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Repairing My Negative Body Image, One Step at a Time

By Nouri Hassan

Body dysmorphia and negative self-image run rampant, and as a model and casting director, Nouri Hassan has faced both internal and external scrutiny. Through experience, she's found a way through and above it which she shares here. 

I became obsessed with my appearance at a young age. I saw a warped reflection of myself whenever I looked in a mirror, and for years I struggled with depression, anxiety, and, most of all, a negative body image. I’d ask myself why I couldn’t have the things I wanted—a 23-inch waist, a thigh gap, confidence? My negative body image and destructive thoughts quickly turned into eating disorders and body dysmorphia. 

After I developed in high school and lost my baby fat, my self-esteem was temporarily on the rise. Deep down, I always had a secret love and interest in modeling. I finally felt petite and pretty enough to give it a shot, but the agency I ended up working with was toxic; eager to be developed for runway and editorial work, I did everything they said to do to lose weight. I spiraled. And I lost all of the self-esteem I’d been building. 

When I turned 18 my current agency, We Speak Models, contacted me for representation. They stand for dismantling beauty standards, combatting tokenism, and supporting healthy lifestyles for their models. I’d finally found a place of belonging and safety. Today, I’m still repairing a distorted mental picture of myself and breaking negative thought patterns, and I’m improving, step by step. 

SELECTIVE SOCIAL MEDIA

Tumblr was my go-to social media outlet when I was a teen. I would endlessly scroll through “thinspiration” and obsess over supermodels. When I was with my old agency, I was working out multiple times daily and counting calories. The pressure from my agents at the time didn’t help; they pushed me to get down to industry-standard—a dress size 0—and convinced me that I would never work if my hips exceeded 34 inches. I was willing to try anything to obtain that goal. Despite all of my efforts, Tumblr influencers and Instagram models still made me feel less than and persuaded me to drink skinny detox teas and wear a waist trainer. Back then, influencers didn’t have to disclose if their post was sponsored; I fully believed the products they promoted would tone my stomach and thighs to be slimmer like theirs.  

Ironically, social media and modeling helped me break out of this self-deprecating phase.

My idea of social media changed when I saw brands like Aerie and Target using curve models in their Instagram ads. I used Instagram to find a community of body-positive models dominating the fashion industry, like Paloma Elsesser, Iskra, and Barbie Ferreira, and I found inspiring influencers like Atlanta De Cadenet, a mental health advocate. There was light in what seemed to be a dark, intimidating space. 

LOVING ON MY BODY

In therapy, I discovered that the well-being of my loved ones had been consistently overshadowing my own. My home life had always been volatile, and my priorities weren't in order. I realized that I needed to take care of myself before anyone else. 

To resolve this, I got into my body and practiced self-love through the things that worked for me: bubble baths, mani-pedis, shopping, yoga, and even the occasional Swedish massage. Above all, meditation was my favorite method of self-care. Purely acknowledging the sensations within my body, even for just five minutes, was such a powerful experience; I became closer to myself than ever before, and it was refreshing to be my number one priority. 

Self-care taught me to listen to and honor my body’s needs, whether it’s eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or taking an hour-long power nap. I learned not to settle for feeling okay when I honestly wasn’t. 

ACCEPTANCE

When I hit puberty, I developed what was then my worst nightmare: back acne. That summer, I grew my hair out long enough so I could hide my embarrassing back whenever I (rarely) wore a swimsuit. I refrained from wearing tank tops in public and, when I did, I used a heavy foundation to cover up my scars. In an attempt to get rid of my blemishes, my mom took me to out-of-network dermatologists in the city, hoping I’d get prescribed a miracle ointment. I tirelessly searched through online articles, YouTube videos, and pages of Amazon listings to find and try every remedy out there. Nothing worked, and I hated how I looked. Today, I recognize that back acne wasn’t my worst nightmare, but the idea of perfection was. 

If I could go back in time, I would tell young Nouri to love her skin, to wear whatever she wants, unapologetically, and without fear of everyone’s opinions. I’ve learned to compliment myself in the mirror instead of picking and prodding at my perceived imperfections. Most of all: I focus on learning how to accept and cherish my body the way it is. 

Written by Nouri Hassan for Youth To The People
Hero photo courtesy of Chloe Horseman; photo courtesy of Heather Hazzan