Finding a reason to love ourselves is not as easy as most people think. For some, it may come as human nature. But there are many people out there who find it an everyday battle to face the mirror, much less find something beautiful in what they see. And no, if you’re experiencing it, that doesn’t mean you’re a defective creation of this universe. Body dysmorphia is one of today’s familiar concerns in both men and women. But people who don’t identify as man or a woman, and those who don’t prefer labels also deal with body image issue just as equally.
I asked author-poet Ashe Vernon about it. An out and proud agender person, Ashe has been vocal about the various issues society is facing today, including body image.
For starters, how would you describe a body image issue?
I think it’s anytime someone is unhappy with their body; it can be weight-related or gender presentation- related or any number of things.
What can you share about your personal experience with this?
I’ve had issues with body image my whole life. For me, body image gets even more complicated because I’m both overweight and agender, so I’ve had all different kinds of dysphoria when it comes to my body. But honestly, one of the very first things I can remember was being at a sleepover when I was in middle school. All the other girls there were slender and beautiful and I was chubby and kind of awkward. The girls all started tying their t-shirts up to show their stomach. I laughed and made a joke when I did it too, and most of the girls laughed at whatever I had said. But I’ll never forget the girl who turned with this disgusted look on her face and said “please DON’T”. That’s the first time I remember feeling actively ashamed of my body.
I was bullied in elementary school, too, for my weight. There was an older boy who used to follow me around singing “she’s Roly Poly Oly, she’s small and fat and round.”
Did you have any self-denial about it?
I think there was a period of time right when I started college where I tried to convince myself that I was “over” my body issues. After all, I’d worked SO hard to love my body, and I think I saw it as a personal failure if I relapsed into self-loathing. I wasn’t willing to admit that it was going to be a life-long process with ups and downs. I was also a theatre major, watching all of the best female roles go to girls with tiny waistlines and that was discouraging, and made it feel like trying to climb a tower of sand. I spent a huge part of my college years convinced that no matter how much I loved my body, nobody else ever would.
What’s the process of trying to understand these issues like?
For me, the first thing I did was remove the word ‘ugly’ from my vocabulary. I made an effort to find something beautiful about every single person I saw, even if it was just a small thing. Instead of mentally criticizing the people around me, I praised them. She had gorgeous hair and he had a genuine smile and her blouse looked great on her. After a while, the positives started to outweigh the negatives, in everyone. A little while longer, and it started to become easier to see the positives in me.
Was it easy to get friends and family on board? How much has changed since you became more open about it?
Without a doubt. These days, I have a very supportive network of people in my life. I don’t let negative influences into my personal circle. Even on the days where I don’t feel all that beautiful, there’s always people who love me and who accept me for who I am.
Can you describe what a bad day and a good day look like?
These days, bad days aren’t quite as bad as they used to be. Usually when I know I’m having a bad day I try to avoid mirrors and be gentle with myself. If I catch myself being overly critical, I redirect my attention to something else and distract myself from it, and usually by the end of the day I’m at least calm if not positive. But it’s taken me a lot of years to get to this point.
A good day has me glowing. Some good days I’m wearing makeup and other good days I’m not, but those are the days when I have no doubt in my mind that I’m beautiful and worthy of love.
Is there one thing about body image issue that you’ve already conquered but is still sometimes knocking on your door?
The hardest thing for me has always been my breasts. I’m a 38FF, so they’ve caused me a lot of grief throughout my life. On top of the back pain and just general inconvenience of having large breasts, not to mention how many men in my life have blatantly stared at them while talking to me, but also when I was younger I hated them because I felt like they made me look even bigger than I was. I had friends of similar body types but smaller breasts and I always felt like they looked more slender than me.
But it went deeper than that, and for a lot of years I had trouble understanding. As I started to figure out my gender identity, I realized that part of my hatred for them was tied into that.
I’ve put a lot of work into accepting my body for it what it is, but sometimes I still struggle accepting them. Honestly, I’m planning on getting a breast reduction once I can afford it.
What is your current perception of a “perfect body”?
Every body is perfect.
Anything you want to tell women dealing with body image issues?
You’ve been brought up in a world that tells you that you were intended to be consumed–that you should be pleasing and fit into the mold that was made for you. It’s not true. Your body is already perfect because it’s already yours. Loving yourself is so much more important than any dress size.
Google has 22.5 million results if you search “body image issues” and almost 10 million if you search “how to deal with body image issues”. But more often than not, we don’t really need a how-to guide. Sometimes, we just need a raw voice. Like Ashe’s. Sometimes we just need to know that someone out there is living in this dysfunctional world we call home, and they are doing okay. And we will do okay too.
Note: Ashe prefers gender-neutral pronouns (them/their).