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Do you like what you see when you look into a mirror?

In an ideal world, everyone would be satisfied with how they saw themselves. However, in the reality of dealing with the pressures of social media, seeking approval from others and comparing oneself to another, seeking positivity in how one viewed themself can be difficult.

With these obstacles, it’s said to be that when the average person critiques and judges themselves, it is easy to focus on the negative rather than the positive. In fact, more than one in three men are dissatisfied with their bodies, and the same applies to 80% of women.

Finding how such things can simply affect one’s entire view of themselves can be scary at times. However, doubtful or confident, individuals will learn to evolve from the endless thoughts they might have and gain a better view of themselves by thinking about what could benefit them worthwhile—such as seeing the growth of three separate students struggling with their acne, body image and one that sheds light on all negativity.

Through watching this experiment, one can see the various viewpoints of high school students and what they are struggling with in regards to their self-image.

More than skin deep

Reading the ingredients label from his ROSEN Skincare cream, senior Steven Ho makes sure it includes key ingredients he looks out for, such as small percentages of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. From dealing with skin issues for years, Ho wants to be extra careful with what goes into his face.

“I realized throughout my years, people would comment, especially living in an Asian household, everybody is pointing out everything, [such as] ‘you have a lot of pimples’ or ‘you’re too fat,’” Ho said. “I’m used to that stuff, so I’m listening to that and [it’s] just repeatedly stuck in my head. [It] revolves around in my system and I’m just trying to figure out how to get rid of it.”

Through trying numerous brands from Instagram famous products, like Curology, to over-the-counter medications, Ho kept searching for a product that would change his skin for the better.

“When trying those products and figuring out that all that money I spent was going to waste, I always got into a saddened state,” Ho said. “I always thought that nothing would ever work for me and that I was going to remain like this. I would always cry just because of how bad my skin was.”

Realizing the root of his problem was a poor diet and poor eating decisions, Ho decided to create a balance between the two to still freely eat and drink what he wanted, yet still be able to burn it all off through exercise. With this technique, he has an opportunity for growth that he didn’t realize in the past.

“I drink three cups of Boba everyday, but I exercise, so that I can maintain my health and skin,” Ho said. “Recently, I’ve been drinking straight up vegetable juices and I’ve noticed that really helped. Now, I just make sure I do not go over a certain limit, otherwise I know that I may have to face consequences [like worse skin].”

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After experimenting with all the various skin care products and researching which ingredients are aimed at repairing certain areas, Ho became very familiar with that domain and now hopes to continue his learning.

“I am taking my journey to college,” Ho said. “I aspire to become a dermatologist with my own skin care brand in the future. I want to help others quickly so that they don’t have to suffer like I did.”

Through years of trial and error, Ho was able to find a skincare routine that was working and beneficial to his needs. Although he may still receive hateful comments, Ho has realized that they will never go away and simply be happy in his own skin.

“Brands like Curology just look at your skin and try and give you creams [they] think are best for you,” Ho said. “I felt like [different brands] made me a happier person because I could walk out and feel less insecure. I’m still insecure about myself because my family will always comment on me regardless, [but] feeling better in my skin and being able to breathe in it has made that way easier.”

Being able to wake up in glowing skin has been a life-changer for Ho, and having opened up to his peers about his problems has not only encouraged more people to begin discussions with him, but also to feel more confident.

“Without all that hardship, I would not be the person I am today,” Ho said. “This caused my weight loss, my skincare and everything changed about me because of what people said about me. Words are impactful. I feel throughout all that torment I’m not suffering too bad anymore, so I can do it for myself.”

Weighing others opinions

Looking in the mirror, senior Stephanos Bingham was not always as confident as some may know him now. At a young age, Bingham recognized he was different from other kids, and it seemed like everyone around him made sure he knew it too.

“During elementary school I noticed [my weight] but I had no problem with it,” Bingham said. “It wasn’t until middle school when it became a big issue, because my friends started to understand I wasn’t normal. There were some kids who would try to be nice about it but there were a lot who poked fun at me.”

No matter the age it is not difficult to understand the differences you have from your peers. Without feeling like he had any support, Bingham felt like he had no choice but to rebrand himself–he didn’t want to just be known for his weight. This inspired Bingham to drop his weight from 220 to 180 pounds over the span of a couple months.

“I decided the summer after sophomore year that I wanted to lose weight,” Bingham said. “I started going to the gym every night and cut my portion sizes down by half and ended up losing a lot of weight in a fast amount of time. I had always thought about losing weight–I think it’s every [heavy] person’s dream, but I had never gotten serious about it until then.”

Having the appropriate mindset is one of the most important aspects of bettering the way a person views themselves. Being persistent and continuous with what he wanted to do helped Bingham with the struggles he was going through.

“It made me really sad, I [didn’t feel] equal to my peers,” Bingham said. ”Of course, now I feel more confident in myself–not just for losing a lot of weight, but my outlook on life now is different. I am perfect the way I am and I don’t need to change for anyone, and definitely not my family, the only opinion that matters is my own.”

With the confidence that Bingham has built up over time, he continues to keep his head up and be the best version of himself. Self-confidence is a huge contribution to having an overall, exceptional perspective on yourself. Even though it was hard for Bingham to gain the mindset he has now, he currently is viewing and seeing himself as best as can be.

“Of course everyone was shocked, I had countless compliments coming in at all times and everyone knew,” Bingham said. “My family recognized it suddenly as well but they saw more of the process than others and they were more supportive of me and what I was doing and they were really proud.”

After years of being humiliated, taunted and belittled for his weight, Bingham decided that others opinions did not matter. He finally has come to terms with his appearance and is confident with what he sees in the mirror today.

“I got really tired of the negative comments, it would drain me mentally,” Bingham said. “I just decided that it didn’t matter anymore. I mean looking around at the people around me and how much they care about others opinions, that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. I like where I am now and that’s all that matters.”

A glimmer of hope

While it may be easy to succumb to the belief that teenagers’ self-images are horribly and irreparably broken, the Santiago sisters, sophomores Leia and Leila, offer a glimmer of hope that some people can break through the effects of social media and advertising giants.

“I don’t feel like how people observe you should affect you,” Leia Acevedo-Santiago said. “Value yourself. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is look in the mirror and say affirmations like ‘Leia you’re so beautiful, you deserve so much

Plenty of teenagers derive their value from how many “likes” their latest selfie on Instagram can accumulate, the Santiago sisters are diligent in their belief that people should focus on improving themselves both emotionally and physically. They have prevented themselves from getting sucked into the realm of social media by focusing on personal self-improvement.

“This generation is becoming more scarred and social media is a part of that,” Leia Acevedo-Santiago said. “We idolize people that aren’t really happy or are posting fake things about themselves. We start to feel like we’re not good enough and I don’t really feel like that applies to me because I don’t need another person to tell me if I’m good enough.”

The Santiago sisters are the first to tell you that appearance on social media isn’t what defines you, and it’s important to view yourself fairly. They understand that societal standards aren’t the be-all end-all for how they should view themselves, and have learned themselves how to deal with negativity.

“Me and my sister grew up understanding that other people’s actions or thoughts don’t matter in the long run,” Leia Acevedo-Santiago said. “We’ve both learned how to deal with negative words or hate because we don’t want that type of stuff to influence who we are.”

They are able to maintain their high self-esteem by having apathy over how other people view them. It ensures that they’re happier with whom they genuinely are.

“Be more happy with yourself and be more confident about your appearance,” Laila Savelo-Santiago said. “Do everything for yourself rather than for anyone else, that’s what I do.”

In addition to degrading mental health, the impact that social media and others’ view on oneself potentially leads to further mental issues including depression and suicide in which Laila has gone through.

“Again, worry about yourself, not others; dress with what you like and stay positive,” Laila Acevedo-Santiago said. “People worry about likes too much and it sometimes even leads to suicide, I experienced it myself because my friend committed suicide over it.”

To maintain a richer body and self-image, Leia Acevedo-Santiago allows time for herself. Spending time with other individuals may not always be the right thing to do as Leia has figured out.

“For me, I’m resistant to other people’s views about me because I do things like exercising, yoga and meditation; that’s what I do on a daily basis to help me feel more comfortable about myself,”  Acevedo-Santiago said. “I also spend more time with myself too because I want to have that quality time to give [myself] the attention that I need.”

In the grand scheme of all the hate and negativity in the world, the Santiago sisters have accepted who they are and learned how to deal with anything life throws at them.

“When I was about the age of 12, I started traveling with my family and I realized that there’s more to the world and about the world than just how school is,” Acevedo-Santiago said. “We’re just kids judging each other because we feel uncomfortable and insecure about ourselves, so why would I let a kid tell me that I’m ugly if I believe in something different.”

You are not how other people see you.

From people that obsess over social media to those that derive their value from themselves, there’s no monolithic view on the best way to see yourself. The faces of students at our school are just a few stories representing those who struggle with their self-image on a day-to-day basis.

“[A positive self-image] doesn’t happen overnight,” counselor Elizabeth Hare said. “It takes a long time, and sometimes it’s going back to the gym again which counts. It’s the same way with mental health and the way we think. So, in reality, it’s all about changing your mindset, over and over again.”

Through struggles and triumphs, it’s inevitable to not second-think one’s view of their self-image to ensure ultimate satisfaction within themselves. One way or another, most students will come into the realization of focusing less on others’ opinions and really thinking about how they feel about certain circumstances.