Alisa: The Insecurity Within

Story 3 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Alisa’s story, written in her own words:

“I’m Alisa Nguyen-Le, and I’m a 4’11” half white, half Vietnamese cisgendered woman. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with insecurities around my short height, acne, and weight. To this day, I am working towards accepting and loving parts of myself that I once would grimace at. The journey of embracing body positivity and unlearning societal beauty standards is not easy, but to me, it’s crucial in order to live a truly fulfilling life. That is why this project spoke to me so much. 

Around the age of puberty, I started breaking out with severe acne and developed a hatred towards the way my face looked. From once being called pepperoni face to my family always commenting on my skin, I never wanted people to look at my face. Every time I would look in the mirror, all I could see was my pimples and my scars. Because of the insecurity of having acne, I started wearing makeup when I was in the eighth grade to cover up my blemishes. In high school, I would put on a full face of makeup every single day to make me feel more confident and mask my insecurities I was having. When I put on makeup, I felt like a different, more likeable person. It hurt to look at myself in the mirror, and it was impossible to tell myself that I was beautiful unless I had a full face of makeup on.

On top of that, growing up in a community that was predominantly Asian, I always wanted to look more like my Asian side to fit in. With makeup, I felt as if I could alter my looks to be more of the person I wanted to be. When I would look in the mirror, the voice in my head would criticize everything I saw including the paleness of my skin, my acne, my sparse brows, my small lips, and my baby face. After I started to take birth control in college, I began noticing that my skin was getting better. Despite my acne improving, I still felt a lingering insecurity inside of me. I started to realize that the way I felt about myself was internal and that I had the power to change the narrative in my head. When I started to feel “ugly”, I would tell myself that no two people in this world are exactly alike and to embrace the face that nature had given me. By making this a mindful practice in my life, I slowly started becoming more confident in going outside without makeup at all. Finally, I was finally able to tell myself I was beautiful naturally.

Despite my progress in accepting my natural face, I also started to notice my body shape changing after beginning to take birth control. I was gaining weight. In the past, I would be able to eat whatever I wanted without gaining any weight. I would eat a lot and enjoy every moment of it. However, this started to change dramatically, and I started to tell myself that I couldn’t eat the way I used to. I began to feel insecure about the way my body looked, especially when wearing a bathing suit. My thighs were getting thicker, and I started to gain more fat on my stomach. I started to label my arms as flabby and would suck in my stomach when taking photos. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt like I was in someone else’s body. At the time, I was with my now ex-boyfriend and genuinely feared he wouldn’t want to be with me anymore because of the way my body was changing. I would discreetly throw in comments to hopefully receive compliments and validation from him to help make me feel worthy enough. This was also when Instagram influencers started to become more prevalent, and I started developing a habit of comparing myself to more fit, pretty, and skinny girls I saw online. I started going to the gym more regularly, and though it made me feel better, I started to base my self worth on whether or not I gymmed.

To this day, I struggle with only wanting to wear one-piece bathing suits (if I have to wear one), not wanting to wear outfits that show my arms, and avoiding crop tops (even though I love the look) to avoid feeling embarrassed over what people can see behind the fabric. I have fears that folks from high school will see photos of how I look now and think, “wow, she’s thickened,” or “Alisa let herself go.” It’s tough when I look in the mirror, and I’ll think I look good, but when I see myself in photos from the same day, I feel repulsed at how “fat” I look. I’ll genuinely question, “is this really how other people see me?”. During January 2020 (right before the pandemic), I went on a trip to Hawaii. I hated almost every single photo of myself in my bathing suit. After this trip, I told myself that I wanted to make some significant changes in my life to lose weight. I wanted to gym more aggressively, and I wanted to change my diet. I had seen other people try a keto diet and saw that it worked for them, so I told myself that I wanted to give it a try too. Although I started somewhat strong, I quickly started developing my old habits of eating carbs (mind you, I’m a huge foodie and love all foods, so this was incredibly challenging for me). My failed diet made me feel like a failure as a person. 

When the pandemic hit, and gyms started closing, I honestly felt a bit of relief. Relief that I wouldn’t have the pressure of physically going to the gym. I also started to not feel as poorly about not sticking with my diet as my mind had shifted from being hyper-aware of how I looked to getting acclimated to “the new normal” of the pandemic. Although I always knew in the back of my mind that I had an unhealthy obsession with the gym, I never did anything about it. This changed dramatically during lockdown. After having no other choice but to sit down and reflect on what really mattered to me, I deprioritized my looks and shifted my focus to my health and the health of my loved ones. I also began to hear people talk about “quarantine weight,” which made me feel better knowing that other people were on their journeys. Now, my focus is to try to take care of my mind, body, and spirit. If I work out one night, then great. If I don’t, I try not to dwell on it. If I feel like eating something, I will try my best not to feel guilty about it. Of course, I’m a believer in “everything in moderation,” but I recognize it’s natural for things to become unbalanced from time to time. 

It’s a life-long process, and I wish I could say I’ve moved past this internal battle with myself. Because of this internal battle, there are times where I feel like my obsession with exercising manifested itself into an obsession with at-home workouts. There are also times when I fear that I will develop the same obsession I had with the gym pre-covid life. However, in those moments, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself. When I die, I know people won’t remember me for how I looked on Instagram photos, but rather who I am as a person and how I made others feel. When I do feel my insecure mindset starting to creep up, I try to remind myself to channel that energy onto uplifting affirmations instead. I tell myself that everyone is beautiful the way they are, and everyone is on their self-love journey. I tell myself that it’s okay if I don’t look like the model girls I see on Instagram. I tell myself that people love me unconditionally, regardless of how I look. I tell myself that I am beautiful, even if it’s hard to believe at the moment. I know the journey of self-love is difficult, painful, and sometimes almost impossible to endure. However, through resilience and strength, I have faith that everyone will be able to see their natural-born beauty and embrace who they are inside and out. As we live in a digital world, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in beauty standards from what we see on the screen. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that what we see online is curated and does not always reflect reality. However, social media isn’t always negative, and it gives me hope and inspiration to see more body-positive activists spread the message that everyone is beautiful in their own way. 

Although the “body positive” movement is often associated with advocating for bigger bodies in the media (which is absolutely necessary), I hope that one day, the stories of all body types will be shared. It’s important for all people to tell their story so our society becomes more understanding and empathetic of the people we surround ourselves with. For anyone else struggling with their body image, I want you to know that you are loved for who you are, regardless of what you look like. You are beautiful and unique. You are strong and will get through these challenges. If there is one thing that you take away from this story, please remember that you are not alone and we are in this together. You are one of a kind and there will never be someone exactly like you. Embrace it.”

-Alisa

Shelter in Place Diaries: Janelle

Watch:

COVID-19 is spreading throughout California at an alarming rate. With that said, Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for all wineries and bars to shut down production. Shortly after that, big businesses, small businesses, restaurants, and schools started to shut down completely to the public. Each day on the news was something different, something more extreme. Californians are advised to shelter in place effective March 16, 2020 until April 7, 2020. A full three weeks of staying home and only leaving our house for necessities like food or for medical attention.I never thought that this would happen. Thinking of the events that led up to this quarantine seems like a daze. Everything progressed so quickly and its really hard to believe that this is the situation the WORLD is currently in. I have never witnessed anything like this.I wondered how I was going to spend my 3 week quarantine. My work shut down and we are scheduled to reopen on April 6, 2020. I’m currently working from home, bored out of my mind, scared and anxious for the state of the world, and itching to go outside. I find myself on my phone a lot, scrolling through social media and taking in all the content that I wouldn’t usually be taking in since I work an 8-5 Monday to Friday.What’s crazy about COVID-19 is that its affecting everyone in the world right now. I’ve been seeing a lot of quarantine videos of people from all over the world. I feel like this is the time to document how we’re living, what we’re thinking, and how we’re dealing with this pandemic.The journalist in me got inspired, and I turned to Instagram. I posted a story asking if anyone would be interested in documenting their quarantine for about a week. An old friend from high school reached out.Janelle’s situation was really interesting to me because she lives by herself. I was going half way crazy day 3 of quarantine inside the house with my family, but being completely isolated, I don’t know if I could do it. Janelle agreed to document parts of her quarantine days and share with the public.On my Instagram feed, a lot of people I know are using this shelter in place to self reflect, work from home, do workout challenges, do fun quizzes on social media, connect with friends, read, reconnect with hobbies, etc. Janelle was no different. I really enjoyed watching her videos because I feel I everyone can relate to them. She had days where she was inspired and wanted to do all her hobbies, and then she had other days where she was like “over it, bye.” Thanks so much to Janelle for being so transparent and open! Watch her Shelter in Place Diaries here:

Corona Confusion

We touched down in San Francisco from Massachusetts on a Sunday. That’s when we learned about the death of Kobe Bryant in our Uber ride back home. The news was such a damper to our incredible weekend, and that feeling of “Back to real life,” hit. You know, when you’ve been on vacation and experience that post-vacation high, and as more days pass that high dwindles down a little more and more each day until you’re finally getting back into your everyday routine? That feeling. Except I felt that “back to real life,” feeling not even 1 hour after touching down.

Christian had to get a livescan done for his coaching side-gig, so after dropping off our luggage at his place, we made the 15 minute walk to the UPS store. We should’ve called ahead, because the livescan person wasn’t in at the time. The worker explained that it’s best to call the UPS store before showing up for a livescan, since some stores only do them from certain times in the day, or only a certain worker does them. He called another UPS location that confirmed that they’d be doing the livescan service for 1 more hour. We decided to take an Uber there to not risk our chances of being late.

When our Uber pulled up, we got in and he greeted us through his mask. He was a 30 something year old Asian guy, who was very apparent about his fears of the Coronavirus. Immediately after entering the car, he starts talking about how serious the virus is. To be completely honest, I was hearing about news of the Coronavirus being spread in China, but I wasn’t thinking too hard about it spreading or getting as big as it is today. During the wedding weekend, I heard about 3 to 4 different conversations about the Coronavirus. It raised suspicions, but I wasn’t too worried about it.

Our Uber driver’s muffled voice continued through the mask. He was curious if we were up to date on the Coronavirus spreading throughout China. We said we knew about it, but weren’t closely following it. He was spitting straight facts, I knew he was reading and staying up to date with this topic.

“Did you know that ____ (insert exact amount that I can’t remember) thousand people commuted to and from Wuhan in just 1 week? Imagine all the people that have Coronavirus and don’t even know yet,” he explained.

“It’s gonna make it’s way here, watch. Its just a matter of time, protect yourself. Get a mask. Disinfect everything, in fact, here -” he reaches over to the passenger’s seat and takes out a roll of Clorox disinfecting wipes, “Can you do me a favor and clean whatever you think people have touched before you back there?”

“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Christian said casually. We each pulled a wipe from the bottle. We both wiped down the handles of the car door, and then quickly after that the whole surface of whatever we could reach of arm length.

“Yeah, after each couple of rides, I’ve been wiping down all the areas that passengers touch, just to make sure its clean,” he went on. “Especially if I hear someone do a little *sniff* I immediately wipe the car down, I’m not trying to risk it!”

It was like we touched down back to San Francisco and it was a new world. This guy was definitely spiking my anxiety. But also to be completely honest, I thought he was overreacting a little. The virus is going to make it’s way all the way over here? Really? And if it did, its probably not as big as everyone’s making it out to be. Maaaan, was I wrong!

He gave us little fun facts like how people can be carrying the virus and be symptom free for about 2 weeks until they start feeling something. Or how the infected person can feel nothing at all. All the while, in both scenarios, the infected person is still contagious. He was upset that China was initially trying to downplay how serious Corona is, and believes that America needs to learn from China’s mistakes and tackle this virus head on once it makes it’s way to the states.

“I even got me and my girl a mask off Amazon,” he said, this being probably the only thing he said that wasn’t nerve wracking.

We finally got to our destination, and we said our goodbye’s. Our Uber driver told us to keep safe and sanitize everything. I got out of the car ready to hear Christian’s view on what just transpired. We came to the conclusion that it’s something really serious in China, but maybe this guy was jumping the gun and just being a little paranoid.

We got to the UPS store in less than 20 minutes, more than 40 minutes until the livescan service was closed. We went in, “oh sorry, the employee that does the livescan just left early.” Cool, as if we didn’t just call 15 minutes ago. We were definitely back to real life. This was late January.

January 27, 2020 – Literally the day after arriving back from Massachusetts, we were back to our same routine at work. We literally left work that previous Thursday, ate dinner, chilled a little, went to SFO, caught a red eye flight at 11:15 pm, touched down in Massachusetts around 8 AM Friday their time, explored, ate, explored some more, took a 2 hour nap, went to the rehearsal dinner and ate bomb food, got back to the haunted Airbnb, prepared for the wedding the next day, went to sleep, woke up on Saturday 5 AM west coast time, 8 AM east coast time, got my hair did, did my own makeup, went to the most beautiful wedding, danced and partied, got back to the haunted house and ate pizza with the cool roomies, some who were also part of the wedding party, slept for about 2.5 hours, and was on the next flight back to San Francisco. So we immediately jumped back into real life as if we never left.

Anyways, that Monday I felt a little weird. I could tell that I had an itch in my throat, and I was probably going to have a little cold. I figured no biggy, it’s most likely because of the sudden weather changes – Massachusetts being snowy and basically a winter wonderland, and back to San Francisco where, for the most part, it’s basically a constant 60 degrees all year round. I worked the full 8 hour shift at work and then headed over to Christian’s place.

On Mondays, blog post days, I usually stay back at Christian’s place while he works out. He still felt a little tired and jetlagged, so he decided to take a rest day from the gym. I remember blasting the heater, having it facing me as I wrote. I was so cold. And the heater didn’t help as much as I thought it would.

“Its so cold,” I kept saying.

“Are you serious?” Christian said. I looked away from my WordPress app to look at him. Beads of sweat were forming on his head.

“Yeah, I’m really cold I want it hotter.” I said. It was so hot in the room he started to sweat, his shirt looking a little sweaty too. That’s how I knew I was going to be siiiiick sick.

I pushed through with the Kobe and Gigi Bryant blog post, but honestly I felt delirious. When I finally posted it, we turned on som Netflix, and I still complained with how cold it was. He begged me not to turn on the heater. When he touched me he said, “You are burning up. Your skin is so hot.”

Shortly after that came the body aches. I seriously felt like I was dying. And I was scared. I had just passed through the airport, traveled cross country, passed through the airport again, and work at a preschool. All I could think about was our Uber driver’s predictions. After a couple days of what seemed like death, my boss finally told me to take a day off and get checked. They all thought I was being dramatic when I suspected I had Coronavirus. Had this been taking place today, they would’ve believed it as well.

On my day off I went to the doctor’s. Something I never do. When I’m sick, I just deal with it until I’m better. This was a whole different type of sick. I felt like I was on my death bed. I told them that I was passing through the airport the week before, and they checked me out. Thank the universe when she said I was showing no signs of COVID-19. What I probably had was the flu. And that flu was the worst sickness I’ve ever experienced in my life. It seemed never ending. I just started to feel just “ok” after 2 weeks. 14 days of actual torture.

I recovered around my birthday, February 15th. People were joking that I had Coronavirus, but here we are a month later and it’s no joking matter anymore. I seriously take a step back and think of all of this and how it all transpired, and its mindboggling. It seems like ever since we got back to San Francisco, the news got worse and worse each day. And here we are, on lockdown.

Since January COVID-19 is all that’s been on the news. Hearing it take over China, then Italy, then slowly creeping it’s way into other countries is something I’ve never witnessed before. Yes, in my lifetime there were the SARS, bird flu, swine flu, etc. But I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime. When news broke out that COVID-19 was in the US, I couldn’t believe it. The guy I thought was trippin’ a month and a half ago was right. It made it’s way. And we were not prepared.

It’s such a confusing time to be a consumer of media right now. You watch the news, go on social media, read news articles, and you don’t know which to believe. Some are saying it’s not that serious while others are locking down and stockpiling on canned goods. What do we believe?

It has always been serious to me, while others are saying its just basically the common flu, I still feel like that’s something to fear. I’ve had the flu this year and personally felt like I was slowly dying and there was no coming out of that sickness. Me, a young adult, felt like I was on my death bed. The elderly can’t handle this.

Simply saying it’s not a big deal because you as an individual would recover if you were to contract it, is selfish. Some think having a lockdown is dramatic and unnecessary, but they’re not taking into consideration all the elderly people that will get COVID-19 and not be so lucky. Soon, the hospitals will be filled and the workers in the medical field will have to determine who gets to live and who gets to die. What a horrible position to be in.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life – stores emptied out of food, toilet paper, canned goods, and cleaning supplies. It seriously feels like we are bunkering down and getting ready for the apocalypse. What I don’t agree with is people stockpiling and being greedy. Just take what you need, there is no need for 75 rolls of toilet paper. Having people panic buy things in big loads, causes everyone else to go out and just try to get the stuff they know won’t be available anymore if they don’t act now. That’s why shelves are empty, people that really need the toilet paper and baby wipes are out, and the elderly can’t stay out in crazy long lines for hours.

It’s just crazy when I sit and think of just 2.5 weeks ago. It seemed like every single day, it gradually got worse, and now San Francisco is on lockdown until April 7th. Last week my work was still open, and planned to stay open through all of this. As the week went on, more and more information on the spread of the virus trickled in. Thursday night my boss finally called it – we were shutting down the preschool for the next 3 weeks. I never thought that was going to happen. I’m still shocked that this is all happening.

In a matter of what seemed like minutes, we got news of the Golden State Warriors planning to play their game audienceless. Then news broke out of the NBA player who had Coronavirus, and then the NBA haulted it’s season. It all happened to fast!

My friends from different parts of the US are reaching out. One pregnant in the east coast, not knowing if she should take pregnancy leave early. My friends in Boston fighting to work from home because the state hasn’t called shutdowns yet. All I can think about are those videos and messages from people in Italy telling us to shut down asap, that they were in our position just 10 days prior. All the while, the president was making a mockery of the seriousness of this issue.

My little sister came into the living room and announced that SFSU is canceling and postponing their graduation in May. This is what many of my friends feared. Everyone is afraid and confused of what’s to come. Like me, others have never witnessed something as crazy as this COVID-19 hoopla.

It’s especially confusing because where people stand on the virus is very divided. Some don’t want to comply with lockdown regulations and continue to be out in social settings. Last night, Mayor Gavin Newsome ordered that all bars, wineries, restaurants, and social settings be shut down, effective midnight tonight. I respect the actions that San Francisco is taking to keep its people healthy.

Turning on the news is pretty stressful. COVID-19 is all you hear about. You are bombarded with footage of empty shelves, long lines, death statistics. You see the stocks declining and talks of a recession. If you thought you couldn’t be more paranoid and anxious, these last 2 weeks have proved you wrong. But what should we do?

Easier said than done, but this is when we need self-care the most. Do the activities you’ve been wanting to do – start writing that book, start reading that book you’ve been putting off, continue that scrapbook, binge watch that show you always end up falling asleep to after a long workday, do things that bring you joy.

Yes, stay connected and know what’s going on in the world, but limit your intake. If its only going to make you go mad, especially being locked inside for the next 3 weeks, limit the time you will give to keeping up with the news. Its normal to be freaking out right now. This shit is crazy! But worrying about the state of the world is just going to break you.

Amidst this Corona Confusion, just know that it starts with you. You may not be in danger, but you can pass it on to someone who will be if they contract it. I’m happy that Newsome shut down all social gatherings, limiting restaurants to certain capacities, because it may hurt financially now, but the faster people comply, the faster this virus will be gone and out of our city.

I’ve never been on lockdown, so these next 3 weeks should be interesting…. stay tuned.