When body image becomes more than just something physical
Even the most confident person can succumb to doubts about their appearance from time to time, especially during the teenage years, a period when body shape and size are in constant flux. Nor does it help that the mass media seems to push unattainable ideas of beauty . To find out how teens in Beijing deal with this perpetual dilemma, tbjkids talked to students at the British School in Beijing.
When did you start paying attention to body image?
Chenyce Sim: I think when I started high school, everything became more focused on what you wear and how you look.
William Buck: I think I’ve always been aware of it – well, at least ever since I was 10. But I don’t really concentrate on my own personal body image.
Ken Lau: When I first started to follow fashion, I looked at the way my friends dressed. They dressed usually in punk fashions, like metal or goth, and I tried a lot of them as well.
CS: In high school, everyone is supposed to get changed for PE, and I think that’s when I first noticed it. We’re supposed to wear T-shirt uniforms, but about 50 percent of the girls in my school wore these really low-cut tank tops instead.
KL: I personally dress the way I want and don’t really care what others think. Even if they insult me, I’m still myself.
Where do you get inspiration from when it comes to deciding what to wear and how you want to present yourself?
KL: I’ve got my inspirations from listening to music and watching MTV.
CS: I dress the way I do because it’s comfortable. I don’t think about it. If I go in the shop and try something on, I don’t go to the mirror. I just put it on and see if it fits.
WB: I think it’s easier for boys. Girls have to worry more about their hair.
Alexandra McCuster: Boys just have to put on trousers and a T-shirt and they’re done.
CS: But I find some people spend more time on clothes, and they’re boys! And they talk about buying designer shirts and jeans, so I’m not so sure it’s only girls. I think it goes for guys as well.
What about the way that people feel about their bodies and not just what they wear?
WB: I think quite a lot of emphasis is put on the subject, but personally, I don’t care what I look like, as long as I have friends who like me for who I am.
AM: A lot of people at our age start getting self-conscious about their bodies. They say that there’s something wrong when there isn’t anything wrong. I know this girl who’s got a lovely body and she thinks she’s fat, but she’s like a stick and it’s silly. She wants to stop eating just to lose weight, and it’s quite worrying.
WB: I get it in China, getting into a taxi: “Wah! Hao pang!” I just laugh it off.
KL: I’ve had people mistake my gender. I’m slim and they think I’m like a woman, and they look so surprised when I speak, even when I’m just telling them where to go in a taxi.
KL: No, it’s just funny. I used to have punk hair and they still thought I was a woman.
KL: I tried putting on a fake beard once, but then people just thought I was a woman cross-dressing.
Have you ever had someone say something behind your back about your appearance?
CS: Yeah. I’ve had things said about me, like I’m a tomboy or I have bunny teeth.
AM: People used to insult me and say I’m ugly or fat, and it used to hurt me but now I’m fine.
WB: I think I used to want the Tommy Hilfiger look – the perfect manly shape. I kind of realized that wasn’t possible.
AM: I’ve thought that I’d love to have a nice body, because you see all these models in these magazines, but me and my mom were talking about it one day while watching TV, and all these girls are really thin but have no curves! All they do is probably sit backstage and eat carrot sticks.
CS: There has to be a balance. It’s good to be confident, but you have to be careful and make sure you balance it with being healthy.
CS: You have to have a clearly defined perspective on yourself, so if someone attacks you – but you know for sure that’s who you want to be – then it won’t bother you.
Ken Lau (16) is British, has been in Beijing for nine months, and his favorite band is Metallica
Alexandra McCuster (15) is Irish, has been in Beijing for two and a half years, and her favorite musician is Avril Lavigne
William Buck (16) is British, has been in Beijing for two and a half years, and his favorite band is the Lost Prophets
Chenyce Sim (14) is Australian, has been in Beijing for eight months, and likes all music except rap