Today, when looking on social media, magazines, and TV, our eyes are flooded with Brazilian Butt Augmentations, breast implants, and flat stomachs, giving women, and even men, false ideas on the standards of beauty and body image. The idea that the perfect woman must have a 24 inch waist, perfectly symmetrical and perky breasts, and a butt that introduces itself when walking into a room, make the 99% of us without that feel inadequate.
Gabi at Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club
Summer of 2018, I was invited to be on a reality TV show on MTV called Lohan Beach Club. Before going on this show, I had always struggled with my weight. Starting at the age of two, I began dancing ballet and seriously training into my pre-teens. The idea of being a size zero, perfectly in shape, was embedded into my head. The “perfect” ballerina had to stay small to appear beautiful in her leotard and so she was able to be easily lifted. This was the standard of beauty I had developed since before I understood what genuine health or beauty was. After years of dancing and living a relatively normal childhood, I had a serious fall which led to multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, and the eventual diagnosis and of Ehlers- Danlos Syndrome Type III, a connective tissue disease which caused me to easily dislocate all of my major joints. At 14 years old, after years of being sick and unable to walk, I had put on a lot of weight and reached almost 200lbs. As beautiful and as much as I still loved myself, being in high school and being overweight put a target on my back. I was told by boys who liked me that I would be hot after losing weight. I was shamed and made fun of by the skinny, popular girls at school. The love I once had for myself had gone away. I felt guilty for every meal I ate, I felt unwanted by my peers, and spent the major of my lunches at school sitting in between the vending machines in the back hallway of the cafeteria to avoid the laughs from the people I went to school with. This feeling of exclusion is something so many people have dealt with, whether from acne, being heavier than some of your peers, or any other “flaw” which makes us feel less-than enough.
The feeling of inadequacy was something I was sure I had left behind. After high school, I began modelling, with my first publication as Jet Beauty of the Month, an honor which I only dreamed of as a child. I was working in bars and clubs, getting attention which, I assumed to be positive attention. The numbers of random men in bars, empty compliments on a body which I worked so hard far, and Instagram likes which gave me the illusion that I was enough. Little did I know, it was accepting and loving myself that made me genuinely beautiful.
In 2018, before going on the show, I felt that my confidence was at an all time high. Though I had put on some weight yet again, I felt curvy, beautiful, and simply loved myself, unwavered by the critical opinions of others. This love of myself saved me during one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Within the first moments of meeting one of my bosses, Panos, in a professional setting at the Lohan Beach House in Mykonos Greece, I was told I looked slutty. My more voluptuous body (at least compared to the other girls), made me stand out. Though my dress size was below the average American woman at only a size 6, my breasts were large, hips round, and that stood out against my perfect size 0 and 2 co-stars. Being surrounded by women who were constantly admired for their slim figures and “model-y” looks, my confidence was wavering. This wavering continued as a male co-star called me a zero, truly making me question whether I was skinny enough, pretty enough, just enough to be a part of this show.
Sadly, the pain and feeling of exclusion did not cease there. After a night out of drinking, I got into a physical altercation with another girl on the show because she didn’t like that I greeted a male friend of hers. The slap across my face caused no pain, what did hurt, was sitting outside alone, realizing that I was the outsider in a house where I was forced to live and work for the next few weeks. As I was sitting alone on the road crying, screaming to be left alone by the cameras, I was able to have my “ah-hah!” moment that I needed so badly. I am enough, I will always be enough, and moments such as that slap, such as being shamed for my body, it has shaped the strong, outspoken, and never give up attitude that I have to this day.
Even me, a “reality TV star”, a “‘model”, a “role model”, is faced with adversity. No matter a person’s role, how many likes on Instagram they get, or the many accomplishments that they have, it takes one person, one comment, to tear down your confidence. It is okay to feel weak in a moment, but it is not okay to linger in that moment. Since the show has aired, I have had people make fun of my acne, my weight, how my breasts sag, and any insult you can possibly think of. The difference between now though and the insecure girl I was in high school is that I stopped caring. Those traits I am made fun of for, are the things I now love the most about myself. My loud personality that so many found as obnoxious is the same flaw that a producer found entertaining and TV worthy. Since the show I have taken the effort to take care of myself, eating healthier, and just being happy with how I look, regardless of what size jeans I fit into. Though my body is not perfect, though even I still want to edit out the cellulite on my legs sometimes, and even though I still am insecure at times, I love myself. Every inch of myself from the acne scars of my face, the rolls on my stomach, to the stretch marks on my thighs.
Gabi at Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club
In a generation of social media and constantly seeing perfection, it is important for everyone, regardless of sex, ethnicity, gender, or weight, to embrace and love their own unique beauty. By being forced to see my flaws by the many people who have continued to shame and critique me, I was forced to fall in love with them. I urged anyone reading this to do the same. Take those things you assume others see as your flaws and embrace them. It is so important to urge people, especially the younger generation, to know that social media is a façade. It is a picture that people chose to create of themselves and it is not necessarily reality. When you consume yourself with false ideals on perfection and beauty based on social media, magazines, and television, it will ultimately only cause long term issues with self-esteem. Because of this, I urge everyone to put down your phone sometimes, turn off the TV, and take the time to appreciate and love yourself. I have done this, and I am grateful because I have gained a new awareness and self-acceptance which is stronger than it ever has been before.