I started hating my body when I was 14.
Until then, I hadn’t paid much attention to my body. There were no magazines that told me my thighs were too big and my boobs not perky enough. There was no internet teaching me to compare my body to a skinny model and humiliate me for not looking like her.
I was busy doing what all kids do. Spending time outdoors. Bicycling. Skating. Playing volleyball. Running around with my friends.
All that changed when I started high school. Now that I was a bit older, I swapped my dolls for teen magazines and playing for sports for clothes and makeup so I could attract the cute guy I had a crush on.
I thought it was harmless fun. And yet, the more the media invaded my life, the worse I felt about myself.
It was fun to learn what boys liked in a woman’s body and read those “Who Wore It Better?” columns. But slowly – so slowly I didn’t even notice it – I started to feel bad about myself.
I kept seeing all these gorgeous women, with their flawless skin and perfectly shaped, cellulite-free bodies, and I would ask myself why I couldn’t look like that, too.
Sure, I knew they had stylists, hairdressers, plastic surgeons, fitness trainers, photoshop and who knows what else to make them look that way.
Yet, somehow my brain thought, “I can look like that too WITHOUT any extra help… All I need is enough willpower and determination. If I fail, it’s all my fault. I’m not good enough”
So, I would try their crazy diets for a week or so. I was hungry and tired all the time, which made it difficult to do pretty much anything, studying included.
Worse, all that effort got me nowhere. I only lost a few grams… Yeah, yeah, yeah, these things take time… BUT, don’t celebs lose 10 kilos in a week? Or get bikini-ready in five days? If I couldn’t do it, it was my fault.
At first, I started to redouble my efforts. I lost a bit of weight, but I never looked like the gorgeous women gracing the covers of magazines or appearing on TV shows.
I had enough common sense by then to realise I never would and ditched the diets and crazy fads, but not enough to understand the ideal of beauty I was fed was unrealistic and impossible to achieve.
I thought I was ugly and worthless and that there was nothing I could do about it. My self-esteem was at a rock bottom.
I started suffering from depression. I can’t say the media was entirely to blame (it was brought on by undiagnosed and untreated selective mutism and the side effects of a medication I was taking at the time), but it certainly contributed to it.
It gave me one more thing to worry about, one more thing that was wrong with me: my body.
It was a thing to hide behind layers of clothing. I would wear jeans even in the burning hot Italian summers if I had to go out because I wasn’t comfortable with people looking at my legs.
Whenever I was out with my friends, I constantly felt self-conscious. Did I look hot enough? I was so worried about hiding my fat legs when sitting down that I never had any real fun on our night outs…
This went on for years. Until my insecurities started spoiling my relationship with my boyfriend. It was at this point that I decided to fast again.
Only this time, I didn’t give up food. No, I embarked on a media fast. First, I turned the TV off. Next, I gave up magazines.
But what about all those ads on the streets? Or your friends and family rehashing the advice they learned from TV? And now, there’s social media too.
You can’t escape the media. It is everywhere. But the good news is, you don’t have to reject the media altogether. You just have to take it, like everything else in life, in moderation.
You see, when your brain is exposed to something for a long period of time, it’ll come to consider it as normal. If you’re exposed to thousands of images of airbrushed women every day, your brain will think it is really possible to look like that. And that’s very dangerous.
But when you return to watching those images after you’ve been on a media fast, even if for just a few days, you will be more sensitive to their messages, especially to those that hurt you.
It will make you question what they say and notice how unrealistic and weird those photoshopped images really are. It will give you the tools to defend yourself against negative messages, so that you can make healthier and better choices.
Little by little, you’ll start loving your body more. You’ll appreciate everything it does for you. You’ll be able to take better care of it by listening to its needs, rather than trying to turn it into something else it was never supposed to be.
You’ll never look like someone else, and surely, you’ll never look like those airbrushed models on magazine covers. Not even them do. Some standards are unattainable for everyone.
And that’s ok. Because you don’t have to fit into an unrealistic beauty ideal to be happy, healthy and worthy. But you have to love yourself.
My life became a lot better since I went on a media fast. I started reading more books again. I now wear whatever I want. I try to eat healthy, but I will indulge in a pizza or a slice of cake every now and then without feeling guilty about it.
I’m less self-conscious and more open to new experiences. And although the media fast didn’t cure my depression, it did reduce it, making it easier to treat.
Of course, not all the media is bad. I still read Vanity Fair. I still watch TV shows, like Supernatural and Glee. I do read blogs (obviously). But these days, I only consume media that makes me feel good.
If a magazine is trying to make me feel awful about the way I look, I throw it away. If a TV programme is talking down to me and makes me doubt myself, I turn it off.
The media won’t change. After all, they’re making millions by exploiting our insecurities. But we can change the way we think. Going on a media fast is often the first step to do that.
Have you ever gone on a media fast? Share your experience in the comments below.