Yung Cheng Lin
An obvious answer comes in the questions I posed—but I wanted you to read it nonetheless. I wanted to plaster those questions that seem so easily answerable on this medium so that you may answer it, godspeed, and effectively realize that you suffer the very same knowledge that is shared across the country. And until I saw the people I know and love turn their worth and fate to the hands of something so material, so uncertain and various in nature, I did not feel such a need to acknowledge this.
I admire someone very much; someone I will call Bella for the sake of anonymity. She is, to me, so effortlessly beautiful; curls strung across her back, long lashes, a gorgeous round face. She and I are the closest, and our favorite memory together trails back to when we used to stroll down the shore of Clearwater Beach and set down a towel at the birth of dusk. We’d both enjoy this amazing pasta salad we bought from our nearest Publix, and we’d talk away, with the world seemingly behind us as the sun came down and left us to the sight of the stars. If I could go back to that moment, I would.
These days, things are very, very different.
We’re still as close as we could ever be; we still go on little adventures, if we can make the time for it through all the schoolwork. We shop together, sing in the car together, eat together.
But now, she is burdened to focus on how much. How many. This-free. That-free.
And at first, when people set goals for themselves and their wellness, it’s unassuming to you, because you find reassurance in the overall positive intentions and aspects of reaching one’s goals. And such reassurance still applies; she wants to be at her personal best, and I want that for her too. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on yourself to achieve what you desire.
But, from time to time, I’ll reminisce the good experiences; I’ll bring up our ventures at amusement parks and funny mishaps at dine-in restaurants.
Recently, I brought up our experiences at the beach. I mentioned the pasta salad and the cool sand. I thought back to just how gorgeous the sunset was.
Bella held my hand and smiled quietly. “I can’t wait until the day I can do that with you again. I just gotta lose this weight.”
And I stayed quiet. A thousand thoughts rushed through my mind, frustrated, yelling and shouting for a reason that we just couldn’t do it now. Why do we have to wait? Why do you have to wait?
Didn’t this make us happy? Don’t you want to feel that again?
She does. She does want to feel it again. But she does not feel that she deserves it yet.
America faces the illness that is our pursuit of one singular definition of perfection. 80% of the female U.S. population find dissatisfaction with their appearance, and 34% of American men are not content with their body image. The collective cause for becoming the most “beautiful” version of oneself has spread to the very core of America’s youth.
We know the Eurocentric standards for perfection all too well: small waist, plump lips, thin arms, petite frame. No excess belly fat, but wait—don’t forget to keep it all in the chest and backside, ladies! And men? You get a bit of the action too! Hop right in, for as long as you’re blessed with the visage of the gods and a figure that’s reminiscent of the works of Michelangelo, young and strong, you also get into the party. Top it off with light skin, crystal blue eyes and a cute little button nose, and you’ve made it into the club.
The culture of today has normalized the endless hours of photoshopping and editing covers of major publisher works to stop the world in its tracks with such a proposed standard. Celebrities like Lili Reinhart, Zendaya, Lady Gaga, Andy Roddick and numerous others have spoken out against immense digital retouching of their photos. Any body type receives it, and any facial profile is subject to alterations galore. Even the most idealized people seem to be a match for the standards of magazine print, with waist cinching and thigh chopping plastered all over famous faces.
I have personally found myself sitting there for endless hours, staring at those unbelievably gorgeous filters and retouched works, seeing them as simple photographs and imagining what changes I’d make to my own facial profile or bodily features. I’d desire a different nose or hair color, a different lip shape or clearer skin. I won’t deny that we all vividly envision the person we want to be. But I feel as though, in our society, we have abandoned and lost all respect for ourselves as we are.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should absolutely try to sickeningly adore every part of yourself. That is inevitably unrealistic, to say the least. There will always be something about ourselves, changeable or not, that is less desirable—something we just happen to have—and that is alright. Remember that in the process of your own self care, you do not owe your thoughts to anyone but your own self. Respect your preferences.
But I think, with the way we endlessly chase every possibility in this country, we have forgotten a keystone rule that transcends every aspect of our being, regardless of our personal preferences: do not mistreat yourself under any circumstance. And I mean any.
Do you wish you looked different? You cannot help that desire—it’s engrained in you. Such desires are hard to extract from or change within our minds. But your body does not know that. All it knows is what it needs, right here and right now. Do not abandon that. You must eat, drink and sleep; you must survive.
And above all, you must live. You must not deprive yourself of the opportunity to experience joy, to enrich your brain with core memories and recall the feeling of it, which is but the ocean water reaching your feet upon the shore and peacefully receding back once again. Joy is a visiting friend; do not cancel plans with it, because it does not care whether you’re blonde or brunette, twenty pounds lighter or heavier, or plastered with makeup or acne. It will always want to come. Let it into your home.
While our country’s magazine covers and cigarette ashes spread the Hollywood gospel, remember that the very cells of your skin and blood are not nurtured by what you desire to be, but by what you already are. Your happiness does not know the future; it only knows the here and now, that in which it will expel from the depths of your brain and heart in light of the present moment.
Your body is simply a body—that is the only truth. You simply exist as you are; there is no exclusive, definitive description of beauty, because different eyes appreciate different aspects of you.
Think back to any previous decade; consider the fifties. America was all about the wasp’s waist and the soft, curly hair and etiquette- and now, decades later, we embrace the slick, straight hair and broad model shoulders. Don’t forget that in the 2000s, we were just in a phase of appreciating the flat stomach, prioritizing it above the curve that would accompany it. Now we’re checking waist sizes consistently. Still keeping the flat ideal set in stone, though.
Travel through time and places, and you will find differences in the definition of “beautiful.” There are those who will embrace the thickness of your skin, bones, and hair. There are those who will reject the curve of your waist, eyes and lips. To rely upon a standard that molds to the ever-changing era and does not apply to truth is to forever disappoint yourself. When these standards and ideals are stripped from the world, all that remain are really just our bodies. Breathing, talking, laughing bodies that will not pursue beauty but instead pursue the next day. The next conversation. The next hug. Life.
I’m not saying that you should not appreciate or appeal to beauty. What is your definition of it? What do you like? Admire it, certainly. Cherish the value of aesthetic and embody what you would like to attain. I know I do.
All I’m saying is, do not measure your livelihood in the unit of an indefinite concept, fed only by the inconsistent premise of the human mind that responds to observation and does not grow its visions from its roots. You deserve to be happy because you are capable of it. You deserve to be happy because you are free to be.
I dream of the day that Bella and I can peacefully eat our pasta salad and sit on sand, watching the sunset together, without a single thought of numbers or portions in our minds. Just the warm orange and yellow beaming down on our faces. Only that. I’m not sure if we will find that peace of mind. Time and effort will tell.
But I hope you find it. This is a reminder to the body that allows you to read this now. Live the American dream. Not the American limit.