What Makes a Woman

By Katherine Santana –

What makes a woman? Is it her physique? Her demeanor? Or her character? Unfortunately, the physique of a woman seems to be given much more attention than anything else. So many women strive to be beautiful, assuming that being beautiful leads to acceptance and attraction. In reality, beauty is a social construction. It is a social construction which causes many women to look at their bodies as if it is a separate being, detached from themselves, and in need of improvement. It is reinforced by peers, media and societal expectations.

When I was in elementary school, I had been teased often about my body, but I was still confident. The teasing continued into middle school and the beginning of my high school years. I was teased for having small breasts, full thighs and a big butt. I was told that my body shape was odd because I was and am “pear shaped.”

Around the age of 12, I began to watch a lot of fashion programs and anything related to the beauty industry. Programs like America’s Next Top Model and Fashion Police were one of my favorites and are still my favorites to this day. I would often see skinny and tall models in these programs, and see how people revered them for being so beautiful. I thought to myself, wow, they are beautiful. My favorite model at the time was Candice Swanepoel, a Victoria’s Secret model. I aspired to look like her and become beautiful too.

At 12 years old, I started to force myself into a strict diet when no one was looking. When my parents weren’t around, I would refuse to eat or eat very little. When I was around my family, I would eat enormous amounts of food to make them believe that I was fine. This was followed by periods of starvation to compensate for the food I ate.

But no matter how much weight I lost, I still felt that my body was unappealing and that nobody would love me or accept me. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to shift that mentality. I began to re-evaluate who I thought I was and who I wanted to be. I stopped applying perms in my hair, and changed my wardrobe and the way I do my makeup. Most importantly, I stopped restricting my meals. I began to feel free because I could finally express my unique beauty without worrying about societal expectations.

This spring, I decided to volunteer at the National Eating Disorders Association because I wanted to be able to help other individuals like me. I soon realized just how many individuals struggle with eating disorders. Roughly 30 million people of all ages suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. According to one study, children as young as 3 years old think they’re fat. In another study, more than 50% of teenage girls admit to using unhealthy methods of weight control. And as for college-aged women like me, up to 25% binge and/or purge to manage their weight.

Being a part of NEDA opened my eyes to the severity of this issue, and was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I am grateful that there is an organization that is willing to help and guide those with eating disorders. No person by any means should be made to feel unsatisfactory with their appearance. Today, I am glad to say that I am currently happy, and most of all, healthy.

Katherine Santana is a student at John Jay College.

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