I have always struggled to accept my body.
I can remember as early as first grade being very aware of how my body looked compared to the other girls in my class. I vividly remember sitting down cross-legged for story time in fifth grade and being appalled at how much bigger (fatter) my legs looked in my little stirrup pants compared to the more petite girl next to me. FIFTH GRADE.
I feel so sad when I think too long about those memories, but sometimes it’s important for me to spend time there. To see myself as the little girl I used to be and have compassion on myself. I was skinny. I just never felt skinny enough. And I let my self worth depend on it. I don’t know what specifically influenced me to think that way about myself at such a young age. But when I realize how early that self talk started, it helps me understand why I often still struggle with it. When you tell yourself something over and over and over, for years, you become conditioned to believe that what you’re telling yourself is reality. And unfortunately, I’ve spent 20+ years creating a reality for myself where I believe happiness comes from having the perfect body.
You can imagine the challenge that kind of reality presents when you blog… about fashion.
While I haven’t always understood my body image issues, I’ve certainly always been aware of them. When I started my “personal style” blog three years ago, I knew I was stepping into a world where these internal demons would be at the forefront of what I was doing and creating. How could they not? I was, after all, blogging about appearance. My “Little Miss Fearless” mantra was intended to be a conscious reminder with each post I publish that I could choose not to believe what I’ve told myself for so many years—that I’m not good enough unless I look good enough.
So what am I doing? Why even step into this arena where comparison is nearly impossible to avoid?
I guess I figured if I kept fighting for a better reality, I could convince others to do the same. I’ve always hoped that the quiet messages we hear around us will soon be louder than the demons in our heads. Especially the Instagram demons that tell us what we see is what we get. Ladies, if we’re going to survive Instagram, we have to make an effort to look past how things appear. We have to be aware of our tendencies to see something beautiful and assume it equals happiness.
Choosing to look at things a different way (thank you, Wicked), may be the only solution to rise above this crazy, image-obsessed society we live in. The alternative, of course, is to change whatever it is you can’t accept. But, if that thing cannot be changed, the only option you’re really left with is changing the way you look at it—as Bey would say, “It’s the soul that needs a surgery”.
One of my most memorable (and maybe the most scarring) negative experiences in High School involved a comment, from a friend, about my body. I remember walking into the cafeteria with my sack lunch and as I approached the table my friends were sitting at, I was quickly distracted by one friend who appeared to be laughing at me. Already feeling self conscious and embarrassed, I asked what was so funny. Was my fly unzipped? Is there toilet paper on my shoe? The friend she was talking to replied, with a laugh, “She thinks you have spinal problems because your butt sticks out.”
I don’t remember what I said next, what the other girls at the table said or if they laughed along. Knowing me, I probably laughed and tried to act like I didn’t take it too seriously (I’ve never been very good at comebacks and witty zingers). I just remember feeling shocked, embarrassed and filled with complete disgust and hate for my body. I remember sobbing for hours after school to my mom and older sister who tried to fill me with positive thoughts about myself, “different ways of seeing things.” But that experience and the thoughts that followed, ultimately validated the rejection I felt toward my body since the fifth grade. All I could think was, I was right. I was right to hate this body. It’s ugly, fat, laughable. If it weren’t, my “friend” would never have said that.
You may read this and picture a scene from Mean Girls. I realize I’m not the only girl in the world who felt bad about herself in high school or had a friend say something real friends would never say. But this experience scarred my self image and bruised my self talk for years to come. I struggled with disordered eating, depression, anxiety and the never ending saga of self-comparison. I still struggle from time to time and probably always will.
Maybe I’d be better off if I’d never let those negative experiences cut so deep. I’m sure I could have avoided some dark days and spent more time lifting others if I’d allowed myself to love myself—despite not feeling loved by someone else. I wonder what it would be like if we all spent more time loving ourselves. Could we finally make real the new norm and perfect an old fad? Maybe we’d be more quick to realize our reality is whatever we choose to believe. We’d put value on the things that really deserve to be valued in life and be happy for those who have the things we wish we had, all the while knowing that having those things is not what defines them. Nor does the lack of those things define us.
For the first time, I’m about to be a mom. I’m 39 weeks pregnant today and it still doesn’t feel real. Pregnancy alone has been a challenge and lesson for me about choosing to see things differently. It has been hard to watch my body change and not compare myself to other (skinnier, prettier) pregnant women on Instagram. Having gone through IVF, I’ve never wanted to sound ungrateful for the opportunity just to be pregnant, so I’m working on my self-talk habits. I’m trying to retrain my brain and see the miracle of my pregnancy first and the appearance of my body second. I truly believe to transform our thoughts, we often need to transform our environment. For me, that’s meant unfollowing Instagram accounts that I used to follow for thinspiration or that inspired me to live a prettier, more perfect-looking life. I’m also taking things at face value and not assuming things are as they appear (that a perfect picture equals a perfect life). It doesn’t mean those people are doing anything wrong, but if it’s subconsciously causing me to think negatively about myself, it’s certainly not inspiring me to be happy.
You know how I love quotes. Here’s a favorite of mine from Jeffrey R. Holland that helps me remember there are many things that matter so much more than how we look…
“I suppose no one is as handsome or as beautiful as he or she wishes, or as brilliant in school or as witty in speech or as wealthy as we would like, but in a world of varied talents and fortunes that we can’t always command, I think that makes even more attractive the qualities that we can command—such qualities as thoughtfulness, patience, a kind word, and true delight in the accomplishment of another. These cost us nothing, and they can mean everything to the one who receives them.”