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Goeun Park: Skinny does not equal pretty

Every summer between seventh and 11th grade, I promised to lose 10 pounds. Every summer between seventh and 11th grade, I never questioned why.

Much like many teenage girls across the world, I had been brainwashed to think summer was the season to shed the space between my skin and bones and fit into the smallest swimsuit I can find. The magazine headlines all hysterically advertise, “Get your beach body today!” or “How to slim down to a size -100 in six weeks!”

At the naïve age of 13, I had everything down to a formula: less carbs and more mascara equals pretty. Pretty equals success. Success equals happy. If I eat less and paint my face more, I will be happy.

But I wasn’t. Ten pounds lighter, I wasn’t happy and I didn’t look pretty. I looked hungry. The lines between skinny and starving blurred in my adolescent head and when my stomach growled, I ignored it. I developed a guilt reflex that reared its ugly head when I stood in front of a bakery.

Beauty is pain — isn’t that how the saying goes? In my quest for “pretty,” I pinched and plucked and poked at my flesh like it was a turkey I was molding for Thanksgiving. I slathered my face with gallons of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Lipstick and hair gel, things that were supposed to build confidence instead fostered my insecurities.

I’d like to say I snapped out of my delusions one sunny morning and never felt compelled to skip dessert ever again. What really happened was that I wore out. After months and years of incessant fussing, I was tired of feeling obligated to look and dress a certain way.

I was tired of hearing the funniest and most intelligent girls I knew reduced to, “I am too this or not enough that.” I was tired of hearing about children getting plastic surgery for their birthdays. I was tired of flipping through magazines that glorified collarbones that stuck out and stomachs that sucked in.

Ironically enough, when I filled my stomach, I also filled my self-esteem. Back then, I failed to realize how important it was to feed myself because happiness, much like people, can starve.

Girls (and boys) have so much more to offer than their bodies. The idea that beauty is confined in youth and thinness and conformity needs to change and it needs to change with us because it won’t start with the media.

Things like anorexia and bulimia may be a psychological illness but it’s also a cultural reflection. We can change the culture. We need to change the culture.

I’d like to conclude with Katie Makkai, a stunning poetry slammer who had to this to say to her future daughter: “The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters. You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you will never be merely ‘pretty.’”

And if 20 years down the road I too have a beautiful daughter who starts to look at the mirror with a frown, I’ll take her to the nearest ice cream truck. I’ll buy her the biggest cone and tell her that she is a strong, capable and wonderful little girl who will always be so much more than just ‘pretty.’

Goeun Park is a Detroit Lakes High School graduate.