This post is adapted from a piece I wrote for the 2016 Mind Body Dialogues performance at Endicott College.
I was always a little bigger growing up. Despite being involved in every sport you could think of, and teaching myself healthy eating habits, genetics got the best of me. I spent my childhood overweight and unhappy about it. Not just unhappy, but ashamed. All of my friends were short and skinny but I was tall and not-so-skinny. I felt just very LARGE overall in comparison to the size of the girls (and boys) around me. I didn’t have anyone to look up to whose body looked like mine, or whose body looked like anything besides what society told me was “perfect” or “ideal.”
So I spent far too many years of my life degrading myself because of this body I felt like I got stuck with. I remember so vividly looking in the mirror as a child and hating what I saw, wishing everyday that I would wake up and be skinny because then everything in my life would be better.
Or when I would have to go get an adult size soccer jersey while everyone else got a small kids size. I thought I would never have a boyfriend because nobody would ever love someone who was housed in this body I found to be gross. I always felt like the oddball.
Then as a teenager, I began to see my best friend struggle with her eating disorder, realizing that so many people suffer from these issues with body image. Many girls I know from college struggled with fad dieting, and unhealthy obsessions with food or exercise at different points. Some still do, and I still do sometimes. I won’t claim be perfect.
And these are people I thought the world of like I could say zero bad things about them- I’m talking beautiful, funny, intelligent. And they don’t always see themselves that way.
So now I know I’m not alone in this soul-searching journey to loving yourself and your body. It doesn’t have to be so hush hush. PHEW.
But what could I do about it? I can provide support to others.
I can start practicing what I preach.
Whoa. Easier said than done.
That meant to start loving the body that I was born with and to not participate in body shaming other people, by putting down any bodies. Yup, including my own.
In this age of Instagram models and “one size fits all” clothing, how do you even go about that?
But things are changing, slowly but surely. I can’t explain the joy it brings me, and so many others, to see women of all different shapes and sizes in the media: Melissa McCarthy launching her own clothing line, Bo Stanley being the first plus sized Bachelor contestant, Tess Holliday on the cover of People telling the world “Eff your beauty standards,” Adele being hugely successful and saying that her body is irrelevant to her singing voice, Katie H. Wilcox promoting self-love with her organization Healthy is the New Skinny and pushing women like me who are in-between what is considered “straight size” and “plus size” to be shown in the media, Ashley Graham making history as the first size 16 model on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And last year, Barbie released a line of dolls that come in all shapes and sizes. PLUS I recently joined the curriculum team at my friend Alex King’s non-profit First Love Yourself, Inc.! Big things, baby.
We are moving toward more body diversity in the media and it’s so refreshing and invigorating. Now it’s possible for girls and women to see people who look just like them portrayed as strong, beautiful, sexy, and most important: worthy.
Being in college and working to find my place in this world has helped me realize how much I love my body. It’s been a long road and there are still bumps along the way- and I know they will continue to pop up- but I’ve wasted so many years focusing so much negative energy on my body that all I want to do now is love who I am, inside and out.
When I’m feeling a little blah about the skin I’m in, I try to think of all the wonderful things my body can do. To thank it. Appreciate it. Admire it.
My legs can run half marathons and have walked me through cities all over the world. My arms may jiggle a little bit but they help me hug the people I love, slam on my guitar strings, and lift heavy things at the gym.
Now I exercise not because I hate my body but because I love it and want to take care of it and leave it feeling strong and powerful. I understand the importance of fueling my body with healthy, plant-based foods.
My experience living in Costa Rica changed my outlook on my body drastically. I thought I had come a long way, and I had, but now I was in a bikini very weekend snorkeling, getting smashed by waves, hiking around in the jungle, surfing, white water rafting, you name it.
And you know what? I was too busy having an absolute blast to spend even a minute putting myself down or not taking photographs because of a possibly unflattering camera angle, which I would have done at one time. But when I’m in a bathing suit, nobody is looking at my stomach commenting on my lack of six-pack abs. Nor am I doing that to others.
This is the body I will have for the rest of my life. Why would I let anyone lead me to believe it’s not beautiful?
I look back now, horrified by all the awful, detrimental, unhealthy, untrue things I said and thought about my body. How many hours I spent hating what I saw in the mirror. Hours wasted. Time I could have spent loving every inch of myself, cheering myself on, patting myself on the back for all the awesome things I was doing. I focused so much energy on the way my stomach looked in my uniform, making sure to wear spanx, feeling like I couldn’t let anyone know that I was GASP a little jiggly here and there. Like, hello, that’s normal. But I internalized the things people said about me, and mostly the way I felt about myself, since such a young age so the idea that you could be proud of your body and love yourself was pretty radical to me.
Sometimes it still is, but mostly it’s pretty wonderful. I try each day to throw myself a compliment or notice a part of myself that I love, inside and out. Because I deserve that.
For my entire childhood, the world taught me that the worst thing you could be called is “fat” but now I see that for what it is: ridiculous. I’m a good person, a hard worker, a passionate teacher, and a caring friend. I am enough. I’m healthy. I’m happy. And most of all, I will not be afraid to take up space in this world. Neither should you.