If there is one thing about living in the United States that transcends age or social status, it’s the pressure to look “good.” We are constantly bombarded by sexy models in the best clothes, ads with beautiful people telling us the benefits of going to the gym and celebrities with flawless — photoshopped — skin on fad diets.
Growing up a chubby, acne-ridden kid in Connecticut, I never fit into that mold. I hit puberty in fifth grade, grew to a towering 5 feet 5 inches in sixth grade and had braces until my freshman year of high school. While most of the kids in my town were playing soccer and lacrosse, I was doing theater and playing video games. At an early age I realized that the skinny people I saw on TV did not represent me in any way.
Throughout high school my weight became an even bigger issue. I can’t count the number of nights I would lay on my bed crying, wishing that I could chop off all my problem areas. In my very sports-oriented, body-conscious town, I stood out and I knew it.
My freshman year of college I gained the freshman 15, plus 25 more pounds. Despite all the diets, trips to the gym and meals I skipped, I was unhappy regardless of the weight I would lose. I felt like a prisoner in my own body and I began to resent every inch of it.
And then I decided to go study away in Prague. I had my mind set on losing weight, but within the first few days my thought process began to change. Instead of spending my free time obsessing in front of the mirror, sucking in my stomach and counting calories, I started having fun. I became much more focused on museum trips, traveling and the overall beauty that surrounded me. I stopped looking in mirrors altogether and began to wear almost no makeup.
When I went to the bathhouses in Budapest I wore a bikini. My leg hair was entirely too long and I had hippie-length armpit hair, but I didn’t care at all. I felt at one with my body, as did everyone else. There was no one to impress, no mental game of who looks the best: everyone was just relaxing. For the first time in years I felt beautiful.
Email Mariah Melendez at [email protected]nyunews.com.