Evidence shows that popular culture places burdens on people’s well-being and self esteem, often resulting in low confidence and self-consciousness. This can contribute to lowered aspirations and psychological well-being and heightened vulnerability to risky behaviours. We are lucky that our government is trying to address the cause of low level body confidence in our society today by raising awareness of body image and working with industry (media, retail, advertising, fitness, fashion and beauty) to represent and celebrate a wider range of sizes, shapes and ethnicity in images of men, women and children. This encourages young people's aspirations and confidence in their full value and social contribution. However, is this really enough to stop the influence of low body confidence among young people today?
I don't think I ever truly developed a real perception of myself. I came to believe that at 11 years old I was required to have a sense of who I truly was; an identity.
I was a relatively normal adolescent - I got good grades, I had friends, a good and supportive family. But one thing I kept secret, which so many preteens do nowadays, was that I was terrified to grow up, I was terrified of life. I didn't know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to be. I didn't know who I was. I so badly craved an identity, and when I felt like the only one who didn't have one, I was ashamed.
I tried so many things, I tried to identify as "the one who passed all her subjects", I tried to be "the one who all the teachers loved", I tried to be "the one who was the most smartest", "most talented", "most popular", you name it and I probably tried to be it. Despite having good grades at school and a good social group of friends, I never felt I could obtain an identity of these so-called "ideals". So who was I?
I had tried to create my identity through so many things, and the overwhelming realisation that I was still unable to answer the simple question "who am I?" brought back the feelings of shame. To me, I had failed. That is, of course, until I developed a sense of consciousness for something I hadn't yet manipulated or tried to use as my identity; my body.
For years I watched girls and guys be referred to as "the one with the big boobs", "the one with the nice ass", "and the one with the amazing biceps". Me? I didn't quite fit into that category. I developed breasts at a significantly slower rate than a lot of my peers. My curves didn't begin to show until I was 16. My feminine figure was, I guess you could say, somewhat delayed.
Nearly all my life, I was told by so many what my body was. My body was "scrawny", a "skinny minny", my physique was "childlike". At first I thought nothing of it, but at the time I was pining over wanting to be something and so I grabbed onto the labels I had obtained from others and found a sensation of achievement by identifying through my physical appearance, I found that satisfaction that I so desperately craved. "Scrawny", "boney", "childlike" was who I was, without these labels I believed I needed to identify as, what was I? I was nothing.
Necessary to the ways of life, I had to grow up. I eventually began to develop breasts, I noticed my hips becoming more prominent and my curves beginning to show. My figure was no longer "boney", I didn't see myself as "scrawny" or "childlike". I was losing the one thing I used as my identity. To me, this meant I was back to square one again of finding who I was. I realised that once I could no longer use the identity of having the "smallest figure", the "child-like figure" or the "scrawny figure" that the feelings I found so unbelievably difficult to cope with would return; this time, I refused to let that happen. I didn't want my breasts, I didn't want my curves. And so, I took actions into my own hands. I manipulated my weight and my body to maintain the labels others had bestowed upon my body. I refused to accept my body could ever be womanly; after all, I was the "scrawny one", the one who had the "boney and child-like figure". I lost weight, I changed the way my body appeared, I truly believed that this would make me happy, but of course it didn't. I maintained a scrawny body, a boney body, a weak body that so desperately craved nourishment, I abused my body but I had to maintain the identity I was given. I was trapped in a body that was suffering to survive, this body was no longer mine.
I found an identity, but where was my happiness? I destroyed my body for a piece of mind I never achieved. What pride did I get from identifying as "scrawny", "boney"? Better yet, why did I destroy myself and let these so-called "ideal" labels claim my body? What right did they have?
Now I say, for what it is worth, I don't want this identity anymore. Now I say, for what it is worth, that I know the power to fight is within me. Now I say, for what it is worth, that I ate breakfast today and I enjoyed it.
My body is changing, and however hard it may be to adjust, I know that being healthy will be incredible. The ideals, pressures, and labels to look a certain way are not welcome. And in fact, they never were. Your body is your body, and my body is my body, and that is something no one can take away from you.
Now I say for what it is worth, that this is my body, and I'm claiming it back.
Ciana is 19 years old and from Belfast. She is currently studying for her A Levels at Methodist College Belfast.