"That awkward moment when photoshop makes you hate yourself lol...Like if you look at the before and after it's like...ok damn. This is cool. But also sad."

^^some of the texts I sent to my friend after we took these pictures at the infamous Paul Smith wall. Well, technically these aren't the pictures we took. These are the photoshopped versions of the photos we shot - edits that reflect my goals, as well as my insecurities.

Every day, we are faced with the standards of beauty set for us by the media - ultrafit models airbrushed to Barbie-like perfection. These almost unachievable goals are set for us on magazine spreads, in TV shows, and on countless social media platforms. I've seen this all my life, these images forever stamped into my mind - painful reminders of my comparative inadequacy and imperfection.

Well, at least I think that's why I view myself the way I do. I always say that my insecurities don't stem from social standards of beauty - that I want to look a certain way "just because" - but maybe this isn't the case.

Every time I read an article attacking extreme photoshopping, I find myself applauding. And yet, it's not that I want magazines or designers to stop hiring beautiful, thin models. No. I crave the constant reminder that I


look like


All I need to do is try.

Over the past three~four years, my struggles with eating disorders have ruined my life, not only affecting my eating habits, but also my academic performance and overall happiness. After an extremely difficult second semester of my first year at Berkeley, I decided that enough was enough. I promised myself that I would work as hard as I could to become the best and happiest version of myself. I would work out consistently, fight the urge to punish myself with bingeing, and keep a positive outlook, no matter my place on my journey. But this is all easier said than done.

Yes, I have been working out six~seven times a week, mostly sticking to my meal plan. And I have made progress. And I am proud of myself.

And yet, I'm not where I thought I would be at this point.

And as beautiful and optimistic as it is to preach wisdom like, "You are beautiful, no matter your size," or "To get a bikini body, just put a bikini on your body," genuinely believing these words to be true is a difficult feat. This isn't to say that not everybody is beautiful, because that's not what I'm trying to say at all. I completely understand that beauty isn't determined purely by physical qualities. And I say that I understand this concept, so why do I still feel so consumed by my physical appearance? Why is it that every time I look at a picture of myself, the first things I notice are all of the things I hate? Why am I not allowed to photoshop myself - to see a very attainable version of myself, when models and celebrities alike are allowed this luxury? I guess it's incorrect to call it a luxury, but that's just the word I'll use.

When my brother saw me photoshopping these pictures, he got pretty upset: "Are you seriously trying to make your legs look thinner? I'm disappointed in you...You know you're just trying to convince yourself that you look a certain way, and if you do that, you won't have the motivation to work to actually achieve that in real life..."

It's like this: I'm allowed to work on my appearance, but I'm not allowed to feel badly about myself. I'm fed words of optimism and forbidden from experiencing disappointment or discouragement. In a time when there are countless movement to shift the portrayal of beauty in mass media, self-consciousness is deemed disgraceful.

On the one hand, I understand that by photoshopping myself, I am showing my support for a society that largely equates beauty with thinness. But I also see this as an opportunity to show myself what I can achieve if I continue to exercise and eat a healthy diet. I don't plan, or want, to achieve this body through methods of starvation or other dietary restrictions. I've been down that road, and I hate it.

After facing so many roadblocks that have led me to doubt myself and my ability to be happy, time and time again, these pictures give me hope. I used to look like this, without extreme dieting. I was once athletic, ate what I wanted, and felt confident in myself. It's not that I want to be super thin. Rather, I want to experience the healthy, happy life I used to have, and whether it's awful or atrocious, seeing myself photoshopped gives me the confidence to continue bettering myself.

Is this so wrong?