Kyira: So you started answering this first question (in the questionnaire), but expanding on it a little bit, what made you feel like you wanted to be a part of this project?
Natalie: “Um, definitely just this past year, I’ve had hard-core self-image issues and I just get, like, pissed off about it – the fact that I do have those issues, or that I’m thinking the way I am. I’m kinda like in a battle with myself and I wanted to, I don’t know, I kinda wanted to use today to be, like, ‘No, Natalie, go get your picture taken in a bra and underwear and feel frickin’ good about it.’ I was just kinda giving myself like a slap on the wrist sort of thing, like, ‘Go, and feel good.’ And, I don’t know, I kinda just wanted to celebrate myself, or just to at least in a sense like document myself at this point in time where I know what I’m feeling inside and then have like a true-form picture of it, kinda, I don’t know, kinda work from here or look back up to this point.”
Kyira: Yeah, I think it’s this idea of how do you maybe want to be something down the road, not even necessarily to look a certain way, but we’re always evolving and looking for how we want to adapt and change who we are. So how do you learn to hold both? How can you love yourself for who you are exactly as you are today and be excited about all the other things that you can do and it doesn’t have to be a shady thing?
Natalie: “Yes, and that is my main thing. … What you said is exactly how I feel. I’ve always been athletic, I’ve always worked out, making my body muscular and strong. And eating good has always been important to me. But now here I am in college, broke, no time. I’m finding, like, oh, I can’t have what I’ve always had, or I can’t – I’m finding I’m just like in this lull where I can’t get to that, like, perfect muscular body that I want. But I’m like, well, that’s fine. I’m trying to love this but not feel like ashamed or completely down on myself for wanting something more. I don’t know.”
Kyira: Yeah, and I think it’s part of knowing I’ve gotten caught in the cultural bind of everyone sort of shooting for something that’s not actually real, or recognizing what am I going to give up if I do try to search for that? Because there are people that do hit this idealized shape, but what have they given up? And do you want to give that up?
Natalie: “No! Like, what?!” (Laughter)
Kyira: And even this idea of how many hours would you actually have to spend at the gym if you were going to look like that?
Natalie: “I know, yeah.”
Kyira: You know, would you be able to still go to college? Would you be able to have your friends or family or …
Natalie: (Sees two friends.) “Sorry, those are like two of my best friends."
(To her friends) I’ll talk to you later, ok, bye, bye!
They’re so cute. They’re probably so confused about what I’m doing. Um, let me see, yeah and I always voice this stuff to my dad and he always says that, he’s like, ‘Natalie …’ I follow all these girls on Instagram, like the health-crazed girls, and he’s like, no, that’s literally their job. All they do is go grocery shop and cook and work out. And he’s like, ‘You can’t look like that while living a normal life.’ And I have to remind myself of that.”
Kyira: And to ask, like, ok so when I assume that somebody is happy when they look a certain way or do certain things, are they actually happy? How much of that is realistic?
Natalie: “Yeah, like, ok, you just took a bomb selfie, but do you feel that way inside?”
Kyira: Right. And I feel like even that idea of, I talk to people about it’s the ‘ever-moving yardstick,’ like I remember feeling like I was the friend in high school who always wore the over-sized man-sized T-shirt and the basketball shorts down to here and I had the friends who were running in Spandex and sports bra. And I was like, well, this is shit because I’m not that person, and feeling like I couldn’t be that way. And then when I got to the point where I was actively in my eating disorder and pursuing this body shape, I never got to a point where I was like, ‘OK, this is good enough.’ It just kept being, ‘No, I need to be here and here and here.’ And so it’s even that idea of the people we see on Instagram or the people we see in other aspects, how often are they chasing something that’s not real, too?
Natalie: “Yep, instead of hitting it and feeling good about it.”
Kyira: Yeah, because I don’t think anybody ever does.
Natalie: “Which is, I don’t know, which is the point of this. That’s a constant circle.”
Kyira: So how do you think, I mean, you’ve talked a little about kind of the culture piece with that, but how do you think I guess other aspects of culture, like your family culture growing up, how did that shape your perception of what beauty was, or your ability to feel beautiful?
Natalie: “Um, I don’t know. I feel like my background up until this point, like only since I’ve been in college, that’s the only time I’ve ever thought of myself the way I am now, differently. Before, like I said, I was in sports, I never had to think about my body because it was just there and it was healthy and good, and I never thought about it. But just now, losing that piece, now that I’m here, it’s constantly on my mind. And, I don’t know, I guess I have – I don’t want to, like, bash my family right now, but there’s always just been, like, expectations of – not “expectations,” but it’s just, no, like, you should eat healthy, stay healthy, it’s not them telling – it’s just a matter of living a healthy lifestyle and I try to mirror that.”
Kyira: And that is hard because, yeah, I don’t think that’s a bad thing for people to think that. But sometimes then when now you’re in this different stage of life and your body is trying to make sense of all the environmental changes and all these other things and you’re trying to figure yourself out, it’s really hard to uphold that. And I think sometimes, unintentionally, parents or caregivers can not realize that’s really hard to do and you need to be coached in that as you are in emerging adulthood, and people miss that.
Natalie: “Yeah, I feel like, I don’t know, I feel like I always need, still, like I ask for my dad’s help, you know, give me guidance. Sometimes I need like a hard-ass in my life to keep me in line in that sense. Because otherwise, yeah, I feel like…”
Kyira: And I don’t think that’s bashing at all, I think it’s, you know, so if your dad got to that point and he’s had those beliefs, he’s had struggles too, and it’s really easy when you get to that point where you’ve come out of it to forget, like, oh, yeah, there is that learning piece for people when they’re figuring it out. I’ve gotten past that but that’s real for everybody so people just forget it, you know. So what’s been the hardest part for you just in this journey? I mean, I’m sure that you had a lot of thoughts about maybe not coming or maybe like a little bit of anxiety about coming.
Natalie: “Definitely. I didn’t think about, um, what I was technically going to wear until this morning, and I was, like, ok, all black things, black bra – and I tried on, and I was like, ‘Ah, holy crap, I’m going to be in front of a camera! And, I’m like, ‘This is me, OK. This is my body.’ And, yeah, I kinda like freaked out for a little bit. And I was just like, ‘OK, now, I should wear pants. Yeah, do that.’ Um, I don’t know, and then I just kinda told myself, I was just kinda like, no, the reason I’m coming here – come love yourself, you’re gonna wear a bra and underwear and take it for what it is. I don’t know, I guess today is just kinda like a little speck in my longtime mental journey that’s kinda been going on here. But, um, I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’m super talkative today, I’m sorry.”
Kyira: No, that’s OK!
Natalie: “That’s not answering the way I wanted but …”
Kyira: No, and that’s the other thing, too, sometimes it’s a little bit hard. And you’ve probably worked yourself up a little bit in terms of, like, everybody does. The anxiety that it is to come and do this, I think it does shift your ability to talk about things too, so that’s also why I tell everybody, if you go home and you’re thinking about something else, if you want to take this (questionnaire) with you and write more and email it to me or send me a picture of that, that’s fine. We don’t have to end it today because your journey’s not going to end today. So it will evolve as you evolve. You might even wait until you see the photos and be like, ‘I want to write more.’ Because this is a different layer of the experience now, and how (you’re) feeling in this. So if I transcribe this and it doesn’t feel right and you want to change it or add more, then we’ll change it. There’s no pressure on that piece. So knowing that, too, and knowing, like, you’re maybe feeling like you’re not at the point where you want to talk about everything, I’ll just ask the last question and we’ll see what pops out: How have you, or how can you, because you said, like, you’re struggling right now and you want to get to the point where you love yourself as you are, how can you nurture yourself throughout that journey?
Natalie: “Um, something just popped in my mind, kind of not the answer to your question …”
Kyira: That’s OK.
Natalie: “Also like a constant thing – and it even popped in my mind while we were taking the pictures because of something Ashley (the photographer) said, like, in the sense, was just like, ‘No, you have nothing to worry about. This part of your body’s great. You look so good.’ And so then I always feel, I’m like constantly, I feel like I’m wrong or like it’s not justified for me to ever, I don’t know …”
Kyira: You’re going in a direction that makes a lot of sense. I would say to just let yourself go there.
Natalie: (Laughs.) “I just, I don’t feel justified, I feel stupid. And I feel stupid talking about it right out, saying that I don’t feel good about myself because I’m like, ‘Natalie, like, you look good!’ I can say that sometimes. Like, ‘No, you’re strong. You have features that you love about yourself. You have features that people compliment you on.’ But, no, like I’m – and that’s like this journey, it’s inside me. You don’t know my heart and my head, that’s totally not agreeing with what you’re just complimenting me on. And that’s a hard part for me always to take someone’s compliment and be like, ok, that was a compliment but I don’t feel really good about that. And then I’m just kinda like am I totally wrong in my thinking? Am I really beating myself up? You know, most people will say, like, ‘No, no, love yourself. You look beautiful.’ But, I don’t know. I just, I’ve always been hard on myself. In every aspect of my life, I’m always hard on myself. And I feel like I’m trying not to be, in a depressing way, and I never feel good enough. And I’m always, but I use that as a way of constantly bettering myself, I don’t know, or working to better myself.”
Kyira: Which I think is the problem with that is, it gets painted as a positive in society, so people are always pursuing to be better, people are like, ‘I’m never settled here, I’m always elevating, I try so hard.’
Natalie: “Oh, yeah, exactly. Like, ‘Go, you. You’re a go-getter, you’re an achiever.’ But it’s like, yeah, but it’s freaking exhausting (laughter). And I’m mentally worn out by it.”
Kyira: And if you’re somebody that does really well and succeeds in things, you also never create the opportunity of hearing, ‘You don’t have to succeed or be perfect in whatever the element is to be valuable.’ But it becomes shaped by how much you have to chase all the things you’re doing and all the success you have.
Kyira: And I think it’s important because, as you were saying that I felt like making sure you hear that you deserve to feel however you’re feeling, and you’re entitled to feel that way. And, OK, so somebody else has a reaction to it, they do. This is your journey, it’s your body.
Natalie: “Mm, hmm.”
Kyira: So I think, yeah, for you it’s that piece, too, of like, you are entitled to feel however you want to feel.
Kyira: I think it sounds like you maybe don’t like how quickly you’re dismissing the compliments of others, or even the confidence you could have in yourself. So I think that’s part of it, but that’s your journey, and you’re entitled to be wherever you are in it.
Natalie: “Yeah, yeah. Thanks.” (Laughing)
Kyira: So is there something that you feel like would be helpful to say more on today or do you maybe just want to call it a wrap, come back to it, and we can touch base more later?
Natalie: “Um, I don’t know. Just there’s like one thing in my head that I was, as I was preparing to come here and thinking about myself, one thing I’ve always thought is just that, I don’t know, I think I focus on my body so much because it’s like, I just had a lot of shit go down in my life in the sense of, that I don’t have control over. And my body is the one thing I have control over. And that’s why, I think that’s why, I focus on it so much. But my ongoing journey is to work to make that not a negative experience but a positive experience so that I do have control over it, I can make it what I want and I can love it. And many other things in my life I don’t have that so, that’s just my one thing, I think.”
Kyira: And seeing that I think we put so much of a value on having control, too, I’m wondering what would it be like to get more comfortable in ambiguity? Because as much as you try to prepare, it sounds like from what you’re saying, there’s been stuff that’s happened that hasn’t been a positive experience. It’s really thrown you off, and so it’s like there’s also really good things that can happen from not being in control of everything, too, and we miss that.
Natalie: “Yes. Yes. We forget that that’s a possibility.”
Kyira: Mm, hmm. And even the idea of, like, not to burst the bubble on it, but you ultimately really don’t have control over your body.
Natalie: “I know!” (Laughing)
Kyira: You know, so it’s like it’s this false sense of security of, I can do this and I can feel like I’ve got my shit together because I did this thing.
Natalie: “Yeah, I don’t know. I like to think I can do – I can work out for two weeks and I can lose so-and-so pounds. And that’s like point-blank I can do it. That’s just kinda what I think of sometimes, like in a very literal sense.
Kyira: It’s becomes very black-and-white thinking of, like, I can do this and this happens and this is what it is. And you can almost, you can count on it.
Kyira: And you can’t.
Natalie: “Yeah.” (Laughing)
Kyira: No, I think that’s really important. And that’s important for other people to hear, too, because I think especially tying it back to the culture question. We are in the U.S., a very individualistic culture that focuses on being in control and being responsible for all these things, and then when you, when life happens – because no one can be in control of anything – because it’s such a deeply rooted value, we feel like, well, I’m supposed to be doing this and then when you can’t, you cling to something you can be in control of.
Natalie: “Yeah. … My body.”
Natalie: “Yep, you said it exactly right.”