19-Year-Old's Body Image Essay Touches Collective Nerve

Most 19-year-olds have only just begun to find their path towards self-acceptance. But Victoria Erickson, a blogger and University of Iowa sophomore, appears to be impressively close — at least in her personal essay about learning to love her cellulite. The piece, originally published in early June on the website The Manifest-Station, has touched a collective nerve, going viral and launching the young writer into the center of a national discussion on body image.  

“I Like This Picture of My Cellulite: A 19-Year-Old’s Journey to Self-Acceptance” is a replay of the internal conversation Erickson had upon seeing herself and a friend in a candid photograph, snapped on the streets of Omaha. “The first thing I thought of when I saw this picture was how HAPPY I look: I’m jubilant, radiant, fresh home from my first year of college and ready to celebrate with my hometown best. And I should’ve stopped there,” she writes.

The essay-inspiring photo, with Erickson at right. Photo: <a href=https://www.facebook.com/pages/Atiim-Jones-Photography/202159983138721 target=_blank>Attim Jones Photography</a>

“But instead,” the piece continues, “I let my subconscious take over. My mentality went from ‘You look HAPPY!!’ to ‘Yeah, you look happy … but why? You’re fat.’ Followed by, ‘Don’t believe me? Just look at that lump of cellulite you call a leg take over the shot and deplete the image of any beauty there may have been.’ And the smile faded.” Erickson wonders in the piece why the photographer, Atiim Jones of Omaha — who tells Yahoo Shine he snapped the rainy-day photo because the women “had this glowing aura” — didn’t simply edit out her imperfections. She also admits she considered hiding it from her Facebook timeline, where it appeared in the first place, and briefly beat herself up for too many visits “to the all-you-can-eat-University cafeteria.”

But then comes the quick and relieving turnaround, as Erickson makes a conscious choice to move past self-criticism, instead focusing on “a young woman jubilant with friendship and conversation,” and to adore the image.

“I decided that I love this honest and flawed picture so much so that I am going to embrace it, celebrate it, and yes, share it,” she writes. “Because I decided I would fight my demon and embody it because I didn’t — and don’t — have the time or energy to let it wear and tear me down anymore. Because it’s not important. And more so, because I hope when you look at yourself, whether in reflection or spirit, you do the same.”

Jennifer Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station, says her website, which already has a large and devoted following, has been “on fire” since Erickson’s essay was published. She says she knew the piece would strike a chord with her readers, particularly because of the writer’s age.

“If that same blog was written by someone 40, it wouldn’t have had the same effect,” Pastiloff, a frequent blogger who also leads yoga and writing retreats, tells Yahoo Shine, adding: “I didn’t have the same insight at 19 — I was severely anorexic.” The post has resonated with the public so much, she believes, “because of the self-awareness and also the lack of self-consciousness. It’s refreshing. It’s exciting to see that someone young has such a self-affirming way of being. We need more of that as women.”

Erickson appeared on the "Today" show on Tuesday to discuss her blog post, noting, “This has gone way above and beyond my wildest expectations.” The piece spoke to so many people, she believes, because “I’m my own worst critic, and I think that’s the same for a lot of other people also.” Don’t be fooled, though — the college student says her struggle with self-image is ongoing. “It’s a journey, and you have to take it in stride,” she says. “I don’t see a picture of myself and go, like, ‘Wow, this is great.’ It’s day by day, but I think with the right mentality, it gets so much easier.”

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