes, or the profile of their lips. As I learned more about the world and the people in the world, it became clear that there is no world-standard for anything, nor should there be.
Beauty is too sacred to ever be cookie-cutter. I didn’t find people beautiful just because they fit that beauty standard I grew up with. And I found out that people loved me and found me beautiful because I fit my own image of beauty: wild-maned girl with a button nose, cat-like eyes, and a powerful mind which is just as beautiful–if not more– as her frame.
Essay by: Joy Zhang
Field of Study: Mechanical Engineering
Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology
About: I’m a second-generation Chinese-American, feminist, and nerd for art, engineering, and good lotion. My hobbies include listening to strange music, watching youtube videos, and couchsurfing internationally. I’m currently interning in France while getting fat off fromage.
ⒸGirlterest Scholarship Program 2016