"Like an hourglass"





Helena Getahun-Hawkins, National Cathedral '21



Helena Getahun-Hawkins delves into the complexities of her struggle to tackle societal body ideals and her developing understanding of her own self-worth. (Published: 2018)





She got a body like an hourglass

But I can give it to you all the time

She got a booty like a Cadillac

- Jessie J, “Bang Bang”


More like, she got a body like a large cardboard box. See, that would be a very relatable song because when I look in the mirror, I do not see a body like an hourglass or a booty like a Cadillac (whatever that means). What I do see when I look in the mirror is a large cardboard box with indents on the side if it is a good day. However, how I see my body and how I feel about what it looks like has changed over time. Body image has not always played a large role in restricting my life.


Until I was about ten years old, I do not think I ever paid attention to what I looked like. Early on, my mother dressed me in cute dresses and braid my hair, so my only responsibility was to enjoy life to the fullest. I never cared about what my body looked like because I was not conscious of the fact that my body needed to look a certain way. As I grew older my confidence grew, and judging from the many pictures of me styled in jeggings and a graphic t-shirt with pigs on it, I clearly did not care what anyone


"I FOUND MYSELF SPENDING HOURS INSPECTING MY REFLECTION IN THE MIRROR, SUCKING IN MY STOMACH UNTIL I GOT LIGHTHEADED AND RELEASING IT ALONG WITH A FROWN ON MY FACE. I DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT THE SMALL ACT OF LOOKING AT MY BODY WOULD CREATE THIS WEIRD FRUSTRATION AND ANGER."


thought about me. But little by little, I started to notice the girls on Disney Channel with straightened hair and shimmery lip gloss, and I thought that I really needed to step up my game. The shows and movies I watched throughout most of my early childhood had animated cartoon animals, so the image of an ideal body had not been introduced to me yet.


Later, as I started watching shows with human protagonists, the idea of a perfect body was constantly being drilled into my brain. All of the girls I watched on TV had slim bodies, and those who did not were often the pathetic, annoying, or unconsciously funny characters. On iCarly, one of my favorite shows during elementary school, the main character, Carly, was a relatively slim girl. Though her slimness was never explicitly emphasized, the way that boys her age admired her suggested her body type was attractive and never infringed upon her attractiveness. However, Gibby, a frequent character on the show who openly flaunted his chubby body, was portrayed as the slightly stupid but entertaining friend. I started asking myself not what the ideal body should look like, but instead, why my body was not perfect enough. I found myself spending hours inspecting my reflection in the mirror, sucking in my stomach until I got lightheaded and releasing it along with a frown on my face. I did not understand why, but the small act of looking at my body would create this weird frustration and anger.


At eleven years old, back when the sizes correspond to age, I would not fit into anything smaller than a size 14. Every time my mom would come to the dressing room asking if what she had chosen fit, tears would sting my eyes because I felt a certain shame in saying something was smaller than it should have been. Suddenly everything became a problem: the way my thighs jiggled when they moved and the way my belly overflowed from my pants. As I became conscious of the flaws in my body, it seemed like everyone else was finding them as well. When I ate bacon, my sister would always sing this song whose four lyrics consisted of “fat makes you fat,” which would make me cry, but would only cause my mother to bop her head to the melody. People started overtly making comments like, “Helena cannot be an athlete unless she loses weight.” Not only did I already internalize what the media told me my body should look like, but comments about the differences of my body hurt me and brought down my self-esteem. After becoming conscious of my differences, I could not escape comparing myself to others and in turn destroying my self-esteem. However, if every single body in this entire world is different, why does simply becoming conscious of your body and its differences cause so much discomfort?


It would be great to end this piece with “and then I learned to love and accept myself, and I realized that I am beautiful,” but number one, that sounds too close to the ending of a BuzzFeed video, and number two, it is simply not true. I still have those days where I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Ew Helena, why you look like that?” or “nice going Helena, you should do wrestling so you could sit on people and crush them with your weight until they forfeit the match.” But now that I have written exactly how I feel, I have realized all my negative emotions about my body are irrelevant because my worth should not be measured by the size of my pants. I guess now I just have to try to convince myself that this is true.