My Body… Not Yours

Writing by Chanel Retief // Photograph by Ethel Nalule

When I was about nine years old, I wanted to be a model or enter the prestigious Miss World beauty pageant. However, as I headed into my pre-teens, I started to feel insecure about how I looked, and that dream fell flat. It didn’t help that, at high school, I started to compare myself to the girls around me, and questioned why I didn’t have long beautiful hair, or a “perfect” body like some of the girls in my class.

Have you ever googled “beauty” before? Just do it and I promise you; you will be more shocked than when you watched the last season of Game of Thrones. The image results exclusively feature white, slender women with blonde or brunette hair, some wearing an obscene amount of makeup. If I had seen these as a high school child, I would have looked at them, said “yeah she is pretty”, I shrug my shoulders and moved on with my life, all the while internalising that stereotype of beauty. Now, however, I have had the privilege of meeting such a diversity of women that I have been forced to question this notion of beauty that society ingrained in me.

Insecurity itself is something that is not uncommon amongst teenage girls (and guys too), even as a teenager I knew that already. Why did I stop dreaming of entering Miss World when my ass started to grow and my rolls started to kick in? The answer is simple: because society has constructed an image of what feminine beauty should look like. Recently, South Africa crowned their new Miss South Africa: long brown hair, big hazel eyes, tiny little body and big smile. Perfect, right? But according to who? A panel of judges that dictate what “beauty is all about”. This ultimately perpetuates the cycle of insecurity felt by young girls, who believe that they are not beautiful enough because dominant representations look like a size 10 mannequin.

So what’s the message I am trying to convey? To be honest, I think it’s the same message you have probably heard countless of times: to love yourself. I think what makes mine different, however, is that I have made it a little more personal. I haven’t really grown out of the insecurity that society instilled in me. I still look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that there is something wrong with me, even when everyone around me says that I’m being ridiculous and nothing is wrong. I still look in magazines and think to myself that a certain top would look beautiful on me if I was the same size as the model wearing it. I cringe when I have to get ready for a night out with my friends because I think that they look amazing and I don’t.

At the same time, however, I have noticed something new. I am still insecure, but in the back of my mind I know that there are different types of beauty. I still struggle, but I know that each of us is beautiful, even if society has not defined us as such.

Even though I will always be exposed to ideal standards of beauty on the internet, and I will always love fashion magazines, I do view them in a different light than I did before. Instead of aspiring to be what they present, I have inspired myself to be me, and to respond to myself like I would a model. So wake up in the morning and tell yourself that you beautiful—I think that’s my message.

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Chanel Retief

Chanel J Retief is a 23 years old student studying journalism, media and an English degree at one of South Africa’s top Journalism schools, Rhodes University. She is an aspiring author and her passion lies deeply in writing.
Chanel is the editor-in-chief at her university’s leading student press.
Follow Chanel on Instagram @chanel.red12

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