This is my second interview, originally posted on Instagram TV, for the purpose of normalizing hardships women experience, and creating a community where women can learn about various topics they may relate to. In the past, women weren’t welcome to share hard details of their life, but we’ve come to a place in society where it is getting better, and these discussions can hopefully further normalize them!
Steph Montalbano is 22, a fireball of fun, and the absolute queen of mental health. She's the friend who will always listen to your problems, encourage you, and truly be there for you. She's basically everyone's personal therapist in the best way. I've known Steph for around 7 years, and she's been through so much to get where she is today. Even though this interview is about her difficulties with accepting her body, she's still one of the most body positive people I know. Watching her overcome so many obstacles is truly inspiring, and I know her future is very promising and bright!
What have you done/what are you doing to overcome struggling with body image?
Steph: “I still struggle with it everyday. It’s a conscious effort to talk back to myself when I’m not being nice to myself. I found a brand that empowers people with a vulva to love their bodies. Through my work with her I’ve been able to gain some respect for [my body]. I self-harmed in the past when I didn’t have any respect for myself. I thought, ‘I don’t value myself, so why should I treat it well?’ I finally got to a place where I didn’t want to treat myself badly and started seeing a therapist.”
Amrit: “Another thing people may not realize is body image issues don’t apply to one body shape. Practically every single person has body image issues. It doesn’t matter if someone looks perfect to you - they probably hate so many things about themselves.”
What do you do daily to turn your experience into something positive?
Steph: “I struggle with a lot of mental health issues, so it’s harder for me to do things like go for a walk, things like that. It makes me feel like I’d rather just do nothing for myself. But now it’s like I respect myself enough, so I’ll meet myself where I’m at. Even just sitting outside for thirty minutes, reading, coloring, etc. Something that honors your body where it’s at.”
Amrit: “Yeah sometimes you can’t push it too far. You can have a million things on your to-do list, but it’s okay to just not push it.”
Do you think you’d experience body image issues if you were a man?
Steph: “I do think men experience body image issues, but I do think a man’s body type is more put in a sexualized manner, like whether they have abs. Women have to deal with everything, like whether or not their eyebrows are done, or they have hair on their arms, every little thing. It’s why we feel such a need to diet, exercise, and change normal parts about our body.”
Amrit: “Yeah, the standard body type changes - in the 1920s that “ideal” body type is completely different than it is now, so why should we conform if it’s just going to change?”
Steph: “Exactly, it’s always going to be changing on us.”
What are some sexist things you’ve experienced in life? It can be important to talk about so people can get an idea of who is doing it, why, etc.
Steph: “Being someone who’s attracted to women, men on the street have commented how we ‘need a man in the relationship,’ or that our relationship isn’t valid because one of us doesn’t have certain body parts. It felt like they were saying ‘you as a woman aren’t enough’ which is ridiculous. And then, I’ve only experienced this a handful of times, but when coworkers, men on the street, give you the shoulder touch, or touch your waist as they walk past you. It’s like there’s no need for you to lay your hands on me. Zero!”
How would you like to see society change to better support women?
Steph: “Film and social media. Typically you see a cis white woman, because that’s what it’s been for so long. That’s a little problematic because you’re not thinking of everyone. You’re not including every single minority. I believe that by representing those minority groups, it will create a platform for younger women to feel comfortable being themselves. Also, it’s not social media influencers that are minorities, they don’t get the same type of platform. It’s crucial that younger women seeing representation and even older women are feeling represented.”