Mothers. We look up to them from the moment we're born, and as daughters, every question we have about every stage in our lives seems to have an answer that only our mothers know. So I decided to sit down with my mother, who came to America from India, to talk about how body image standards have progressed over time. The answers she gave showed exactly why I'm so thankful that society has learned to be more accepting of its people.
I began by asking her what she knew about body positivity.
"Body positivity is accepting others the way they look and encouraging them, no matter what," she began. "I know it's about feeling healthy and improving your health by keeping a proper image of your body based on what you think is best."
As a teenager, body image is one of the most prevalent issues I face on a daily basis. That of course meant that I had to ask her if she ever felt the same way at my age. Was this kind of pressure something that passed down through generations?
"Body image was a little bit of an issue. All the girls wanted to look beautiful, especially with having long hair. You know, Shreya, long hair was one thing every girl wanted."
It's true! I myself used to have hair that went down to my knees back in elementary school, and both my mother and my grandmother did, too.
"In India," she continued, "body positivity wasn't as much of a deal as it is here. Everyone wanted to look good, and everyone used to look slim in India because people would walk everywhere. Transportation was sometimes an issue, so we would take our belongings and begin walking. People would lose weight very quickly because of how much physical activity we had on a daily basis."
She was a volleyball player, a state champion, even. Throughout her junior and senior years of college, she would take her volleyball team to the state championships and win. I still remember her egging me on when I was younger to try playing volleyball. In her words, volleyball was in our genes.
"I loved playing volleyball back then. But when I came from India to America, things were different for me. Everybody in America was working out on their own by jogging on the sidewalk. Plus, people would buy certain juices and drinks that were specifically called 'healthy'. I was always confused by that."
Why was she confused by that? I had to ask.
"Well, I saw a lot of differences in how health and beauty were marketed. I wasn't familiar with makeup because things were different before I came here, and things are much different from today. I just had one lipstick. They never had makeup advertisements in India, but here, there were products for all sorts of issues, like skincare and even for aging.
"Makeup was the one part of body image that was the biggest change for me. I wish I knew how to be more prepared for that."
It was never a big deal for her when she was younger than my current age to look beautiful because it had come naturally to her to fit into the then-current beauty standards. But she admitted that there was always this small pressure from others to look a certain way.
So I asked her the one question that I wanted to know: Did she think that body positivity has progressed today?
"Of course, yes! I've found that especially in urban areas, like cities, people are being more accepting of people no matter how they look. I really like that, too. Body positivity is extremely important, and I am glad that it is becoming more common."
I let out a sigh of relief that I didn't know I was holding in. Maybe there are people today constantly complaining about the strict conformity society wants us to fall victim to, but at least my mother could affirm that this just wasn't as much of the case anymore.