What ethnicity are you? Defining your identity can be an extremely tricky feat. Identity can be defined as the “reflective self-conception or self-image that we each derive from our family, gender, cultural, ethnic, and individual socialization process. Identity basically refers to our reflective views of ourselves and other perceptions of our self images.”(Samovar, Porter, McDaniel, and Roy, 2013). Identity is built through communication with others and the world around you. Everything about you can be classified as your identity. But is our American Society telling you: You’re valued. You’re beautiful. You’re handsome. You’re hot. You look good! Most likely not. Only a small percent fall into “that” category.
My father was born in Iran and my mother was born in Guatemala. Their religions clash with each other, their native languages are extremely different, and their cultural values clash with the American ones I was raised alongside of. My identity is all over the place. There are many of us out there that fall into this category now since the world is slowly becoming that melting pot we learned about in School House Rock. So, mutts unite! Identity is a fluid concept; constantly changing, growing, and being restructured. There are so many different layers to your identity that can mold who you are. You have your ethnic, racial, gender, human, social, national, regional, organizational, personal, cyber and many other identities that you maintain and keep balanced. For some reason we keep getting caught up in the physical part of our identities. What kind of cow poo is that? I am an American woman, but I do not look like the stereotypical American which is why I continue to get the question “What ethnicity are you?”. Why do I get asked that? I used to think (occasionally still do) that I must be pretty strange looking. I tend to think about my appearance multiple times a day. I don’t ever catch myself thinking, “hmmm how smart am I feeling right now?” or “how were my communication skills today?”, but boy oh boy do I reflect on what I look like.
We are taught at such a young age that we have to look a certain way. I hated and was embarrassed of my thick eyebrows, arm hair, and dark features that my fellow classmates did not have. Even typing this right now I am cringing and hoping that the next time you see me you won’t be counting how many hairs are on my arms. Classmates teased and laughed at these features in elementary school, so I learned that they were ugly and a negative thing. As a half-Persian-gal, I still struggle with these features all the time. I was conditioned to think that my appearance was vital. I was taught that my physical features wasn’t fabulous! There was absolutely no one that looked like me on magazine covers or television at that time. My look wasn’t a hot commodity. (Still isn’t really unless you look at the ridiculous Kardashians or the occasional Middle Eastern looking gal with the British accent that pops on shows every once in a blue moon) I wasn’t a size 5 or smaller so I constantly felt like a blimp. Going through Middle School, High School, and undergrad I would subconsciously touch my abdomen and feel depressed that it wasn’t completely flat. Every time I did this I made myself feel worse and worse. This awful ritual would be done multiple times a day. There was even a point in High School where I had a lot of bad eating habits; I wouldn’t eat at all, or eat a few bites of something just to keep me going- I was anorexic.
It’s weird to say and embarrassing to admit. I lost weight and was rewarded with compliments from others telling me that I looked good. It was so wrongfully encouraging! Luckily I had good friends to support me and help me out of that awful phase. My point isn’t to get sympathy, it’s to highlight the enormity of the problem in our society. I went through it and know so many others do also. It is estimated that eight million Americans have an eating disorder. I look back and think at how foolish I was. In this bit of over sharing, I hope that someone will learn from my mistakes and hear me out when I say I learned that there are things about me that I love. I look back at photos of myself and I’m horrified at how unhealthy and pale I look. It’s remarkable how many people I’ve heard say that they have battled with an eating disorder at one point or another. It’s not worth it and the worst thing you can do to yourself and your body. This isn’t just for girls. Men battle with their physical appearance all the time. One million men have an eating disorder. Men are conditioned to think that they need big shoulders, a chiseled physique and to look like that Disney Prince we grew up drooling over. Unless we fall into these strict types we see ourselves as not hot and we think that we are non-models. We aren’t hot stuff.
What are we doing to ourselves? What has society done to us?
Here is the thing…these things sell and we are the fools that keep buying them. We keep buying these magazines and commenting on advertising showing these extremely thin models. We keep perpetuating that cycle of judging one another’s physical appearance. We keep watching television shows with all white casts. Since we are inundated with marketing, young Americans are constantly comparing their appearances to what they see in magazines and on television. This is in large part why I was very self-conscious as I was growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Los Angeles. I wanted to look like the thin, blonde girls that I would see on the covers of magazines, but obviously I couldn’t and can’t ever look like that. I can’t change my DNA. Good friends and positive family members are the support systems that we all need. Also, as people mature and realize the more important things in life, reactions change. I have been complimented on my eyebrows more times than I can count. My thick hair has been admired. The things I was horrified and embarrassed about are now positives.
Because the United States is growing and changing at such a fast rate, I hope that in the future young Americans can be comfortable in their own skin due to there being proper media representation for all ethnicities and races in the media. Complimenting each other and encouraging acceptance would also offset the self inflicting hate we find ourselves dealing with. It starts at a young age. Teaching children to love who they and who everyone else is and highlighting everyones unique skills and features is so important. It lays that foundation. This will improve children’s self-confidence and self-awareness as they grow up, and will promote acceptance of others as they become mature, intellectual, and accepting adults. In the mean time, we should look at those covers, those actors, those actresses and start thinking to ourselves that THAT isn’t what we need to strive for. THAT isn’t the norm. THAT isn’t even important. We need to strive for our own personal fabulous and happiness. I’m not encouraging that extra huge slice of chocolate cake everyday (on occasion though). I’m saying that you have to strive for your own personal fabulous and healthy. As long as you are eating well, exercising regularly, you ARE fab! Those other things are NOT the norm. It’s a constant struggle, but most of us are struggling together. Non-models unite! I much rather look like me, then look like Kate Bosworth (today anyway). I’m ok with being a non-model. I’m different and fab so Cosmopolitan and Elle Magazine, you can just go suck it.