Body Image and the Heidi Montag Mentality

Body image has been grinding the gears of my brain for the past few days now, and recent Hollywood happenings have me thinking about my own struggle. Maybe I hadn’t been paying incredibly close attention, but it seemed as though fame-whores Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt weren’t being quite as obnoxious with their Twitter accounts, used primarily to promote Heidi’s 650-times-downloaded album, themselves, and God. Then suddenly an altered Heidi-face was showing up all over the place and magazines and television “insider” shows were talking about her 10 plastic surgery procedures in one day. Her face barely moves. I saw a clip of a television interview where Heidi said that “real beauty comes from within.” She says it again in a video embedded in this article.

My point here isn’t to really discuss Heidi Montag, per se. I’ve been stewing over this and similar issues for the past few days. What kind of messed up message is this sending out to little girls (and all women, for that matter)? Here they have someone saying that real beauty comes from within, which would imply that it doesn’t matter what someone looks like. Sure, it’s best that you practice good hygiene and take care of yourself, but what makes someone beautiful is what’s on the inside. (Just ask Dove. Their Campaign for Real Beauty renews my faith in corporate America.) Then, the same person promoting this message has multiple plastic surgeries to make herself be the “best” she can be and to make herself feel better about how she looks. I can’t understand this because if you look back at older pictures of Heidi, she’s not bad-looking.

The entire time I was growing up, I always felt like the ugly duckling. For a while, I was a lot taller than the other girls in my grade, and then I was a lot shorter than them. Most importantly, I was the fat kid. I learned to hate the way I looked as early as first grade, which is when kids started calling me fat to my face (and behind my back). As a result, I was never very social or outgoing, and when boys started noticing girls, they weren’t noticing me (unless they wanted to make friends with me in order to get to one of my friends). I started to have a really hard time trusting people because I never knew who was just making fun of me and pretending to be nice. For a while, I really tried to wear the same clothes that the other girls were wearing, but eventually I just gave up and tried to hide behind really big clothes. It never mattered how smart I was (I was – and am – smart), what kind of diet I was on, what sports I played (softball was my sport of choice for 11 years, though I tried my hand at basketball in 5th grade and threw for the track team in 8th grade), what activities I was involved in (numerous – they got me a $25,000 scholarship in college) or what I was trying to do, all that mattered to those kids was that I was fat, so I wasn’t pretty, and I could never be one of them.

This was never more apparent to me than the day a really popular girl walked up to me in 4th grade, stepped on my foot and said “Move it, fatty.” While lining up for an assembly, I’d had the distinct misfortune of accidentally being too close to her friends. This was not the last time she would give me trouble. It continued through high school, too. When I was 25, I saw her in a bar. As soon as she saw me, she sat down at a table full of her friends (the kind of people who never really get over the fact that they peaked in high school, apparently), looked right at me, pointed, put her hands in front of her face, and then said something which caused all the people at that table to look at me and start laughing hysterically.

This really bothered me for a long time, but then I started to think of what I’d accomplished. She was obviously a grown-up bully. I, on the other hand, had left town and gone to college where I did pretty well. I was, at that point, in the midst of working on my Master’s degree, which I earned, with honors, in August 2009. I’d even left the state for three years in order to pursue what I thought I wanted as my career. None of that was physically apparent by looking at me.

I may not be the smartest person I know, but I am smart. I’m nice to people. I have a great sense of humor and love making people laugh. I’m loyal as loyal can be to those I really care about. I work hard to maintain my closest friendships because I hate losing friends. I’m creative and I have a big imagination. I’m thoughtful. I’m caring. I have a big heart. I like to be there for people and I care deeply for them. This gets me into trouble when I have a hard time saying no to people. I like to volunteer and I like to help strangers. None of these traits are physically apparent by looking at me. I’ve struggled almost constantly to overcome all the insecurities I had growing up, to tune out those voices telling me I was ugly, and while I’m still sensitive about my weight, I’ve realized that that’s just a small part of who I am. If people are going to get hung up on it, they aren’t worth my time. I’ve got so much more to offer.

I feel really sorry for people like Heidi – people who can’t just be happy with taking care of themselves and looking decent and presentable, but who have to shallowly invest excessive time and energy into covering up their insecurities, all the while saying that real beauty comes from within, but never really believing it. I feel sorry for the men who date women like this just because they want a “hot” girlfriend or wife. Looks will fade, so hopefully there’s someone on the inside worth knowing.

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