Body Image and SAO Alternative: GGO

I must admit, I was very sceptical about the new SAO anime. With none of the main characters we’ve come to know present, and a short archetypal “cute” anime girl in pink who looks very out of place in the world of Gun Gale Online as the main character dominating the artwork, it looked like it could be a disaster and fall into the less plot-driven, “oh look everyone, a waifu” animes that I see floating around. Incidentally can someone please tell me what people’s actual attractions to anime girls and having waifus, and being happy to have double figure numbers of waifus is? It is something that has perpetually confused me.

Thankfully I have very much been proven wrong so far. The first episode was action-packed and very strategic, and this made it a pleasure to watch. It was quite something to see just how good M’s tactics were, and while LLENN wasn’t exactly happy at being used as a decoy in the plans, she trusted M to know what he was doing. I’m also very interested to know just how two characters who seem so different have found themselves as partners in such a prestigious event, and indeed why with a maximum team size of six they decided to only enter as a pair rather than find other allies. Episode two has delved into the woman behind the avatar, and her story is a relatable one, and has been well executed so far. The animation and soundtrack have been great, as I have come to expect from the franchise, too! So I’m very happily going to be continuing to watch this and see how everything unfolds.

This week’s episode, which I watched today, got me thinking. Karen Kohiruimaki, the player behind LLENN, started playing GGO to escape her own insecurities and try and be the person she wishes she is. Staring at all the “cute” and short high-school girls makes her conscious about her own image, in particular her height. While I can’t exactly relate to that, as I am quite short, I certainly relate to the idea of using this as an escape and an opportunity to essentially be someone else.

Oftentimes, it can feel like I have built up this image of someone who isn’t really who I want to be. Sometimes I think to myself that I will try and make changes in my appearance but then I get scared and decide not to. Not just worrying that things will go wrong if I try, but more worried about others’ reactions. When you know someone for a while and you know them as this person who looks this way, it must be very strange to then suddenly see them as someone different. It would take some adjusting, and I’m not sure how I would be able to handle the adjustment period. Getting a haircut this year was slightly terrifying but also something I really wanted to do because I didn’t like mine anymore. It was so unruly and at the absolute mercy of the wind. I would never leave feeling in any way positive about my appearance, and even when I made the most of what I had the wind would put pay to it all and I’d feel more conscious than usual. While my hair is still not the best at resisting the wind, at least at its current length there’s only so much the wind can do.

But that aside, I’ve never been happy with how I look. I find it hilarious that there are lots of youtubers putting up videos with titles such as “5 ways to make yourself attractive”. The obvious first hurdle, which I fell at, was the one labelled “Do not be born ugly”. And I guess this is probably another reason why I make no effort really to try anything I may think to look better, because no matter how much I do, I can’t change that I am just naturally unattractive. While I have been able to be more confident in what I wear etc now, I’m sure it comes across to people, as no matter how much adorable nerdy clothes one wears, these can’t exactly be used to hide you face unless it is a veil which I’m not exactly inclined to wear on a day-to-day basis (or indeed ever as it would be weird).

What clothes can be used to hide however is a rather awful looking body underneath them. It’s something I’ve struggled with since I could feel that my parents were overfeeding me and put my fingers between fat that never used to be there when I was in the bath. I used to be able to see muscle as I bent down (this was, I will clarify, not from gym usage or other such methods, I have never set foot in such a terrifying place and do not plan to, but more from having sufficiently little fat on my body to enable this) and instead I just saw fat start to scrunch up and become a roll. It was horrifying to watch powerless as I knew I could not object to the amount of food on my plate, nor start refusing to finish meals. My concerns were dismissed by my brother but then the scales confirmed this as I was getting weighed to fill out the form for the university doctor for my undergrad. I weighted nine and a half stone, the heaviest I have ever been and so heavy my mother thought the scales were broken. So I cut down my food intake at university, now that I had the choice. It was as simple as not eating lunch, as I always hated it and never felt I got anything from it, and snacking less, and in one term I was down to seven stone nine. My father commented I may have lost weight but luckily my mother dismissed it. I think I’ve hovered between this and eight stone two ever since. But the fat remains. No matter how much I try to eat less without slipping into an eating disorder as my friends once feared I was doing (I will add here that I do believe I was in control of my eating, I just felt awful about eating anything but did eat) nothing changes. I don’t want this fat on my body, I really want it to go. While I never plan to have sexual relationships with people (more on that in a future post) I do want to feel comfortable in my own body, for me. Maybe I would be more confident and less on edge.

So seeing how Karen was going through a similar struggle to me got me thinking. It would be nice to be able to escape into a world where you really could be the person you had always wanted to be, and I feel like in this world we inhabit, for a lot of us we can’t. There are expectations placed on us by our family, friends, society, and indeed limitations placed on us by our own bodies, that prevent this. Then someone comes along who is everything I wish I was – attractive, confident, knows how not to look hideous in photos, able to excel socially in any situation, and it makes me wonder why I couldn’t have been one of them. Instead I am the awkward, slightly mad one who can be silent around new people in social situations where others would excel, who a lot of people would not approach in a party, who is seen as the easy target to push through a crowd to get where you want to go, who ruins every photo they are in, spends as little time looking in a mirror as they can, and hates the sound of their own voice

Can this really be fixed? I’m obviously doubtful. When my hair grows a little more I may go and have it cut again slightly differently and more akin to what I think I would like, but to be honest there’s only so much you can do when you don’t look great anyway. And as far as the more internal qualities like confidence go, well maybe the counselling session on Friday (which I accepted the offer of – take that utter terror of going, now you have to!) will help. I need to discuss this with a friend who has been through mental health services and who is one of those perfect people I wish I was. Maybe they were like me beforehand. But then that presents an identity crisis of will counselling sessions change fundamentally who I am? That’s something that still worries me no matter how reassuring friends have been about the process.

And finally, I have to remember that I have some wonderful friends already, who do actually like me for who I am now. I will remain mystified as to why but I’m thankful for that, and my thoughts turn to whether we would have ever become friends, or whether we would remain friends, if a fundamental part of me changed. I wish there were easy answers to these questions, but they are nowhere to be found. If anyone reading has any experience I would love to hear!

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