I’ve had a long journey with self image and my body. Really, who hasn’t? Since I was 14 years old, my body has been something I’ve wanted to change. When I was 16 I noticed my first stretch marks on my hips. I’ve always hated my bigger boobs – they’ve made finding a bra hell on earth. Now I’m 22 years old, and I’m at the lowest weight I’ve been at since I was 14. I’m in love with my body, but not for the reason you may think.
When I was 14, I gained weight and it felt like it happened overnight. Thankfully my mom is one step short of a certified health and fitness genius and she is the reason I don’t have body issues now. She taught (and still teaches) me how to live a healthier lifestyle. Something I’ve learned from her is that health is not necessarily a certain weight. From 9-14 years old, I was very involved in Karate and MMA. I taught a couple of the kid’s classes, and in addition to the classes I taught, I was training basically 4 hours a day. All that training allowed me to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was a little calorie-burning machine. Butter burgers with a side of frozen custard before a two-hour intensive Brazilian jiu jitsu class? Sure! Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast? Of course! My frame was lean and petite, and my metabolism was on fire. However, when I stopped practicing martial arts I continued eating the same way. I quickly gained about 20 pounds, and that was the first moment I really thought about how my body looked. I began thinking about my body all the time, and I would look at and compare myself to other girls’ bodies.
I noticed my first stretch marks at 16. I was shocked and horrified. What were these white, raised lines that looked like tiger stripes on my body? I felt so out of control, wanting them to go away and knowing it was not likely I’d get my wish. My family and I had just moved to the Netherlands due to my dad’s job. International school was a whole different ball game from the homeschooling I did in the states. An hour train commute 1 way and a rigorous academic schedule had me stressed and exhausted. Due to this, I stopped eating as much and started to lose weight.
“I’m learning how to love myself through those moments of not loving myself .”
Throughout my years of living in Europe, I came to a place where my stretch marks were not as bothersome and I found my curves to be beautiful. My interest in fashion began around that time, and as my style developed, so did my positive view of my body. I still struggled with accepting my boobs and of course still had moments where I focused on what I didn’t like about myself, but I found a new perspective while preparing for my art final. I was moved by pop art and women’s empowerment, so I created a series of molds focusing on different, real body types and the beauty in each of them. It was a vulnerable project. I used the type of cast that moms-to-be use to mold their pregnant bellies, and I included my body as part of the project as well. This was important for me in learning to love my body, though it didn’t necessarily look the way I wanted.
Fast forward: I’m back in the states and I’m living on my own, away from my family for the first time. All of a sudden I was in control of what I bought at the grocery store. I gained weight again. I was eating junk food because it felt easier, and I was back to feeling horrible about myself. One night I was inspired to write a post about how I was feeling on my personal IG. Here’s an excerpt:
“Lately, my body image has been something I’ve been tackling; often feeling like a failure in looking the way I want and not being able to control it. It’s almost terrifying sometimes. Trying to limit certain things in my diet to make myself feel better as well as look better, I’ve been feeling like it’s an uphill climb. But, I’m learning how to love myself through those moments of not loving myself (because we all have those moments).”
It’s true that compared to some people, I could be seen as “too skinny” to have these insecurities. But I’m not here to compare or discount anyone’s experience or feelings. This is only my view and my story. I do need to say that everyone is beautiful. Even if you don’t see that in yourself. The beauty is still there.
“Just because you’re not feeling it doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.”
Once I came back home and started living with my family again, my confidence was up and down and so was my health. I finally decided to cut out gluten and dairy and limit sugar in my diet. That changed everything. I did lose weight, but more importantly I was feeling so great! My energy levels were higher, my skin started to clear up, and I just felt good. I started to go to the gym and exercise more. This also really helped boost my confidence and strengthen my body.
My sureness in my body wasn’t about my weight, but instead about how I felt. It’s all about how you feel in your clothes and in your skin. All of these changes were for the purpose of health – the weight loss was a side effect. A side effect I liked, I’ll admit. Nonetheless this almost 10 year long process gave me something I am so thankful for: it gave me a chance to love my body, through its changes and transformations. As a woman, my body is going to change. But I learned to love myself through that change. I can honestly say now, hand over my heart. I don’t mind my stretch marks, I actually find them kind of sexy. They show that I’ve grown from a girl into a woman. I don’t mind showing them off at the beach or pool in a cute bikini.
On the flip side, I can also say that I’m still not a fan of the cellulite on my butt. It’s just the way it is. Even being the thinnest I’ve been in a while, I still have rolls when I sit, my butt has some jiggle, and I’m still on the bigger side of bra cup sizes. And I’m more than OK with that. I enjoy my curves and have learned to feel content with my body as it develops. I don’t have the whole “loving myself” thing down but even in those moments when I’m not happy with myself, I focus on thanking my body for being strong and carrying me through.