Body Image in Japan: my experience as a black girl.

Aleema's World
Afro-kyoiku
Published in
7 min readDec 9, 2015

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So here we go, my first article; although I did write it before… and I swear I thought it was auto-saved but I can’t find it anywhere on my computer. So I will just write it again.

This is something I really want to share, even though it is extremely personal. But even if it is the only writing I publish on this blog, I’ll go through with it.

Most of the time, I’m just lazy to write… I tell myself someone will do it better than me anyway and I move on. I do keep a journal, so when I can’t hold it in any longer I just take a pen and I let it flow out. It feels amazing, but even in that private space of mine, I could not let myself talk about this. Because I was ashamed. I was ashamed to have been there, to have ever felt the way I did.

But at some point during last year I realized I knew too many other girls feeling the exact same way. And I knew it was not as innocent as it looked. A little complaining when trying a new dress or bikini, a short moment of hesitation in front of dessert. We laugh about it, joke about it, when inside it might be consuming us, our confidence, keeping us from sleeping, having us check every diet or makeup items out there.

It really hurt my feelings when I realized one of my girlfriends did not think she was beautiful at all. And then, just randomly, a guy told me how he did not find her pretty, thinking it was ok for him to say that to me. I was puzzled that any grown-up could think that was fine. And it took me back to 2013/2014.

To put it simple and blunt, I felt like S*** that whole year. I did not feel good about anything in my life. I was having a really hard time at school, could not figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life… I literally could not find one thing I liked about myself, both inside and out. And it hurt. It really just did.

And I did not handle it well. I know it now. Some I pushed away. Stayed away from social media most of the time, kept myself too busy with two jobs on top of school.

And to those I stayed in touch with I did my best to try to hide how I really felt. I would put on a smile most of the times, party as often as I could, dress as sexy as I dared in Japan. Who would possibly think that girl in the tight bodycon dress and high heels shaking it like she lost her mine had any confidence issues at all? Certainly not me if I was not her. And yet, God knows I kept finding every possible flaw about myself.

And the whole year during, I kept doing the worst thing a girl could ever do to herself. COMPARISON. That is one terrible habit. Just to give you an idea here is how it would go, literally from H to T:

A has a fuller healthier, looking, easier to manage natural hair, or just a more expensive natural looking wig

B has darker (yes, I wanted darker skin) smoother acne-free, even-toned skin,

C has way better quality make up products and skills as well (eyebrows on… nope still can’t get myself to use that term haha).

D just has prettier face features, maybe bigger eyes, or colored eyes, a smaller nose. You know she is just prettier with that gracious neck of hers.

E has a bigger cleavage

F has a smaller waist and of course the dream flat stomach

G has fuller hips, bigger and rounder bottom

H has longer, slimmer, more toned legs

J, oh J has these amazing toned arms I almost forgot to mention

K has prettier hands and feet, that looks amazing with that manicure of hers.

L, M N… all the way to Z, they’ve got amazing brains, doing so well in this engineering school I feel trapped in, they are going to be female engineers, how amazing is that. All I’m good at is languages.

No picture needed to understand how something this stupid could mess up your head. I was demolished… broken in pieces.

The reason why I felt ashamed to write about it though is that I never expected to feel so bad about myself. I do not know if this is the right way to express it without sounding overly confident but I have always felt comfortable with myself.

I have never really sat down and think about whether I was pretty or not. I never aspired for a flat tummy. I guess I always cared about what and how much came out of my mouth because I loved talking and texting and making people laugh at the thousands of stupidities I say.

I was pretty confident in high school, even though it was not the best time with all my acne. But I mean I did even compete in my school beauty contest (the actual reason being someone from our class had to compete anyway). I had a friend run up to me and say: “you look so beautiful from a distance but then once one gets closer… “ I did not take it very seriously back then, just laughed and the day went on. That was me for a very long time.

So how did I get there?

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ll say there was a guy involved. Not that he was not nice to me, or told me I was ugly or anything… Nothing like that. It was more the fact that he was, is a really amazing someone, one of the greatest gentlemen I’ve ever met, and I managed to lose him. Or at least that is how I saw it at the time.

It made me think that something was seriously wrong with me. A few years later I’m over it and it’s all good, I’m now convinced it was for the best but it did trigger the whole process of beating myself up.

And then there was the simple fact of being a black girl in Japan. Every foreigner has its own, unique experience in Japan (a topic to consider), but almost all of us will agree, Japan will have you realize your differences.

They point it all out, at least all the good (and sometimes the bad), with the sweetest intention. But you can’t possibly realize everything that is good about you and not notice what is not so good. I’m assuming it is a human thing, but if people kept complimenting your eyes, you would at some point wonder why nothing is never said about your mouth, or your skin, and then try to find out whose skin they have been talking about and then naturally compare yourself to them.

I’ve been writing about this for a week one (hello procrastination). And right now there was this short moment where I felt so good about myself I just wanted to sit down and write about it.

You know you have been doing something right when it’s that time of the month, you break out, you are bloated like a stupid balloon, but you still feel good about yourself.

And it feels even greater when it has nothing to do with men. It’s just you, knowing you are more than you look, being ok with your body, knowing that it’s yours and you have to live in it.

My point, because I do have one, is that you have to be ok with your body. All the campaigns in the world, all the ads, and great messages won’t help if you do not actually believe it’s your duty and right to be comfortable with whatever shape or size you feel healthy and comfortable in.

I use the word healthy on purpose. Unhealthy diets and lifestyles are a sad reality of our time, and I myself used to have them(maybe still do). But if you are going to have kids, marry someone, be in people’s life, I believe you owe to them and to yourself to try your best to take care of your body as well as your mind. I’m very proud to have been reading about nutrition, and balance, and to try to live as healthy as possible.

Does that mean I give up on my chocolate? Absolutely not... but I’d eat it three times a week instead of three times a day for example. Not so healthy some would say, too much restriction some others will say.

And that’s when I can happily say “Well that’s what works for me.” Believe me, once you are there, you won’t let anyone take you away from that place.

I don’t think of myself as someone necessarily inspirational. Life in Japan has humbled me in realizing there are so many more people with greater adventures and thoughts. But if me sharing this brings anyone to rethink this whole body image thing, it would make my day.

Some have said it in more poetic ways but I’ll say it the simplest way possible: you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself first. And others can’t love you if you don’t love yourself first.

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Aleema's World
Afro-kyoiku

I write with my heart about Education, Books, Humans, Love, Islam.