I first became aware of my body image when I was 11 years old. At that time, I was accustomed to what my family thought were positive comments about my body.
“She’ll have a nice body when she grows up,” my aunts would say, and family friends would advise me to start watching what I ate if I wanted to have a nice figure after puberty.
People commented on my body so freely because they believed I should adhere to my culture’s beauty standard. I grew up in the Dominican Republic where wide hips and a small waist have always been the ideal body type. I worried that my body wouldn’t meet my family’s expectations of being very curvy because I was only a child.
During the 2010s, I discovered Tumblr, which had gained a reputation for promoting eating disorders.
At first, the Western beauty standards of being very thin appealed to me. These standards felt like an escape from my culture’s ideals and offered relief because I felt other body types were acceptable for the first time.
However, my relationship with romanticized thinness in the United States turned into more than just an escape — it became an unhealthy obsession.
Attempting to become thinner, I obsessively controlled how much I ate, which led to binge eating when I could no longer restrain myself from consuming food. At only 13, I was trapped in a cycle of starvation, binge eating and guilt.
At the same time, my family and I had just moved to the U.S., and the stressful immigration process worsened my habits. I didn’t want to share my struggles with my family in fear of not being understood, so I distanced myself when we needed to support each other as we adjusted to life in the U.S.
Leaving my country triggered my insecurities because I didn’t know which beauty standards to follow. Both Dominican and American standards were praised by different people in my life, and I didn’t know who was right.
Nevertheless, experiencing the change alongside my family motivated me to get better. I tried to overcome my eating disorder by being more present in family meals and spending less time on the internet to avoid triggers.
At 14, I learned about the body positivity movement. I stumbled across an Instagram account that shared infographics about the importance of self-love. One account led to another, and I slowly learned the meaning behind body positivity.
I initially disregarded the movement because I couldn’t imagine life without controlling what I ate, but with time, I was inspired by the happiness of those practicing body positivity. It meant I didn’t have to be extremely curvy or skinny. I could just be me and love myself for it.
However, loving my body without hesitation wasn’t as easy as the accounts I followed made it appear. Even when I wanted to overcome my eating disorder, intrusive and self-deprecating thoughts were always present, urging me to worry about my weight and appearance.
Eventually, I learned that body positivity wouldn’t always be best for me. I recognized that I would go through moments when I liked and didn’t like my body. My body will never be perfect, and that’s okay.
In the past year, I’ve come across a new, popular term: body neutrality, respecting my body even if I don’t always like how it looks. As an attempt to acknowledge different people’s relationships with body image, the same accounts that taught me about body positivity now educate their followers on body neutrality.
Practicing body neutrality seemed unachievable at first. I didn’t think that not caring about my body image was realistic after obsessively caring for years. Eventually, I decided to give body neutrality a try as a last resort to be at peace with myself.
I learned that combining body neutrality and body positivity allows me to stop obsessing on my appearance and appreciate the things it lets me do, like writing essays and exercising. I try to be grateful for what my body can do instead of how it looks, but sometimes I find it rewarding to congratulate myself for working out and seeing the results I want.
Even though both loving my body and being neutral about its appearance is difficult to balance, I finally feel inner peace knowing I don’t have to be at war with my body. I’m willing to give myself time to heal because the last eight years of my life have felt like a battle, but also been a journey to self-love.