I’m going to be very honest with you, it was very hard for me to write this post. I have never spoken (or written) extensively about my over-a-decade long struggle with body image. Enough is enough. There shouldn’t be a stigma around discussing body image, about struggling with body image, about accepting who you are regardless of what you look like. That is why I’m sharing my story. By reading my story, I hope that you make amends with your body, that you share my story with someone who you know is struggling and help them. I am not a licensed anything (other than a driver) and I cannot give any medical advice, but I can certainly share my personal advice and lend an ear to anyone who may be struggling. Here is my story:
My entire life I have been athletic. I started swimming at three years old and continued to swim through the 8th grade. I began hacking around a volleyball with my dad in the backyard at four. I began playing in a softball league and volleyball with the park district at ten years old. At school, I played basketball and football with the boys at recess. I loved sports.
That being said, never in my wildest dreams would I have referred to myself as thin or fit. I didn’t understand why my friends, some of whom played sports alongside me and some who cheered from the sidelines, were thin. I didn’t understand how amongst all of the girls in my class, I was the only one who had a tummy bulge over the top of her pants. I didn’t understand that as I was growing in all directions, I could no longer try to wear the same shirts that showed my tummy if I raised my hand in class.
Starting in the third grade, I was teased about my weight, called the “fat friend” amongst my group of girlfriends. And I felt like it, like I deserved it. I mean, after all, they weren’t necessarily lying, they were just telling the truth brutally like kids do. Rather than developing an eating disorder or self-harming or other means of self-punishment, I got mean. Very mean. I loved school and I loved learning, but I hated how the words of my classmates made me feel. What did I do? I teased back. I teased other girls for being smart or for wearing a certain shirt. I teased boys for smelling or for falling on the playground. I got mean. The worst part is that when I got home from school, I would feel guilty about how mean I was to my classmates and I would cry and cry.
(More on the blog: How I Combat Anxiety)
I attended a friend’s birthday party in the 3rd grade. My friend was of a similar build as I was. Her dad came and chatted with us girls and he said that I, like my friend, would “even out” as we got older.
That was the first time I felt like I could change. Like I wasn’t trapped feeling overweight and angry at other people who pointed it out. I held onto those words like a life preserver through middle school. In middle school, everyone starts to act weird, smell weird, sound weird – it’s just an all around weird time. I was too engrossed with exploring my weird to really pay much attention to my body image. What a weirdly blissful time.
I will be the first to say that I hated high school. I had some good experiences, but I would never, ever want to go through any of it ever again. I played volleyball throughout high school and loved (still do!) the sport. Have you ever seen a girl’s volleyball uniform? Tight jersey, spandex and socks. My thin and very fit teammates rocked their uniforms, but I couldn’t help but feel inferior. Whenever people saw me in my volleyball uniform I assumed they thought, “She must be on the bench. No one who plays volleyball looks like that.” Dramatic and harsh, I know, but that’s how I felt. Once I made the varsity time my junior year, we had extra conditioning and weight lifting. I took what exercises we did there and carried them over into the off-season, hoping to transform myself into someone who looked like they should play volleyball. I did begin to tone up and be okay talking about my body and weight, but only in the context of how I didn’t want cellulite or stretch marks.
My senior year of high school, the summer that followed and the first semester of my freshman year of college I was focusing on having fun. Consequently, I gained about 25 pounds during that time period. I hadn’t realized how much weight I had gained until my friends began to post photos of us all together on Facebook. I kept thinking to myself “It’s the lighting,” “It’s a bad angle,” “I don’t actually look like that” when the truth was – yes, I did look like that. For the first time in years, I felt like the chubby kid on the playground again. Only this time, I was the only person making fun of my weight, no one else. Like I did in the third grade, I got mean. I was snarky, judgmental,my grades began to slip – I was not in a good place, I was sad.
At the end of my freshman year I met Tucker. I was still struggling with my body weight and how I viewed myself. I knew I had to make a change, I wanted to make a change, but change seemed too hard. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I began to understand that whatever my shape or size, I was just fine. I realized that I was unhappy and that it was my unhappiness, not my weight, that was making me unhappy. I began to cut ties with those who were not adding positivity to my life and made my severance in November of my junior year. I didn’t realize how much these relationships weighed on my heart, dampened my personality and affected my psyche. It wasn’t until my mom mentioned that I seemed happier that I made this connection.
Through healthful eating, lots of walking and a more positive mind set, I have lost those 25 pounds and have come to be proud of this body I was born with. I’m not rail thin, I’m not overweight, I’m happy. That’s not to say that there aren’t days when I need to check my attitude a little more often than usual or remind myself that the comparison game doesn’t do any good, but these instances occur far less often than they once did.
For those who are struggling with their body image, I challenge you to take a look at your life: the people in it, your feelings, your loves, everything. As you’re thinking through all of these things, make note of the things that make your toes curl, skin crawl or make you roll your eyes -it might be time to part ways.
Like I said before, I’m not expert. I can only share what I’ve learned through my personal experiences. That being said, I can listen. If you need someone to talk to, want advice or want to exchange dog memes, I’m here for you – firstname.lastname@example.org
What has helped you overcome your struggle with body image?