Juan Medina, public health professional

I’ve always attached guilt and shame to my body. That has to do with different messages I received growing up, whether it was from my culture, my religion or from my peers who had negative things to say about the way I looked. In trying to understand my sexuality, it all mixed together to create this terrible perception of myself. 

When I started trying to understand all the different facets of my identity, I realized I had connected a lot of them to body image. 

One of the strongest memories I have was at age three. I experienced third-degree burns on my upper thighs and my midsection. I was running through the kitchen, tripped on a mat, hit the stove and a pot of boiling water tipped over and fell on me. 

I remember always looking at my scars and feeling guilty for the pain and anguish I caused my parents. I have a twin sister, and my parents had to split their time between cities because I was taken to a hospital in a different place. 

With being Latino comes an emphasis on masculinity, both in having an ideal body type and not showing weakness or emotion. I started to associate femininity with negative features. Conforming to that was easy until I started to question my sexuality and how I fit into the queer community. I had internalized the message that homosexuality is wrong and undesirable. 

Trying to date in the LGBTQ community was an added layer of pressure: some races are considered more desirable masculinity is more desirable than, say, a feminine-presenting person. I went from internalized pressures to external ones. 

When I studied biomedical science, I started to view the body in terms of the functions it has. I felt grateful for the things my body does for me. Instead of being critical, I started to appreciate that I am able-bodied. 

I just finished my master’s degree in public health, which puts a strong emphasis on the social determinants of health. It’s so easy for people to minimize a person’s journey and their health to, “If you want to look better, it’s up to you.” People don’t consider socioeconomic status, access to health care, access to adequate food or upbringing as a factor.

When I started learning more about who I am and my identity, I realized how all of those things influenced my own perceptions. That’s when I started to change. Instead of trying to suppress parts of myself, I started to love myself for who I am as an individual. I don’t want to hide and I don’t want to feel any more guilt or shame about who I am and how I look.


Samuel Engelking

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