When I went on holiday to South Korea in October 2013, I was acutely aware of my size compared to other women. Back home in Canada, I was considered fairly average for a woman of my height and weight. But in Korea, I felt so much larger and I got the sense that I occupied more space than the average Korean woman. I remember feeling so relieved to be normal and average again when I returned home.
For too many years, I held onto the ideation of the perfect body/ideal self. I come from a culture that emphasizes physical attractiveness, with very narrow and rigid standards of beauty. I might have grown up in Canada, but I still felt the pressure to conform to my homeland’s ideal, which can get as broad as ideal height and as detailed as the size of your face. (It must be smaller than a CD—I can’t even make this stuff up). Apparently, my face is okay, even if it is on the larger side, because my extended family have always made comments in the vein of, “You have such a pretty face, but you’d be so much prettier if you lost weight.”
And so I internalized that message—lose weight, become prettier. Become happier? I thought it was the answer to my body image issues and if I could just achieve my goal weight, life would be perfect and my suffering would end.
We all know how that turned out.
My perfect body/ideal self looked more like supermodel Cindy Crawford than my real self. It’s no wonder I was constantly dissatisfied with my appearance. I held onto an ideal that would be impossible to meet without the intervention of some serious plastic surgery and a dash of wizardry. I was simply not born with modelesque proportions, nor am I white, so how was I supposed to even come close?
My psychotherapist advised that I should visualize and strive to achieve my best self. But my best self has to be rooted in reality. On the physical side, I cannot magically grow another four inches. I cannot will my face to shrink to CD size.
Focusing on reaching a certain weight or fitting into a certain size has its merits, but if my body isn’t meant to be at what I perceive to be an ideal weight or size, it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I could spend the rest of my life trying to reach my ideal, but I’d be wasting my breath chasing down a mirage.
Instead of focusing on physical appearance, I’m striving to focus on functionality and well being of my body. Instead of lamenting on my short legs, I’m focusing on how strong they are and how grateful I am that they function perfectly fine. Instead of nitpicking at my soft belly, I’m focusing on being blessed with abundance and being able to fill my stomach with nutritious food. Instead of wishing my arms were thinner, I’m focusing on how well they’re able to lift and carry heavy things.
Looking at the big picture, I’m taking a more holistic approach to my ideal self. When I visualize what that might look like, I can see myself enjoying a latte and a chocolate croissant at a local cafe, immersed in a really good book one day, then kicking ass at a networking event the next. I’m out enjoying the sunshine with my dog in the morning and I’m cooking a feast for my family in the evening. I’m connecting with new people, taking on new adventures, and making new memories.
When I return to Korea this April, I’m not going to be focused on my size or what I look like compared to everyone else. I’ll be focusing on being present each day—having a great time, eating some seriously good food and taking tons of photos along the way.