Under My Skin: An Interview with Patrick Sullivan | By Yuetong Li

I have always been the “chubby and fat” girl in school. Peers would always giggle when they see my too-early acne and clumsiness in gym class. I would refuse to go to gym class, wrap myself up with long sleeves and baggy jeans just because I didn’t want to show my tummy. As I moved into adolescence, the feminine features started to show, which I hated. I hated my thunder thighs. I wanted to be a boy. A slim slender boy who laughed at every teenage girl. I wished I could be agender, a person who doesn’t have a defined gender, so people wouldn’t judge me for not looking good as a girl. Growing up with constant weight problem is a bit of struggle. I don’t have much of confidence, even today.

Why is it so hard to accept who I truly am?

To many, it seems that our generation has been bombarded with perfect-body-figure information, gym culture, and gym mania on social media. What is the true value of being ideally shaped? Everyone seems to have battled with this problem sometime in their life. Am I looking good today? What would my friends say if I dress like that? With all these questions about self-consciousness and self-acceptance lingering in my mind, I sat down for a conversation with Patrick Sullivan, a 21-year-old young, enthusiastic Edmontonian, social-involver and life-lover. He began the recent social media sensation Facebook page, “This is my skin”.

“I’ve always wanted to participate or do something,” says Patrick. “I always want to participate in spreading a  message. I want to start a conversation that everyone can be involved in, and make it as inclusive as possible. I want something where everyone can get that, and that is where the value of body images is. You see the marks on your friends’ arms. You see it, but no one ever talks about it. No one ever asks ‘Are you ok?’ It is a thing that we all need to see. But when we all get home and look ourselves in the mirror, self-reflecting, everyone starts to combat something very internally. It’s so powerful that people would be willing to share their stories, not just for the benefits of themselves, but also for other people. It breaks the silence. Whether it’s anxiety disorder, gender, disease, condition, etc, people are transcending the past they are dealing with.”

These are all everyday people; they are friends, neighbours, families. They are the same people we live with, we share with, and we breathe with, every day. But we don’t know what they are going through inside, if they are battling for their life. I question myself, how hurtful it would be when we judge people based on how they look today? Sometimes we don’t even mean to, but we still do, we just make the assumptions. We all want to be open to people around us, everyone has been involved into conversations about loving everyone, accepting everyone as who they are, but just how can we achieve this? That’s what we need to think about.

“I think we all have superficial understanding of openness. We are less tolerating of certain things that involve a bit of irritation, the parts that involve truly understanding someone,” he says. “’This is my skin’ is a very exposed page. People share intimate feelings, there’re photos of them almost naked. It’s personal and it’s so hard to protect people when it is exposed like that. But in the comments there are more appreciation and love. Some comments are just simple ‘thank you for sharing this’, it’s not super big. But even just small comments like that are so important. It would just let people know they are doing a good thing and by opening up, they are changing things. They could really affect someone who feels silent by circumstances like that. When people brought up their struggle with sexuality, or their race, feminine or masculine, anywhere between that or even outside of that are so important. Because they liberate themselves and they also liberate other people, people who are afraid of talking about it.”

”There’s never disconnect between how you look and who you are. The fact that you are in your body, that’s part of the human experience. It’s very important that people not just talk about how they look, but also how they feel about how they look. That’s where the power comes from. People talk about what it is like to be a woman or what it is like to be a man. A lot of the messages talk about how they were born to be a man, but they were not built with big muscles. And some women, they don’t want to be feminine, they want to be masculine. They want to be strong. She wants to be a tomboy, that is what she truly is but people make her feel like this is so wrong. Same as if a husband stays at home, cook and clean, people would say this is pansy. But I think we have now finally got to a point that this kind of conversation has become their own. No one else now is propagating these kinds of things. That’s where the changes come from.”

Photography courtesy of The Wanderer Online photographer Bryan Tran

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