Reflections on Body Image

It had been a few weeks since I last shaved my legs when I first came to Pomona in August. I was nervous, excited, and worried if I would be able to handle myself here. I was definitely out of my comfort zone—2,000 miles, to be precise. So, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t shave my legs for the whole school year. My reasoning was that if I could do that, I could do anything.

My second shower in the dorm, I felt a strong temptation to shave. Back home, I was able to resist, but here, I couldn’t ignore the urge. Maybe it was seeing all the short shorts and bare legs. I hadn’t wanted to shave that badly since middle school, when I was so easily influenced by other people and at the peak of puberty and whatnot. I turned over the purple Schick razor in my hand, stroking the rubber with my thumb. I stood still for a good two minutes before I shook my head and tossed the razor back in my shower caddy. No. I refused to give in.

After that, I hardly paid attention to my hairy legs. But I soon realized that there are so many beauty norms other than bare legs. In the dining halls, I noticed that many (skinny) girls piled fruit and salad onto their plates. Since I can’t eat raw fruits and vegetables (Oral Allergy Syndrome), I primarily only eat cooked vegetables, but those aren’t always offered. So I would somewhat sheepishly eat my meat, my carbs, my fried food as I eyed my peers’ colorful plates of produce.

Crop tops are also popular here—and, by extension, flat stomachs. I thought crop tops looked cute, but I felt like I wouldn’t be able to pull them off—my stomach isn’t exactly flat or toned. I suppose a bigger chest could offset that, but I’m pretty flat in that department too. I often roll up my shirt and look at my reflection in the mirror, particularly at the strip of flesh spilling out of my pants. After winter break, I decided to cut out fries, pizza, and soda from my diet, but that decision was because of dissatisfaction with my appearance and to trim down on unnecessary weight, not because I wanted to better my health. (I wouldn’t work out though, because I’m way too lazy for that to be feasible.)

I also feel pressure to look more mature. I have a childish face, but I feel uneasy about appearing that way in college. I try not to put my hair up in a ponytail, I wear fitted clothes or at least clothes that are baggy in a “college kid” way rather than an “elementary school kid” way. There was a time in the school year when I would put on makeup every day—I made sure to fill in my eyebrows, put on eyeliner and mascara, all so I could look my age. Now, I force myself to brave a bare face every so often to remind myself that I shouldn’t be ashamed to show the world what I really look like.

What I’m—and have always been—most self-conscious about is my skin. I have eczema, and this dry climate isn’t the best for it. My skin has been itchy every day since I got here. No matter how much lotion or ointment I use, it’s dry and red. When I’m alone in my room and not distracted by anything, I find myself constantly rubbing my hands together. Frustrated, I rub more vigorously, hoping that soothes the itchiness, but all it does is cause my skin to chafe and bleed. I’m a little embarrassed to shake or hold hands with other people. Their hands are always softer than mine, smoother than mine, and for a fleeting moment, I imagine the disgust running through their mind as they touch my scabbed, flaky skin.

I was once extremely self-conscious about my body to the point that I cried at night and wondered why I had to look the way I did. That was years ago; I thought I had transcended that. To some extent, I am more comfortable with parts of my body that I wasn’t originally, and I am self-aware of my thought process in regards to body image. I don’t cry at night anymore. But I feel like body image is a constant struggle, and not letting other people influence how you perceive yourself is a constant struggle, and I constantly have to remind myself to love myself. One thing is for sure—I haven’t put a razor to my legs for almost eight months now. At least I’m on track to keeping that promise.