Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.
As mindless as it might sound, that quirky phrase has helped me cope with many insignificant situations I often over-complicated.
Except this time, I was actually dealing with a chicken wing. I told myself not to overthink it, but the plate of wings sitting in front of me renewed a recurring problem I had yet to confront.
I can’t remember the moment it started, but from a young age I struggled with self-esteem, specifically self-image. The mirror was never an accurate depiction of the person staring back at me. I thought the compliments I received from friends and family were given out of pity, not from a place of love or admiration. I wished the jeans I pulled over my legs each morning were a size smaller, perhaps the same size each mannequin was wearing in the local department store window.
The self-deprecating jokes made in public and the even harsher thoughts running through my mind in private made for a lethal combination. I began to pick apart my every move and action. Every flaw became a defining factor of who I was and who I was going to be. I firmly believed beauty was something I would never achieve.
Before the chicken wing, there was the birthday cake.
A hot summer day and Fudgie the Whale seemed like the perfect pair for any 10-year-old, but for me, it was another situation for others to judge my habits and appearance. The piece of cake sitting in front of me was a question I did not know the answer to, no matter how many attempts I took or angles I approached it from.
While everyone else got up for seconds, I watched as my first and only slice of cake melted under the heat, and I felt a wave of relief. I could finally stop questioning whether the piece of cake was too large or too small, or whether the people around me were scrutinizing how much or how little I was eating. I watched the ice cream slowly drip onto the grass and ignored the empty feeling in my stomach and heart.
Like many girls, I grew up thinking a specific number on a scale was necessary to maintain a certain standard of beauty. I silently celebrated when my pants felt a little looser, while I should have been giving my body the nutrients it needed to support a growing adolescent. I made excuses for why I wouldn’t be home for dinner, while I should have enjoyed a meal with my family and reflected on my day.
Occasions meant for celebration were spent counting calories and worrying about things that did not warrant any thought in the first place. That’s what brings me to the chicken wing.
On Super Bowl Sunday, the editorial staff decided to get chicken wings to make press night a little more enjoyable during the big game. Each of us was to send our order in a group message, but I hesitated, afraid others would think the number was too high. Once again, I was boiling my self-worth down to a numerical value, from my weight and size of my clothes, to the number of wings I wanted for dinner.
All too often, we only see ourselves through the lens of impractical ideals and unrealistic standards. We compare our appearances and accomplishments to those of others when we should only aspire to be better versions of ourselves.
In the United States alone, 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from eating disorders. This number could be even higher because many people cope with these unhealthy habits alone.
These habits become a way of life.
The minuscule things many people pay no mind to — like the number of chicken wings sitting on their plate — become all-consuming, and take away the beauty of bigger things. Though this beauty often becomes clouded, we must remember it’s still there in the people around us and within ourselves.
We are taught to base our identities on the perception of others. Social norms surrounding beauty and attractiveness compel us to deprive ourselves of the things we want and need. What we want is to be accepted by others, but what we need is to accept ourselves.
The negative thoughts that fed my insecurities as a 10-year-old girl still follow me today, almost 10 years later. I still find the mirror is not forgiving when I need it to be, and then I remember I need to be forgiving of myself. Each of us comes with flaws and imperfections, but we also possess incredible talents, abilities and dreams.
Beauty is all around us, in the things we take for granted as well as those we are completely unaware of. Beauty is loving yourself and accepting help when you need it. It is believing in yourself on your good days as well as your bad ones and treating yourself with as much patience and kindness as you would a loved one.
Most importantly, beauty is embracing yourself no matter how much you weigh or how you look.
When you step away from the mirror, stop comparing yourself to the mannequins. Allow yourself to enjoy the sweetness of a birthday cake. You might find a little bit of happiness, and to me, being happy is the most beautiful thing of all.
Jessica Hicks, ’19, is the lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.