― August Wilson
As humans we tend to view others based on their outside appearance before getting to know them personally. It’s not something we do intentionally, that’s just how our brains have been wired for centuries. Sight is one of the five senses, those of us who have it use it to help us cast our judgement. We cannot get upset at our brain doing what it naturally does but in many cases, there’s a lot more than meets the eyes.
We’ve grown up hearing our parents tell us, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Which is a lot easier said than done at most times. For example, Joshua Rivera is a 20 year old student attending Seton Hill University in Greensburg. With a major in Exercise Science and well kept impression, you would have never known that he has Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Body Dysmorphia is a body image disorder where a person can have an obsessive focus on a flaw with their appearance, which can be real or perceived. There’s a constant feeling of needing to improve or change how they look to satisfy this fear of imperfection they have. Most cases they will seek out plastic surgery or exercise to alter their features in an attempt to like themselves but in their eyes, their attempts aren’t successful.
Josh started lifting at the young age of eleven years old. This was his attempt to stop bullies from harassing him. School was horrendous and at home it felt like something was absent. Being that he wasn’t on the receiving end of much motivation growing up, he never sought out validation from others. Instead, he found it in his craft. Once his body started to grow and progress from lifting, there was a phase when he liked the attention. The bullying stopped as a whole once he started advancing through the school years. In his years at Greensburg Salem High School he found his value on the track team. On the side he continued to practice weight lifting because he liked the pain and soreness from exercising. Exercise was his cure-all medicine. If he was upset, sick, or unhappy with his body he would exercise and it made him feel better. He continued building his body to his ideal figure, although in his eyes he is still not there. Bullying and the lack of dignity that he was given as a child molded his view on himself. There within himself, a seed of insecurity was planted.
“I am a firm believer in what happens in your childhood can affect you later on… if you grow up missing something, it’s definitely harder to gain later on in life. But it’s not impossible. With the right mindset–you can build yourself.” Rivera says as he opens up about his rough childhood.
The past does play a huge role in our character development. With our generation though, there are also many different factors. Mass media and social media play an influence on how we view ourselves. With both medias there are pros and cons. A post can motivate some and cause others to become more insecure. It’s all about perspective. If a person seeks higher self esteem, a post about body image can be boosting and uplifting. On the other hand, if a person has low self esteem to begin with it can put them in a deeper slump. With the glamorization of eating disorders and the internet world being infatuated with being this “ideal type”, it’s only easier for youth to get trapped in this state of negativity. Then it is harder for them to sit comfortably in their own skin.
“If I look at myself just like this, it’s not up to par with anything I want to be. And it’s not just appearance-wise… When I ran track, I never thought I was fast enough. When I lift, I don’t think I am strong enough.”
The ideal body for Joshua, is that of Tom Coleman’s. “His body is perfectly symmetrical to me,” he uttered. Tom Coleman is a fitness model and also Rivera’s fitness idol. Through training, he has even asked his coach if it were possible for him to achieve a body like Coleman’s. His goal in life is to become a coach one day, or even a personal trainer. For a job in the fitness field, your body is a great way to bring in clients in this form of business. No one wants to seek out fitness advice from someone who isn’t in the best shape of their life. But, with Rivera constantly searching for flaws in his appearance it’ll be challenging for him to be satisfied with how he is.
When asking the 20 year old when he feels most proud of himself he answered, “Whenever I accomplish something that I have been aiming for, for a while.” Whether fitness, school, or goal oriented he feels pride when he is able to complete a task. Self esteem starts in baby steps. Josh claims he is not his best yet. Despite his many efforts, it is far from the state where he would like to be. He is able to cheer up a friend and preach to them about acceptance. When the roles get reversed, he’s quick to brush it off. His state of dislike for himself does seem to be changing for the better, however. Hope that he can get to a place in his life where he can like himself, and potentially, love himself one day might be close within his future. Lifestyle changes are important to liking yourself. Once you begin to get your footing in the right direction, then you can walk to wherever you want to go.
“Once you develop enough self discipline, you’ll start doing things on your own. You’ll be proud of yourself and start to view yourself in a positive way. Taking that along with my past and stuff… I mean positivity from other people would definitely help. But it starts with yourself.”
Step away from the mirror, put the phone away, throw away all those magazines because they do not define you. Focus on the person that you want to become over the negative thoughts you have about yourself. Starting small, find the things you like about yourself. Build them up until the things you dislike are of no importance anymore. It’s all about liking yourself first, then that can evolve to self love. “There is no right body image– everyone was born the same way.” Even though he still isn’t where he wants to be with himself, these things take time. Positivity starts with you. Everyone likes to receive praise every once and awhile, but when you can give it to yourself it is truly great.