For as long as I can remember, I hated the body I saw when I looked into the mirror.
Everyone has their body hang-ups. I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who couldn’t name at least one part of their body that they wished were different…bigger, smaller, more shapely, perkier, rounder, tighter, flatter, whatever.
For me, I always had one wish. Just one.
I wanted to be skinny.
To me, being “skinny” was the be all and end all of my time on this Earth. It was my life’s dream. It was the culmination of so many of my most innermost desires…from walking into any clothing store and zipping a pair of jeans without having to lie on the dirty dressing room floor to wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress like all the other girls to my eighth grade dance (I ended up in a size 20 gown that was surely designed for a 50+ year old woman).
To me, being skinny meant I might actually be able to make — and keep — a close circle of friends, and stop assuming they were embarrassed to be seen with “the fat girl.” All throughout my childhood, I fantasized about how being skinny might finally put a stop to the bullying and humiliation I faced on a daily basis.
I really did think that being skinny would be my key to happiness…and that it would solve every problem I could ever have in my life. Some people dream of scoring high-paying jobs, falling in love, starting a family. All I ever cared about was what it would be like to wear a size 4.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my wish, and how, even after a 90-pound weight loss, it never did come true. I am not skinny. I am confident now that I never will be. No matter how much more weight I lose, I will never be the kind of woman who can strip down at the beach wearing little more than a washcloth. I will never be able to leave the house in a short skirt. I will never be able to emanate that inner confidence of someone who hasn’t suffered from extreme body image issues for the majority of her life. It’s just not in the cards for me.
But I’ve come to a realization. I really, truly, do not care about being skinny anymore. And I think that has a lot to do with how I finally managed to lose — and maintain — my weight loss (which, as an aside, has not solved all of my life’s problems).
Truth be told, I’m ashamed and saddened that for so many years I allowed my entire sense of self-worth to be wrapped up in the number stitched into the tag on my jeans, or what my romanticized ideal of a skinny, “perfect” body looked like. I’m also ashamed for the way I abused and mistreated myself — I had such low self-esteem that I essentially poisoned my body with milkshakes and bacon cheeseburgers for years. I like to tell myself that at age 12, or 15, or 21, I didn’t know any better…but, let’s face it, I knew exactly what I was doing.
It took 26 years to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect body (for those of us who aren’t celebrities or Victoria’s Secret models, anyway), and in order for me to achieve something that even comes close to the “skinny” physique I coveted, I’d probably have to consume 800 calories a day and spend three hours in the gym every night. Oh, and that’s not to mention that pesky tummy tuck and loose skin removal surgery I’d need to rid my body of any evidence that I used to weigh 260 pounds.
Today, I can look at the mirror and see my imperfections — the stretch marks, the loose skin, the cellulite and all — and be content. I can see myself in photos — even when I’m wearing little more than a flimsy cotton dress — and feel pride. I’m pretty okay with the person I see staring back at me these days. Honestly, I would be tickled to remain a size 8/10 for the rest of my life.
I’m not saying I love every inch of my body, but what I have come to realize is that I’ve finally reached a place where I can appreciate my body…and what it’s capable of doing. I may not have the perfect body, but what I do have is my body — and I’ll be damned if I ever take it for granted again.
I see people all the time who are disabled or ill, or I read about former athletes who sustained one injury and are now relegated to the sidelines forever. It forces me to put things in perspective: how could I hate a body that is healthy? A body that is whole? A body that is strong? I can run 5Ks and go for 10-mile bike rides whenever the urge strikes. I can walk all over Walt Disney World (my happy place!) for days and experience little more than sore feet. I know now that I am one of the lucky ones — I escaped a lifetime of obesity without diabetes or heart problems or any of the long list of diseases associated with being overweight. I feel blessed and fortunate for every day that I can climb a flight of stairs or walk my dog or lift groceries or do any of the things I can do as a healthy, average-sized person.
While I appreciate the “you look great!” compliments I still get every now and then, I am genuinely overwhelmed with emotion when I cross the finish line of a race, or am complimented by classmates for my “bad-ass” roundhouse in my Muay Thai kickboxing class. To me, discovering something that I love to do, and recognizing how my body — exactly the way it is — allows me to do it has forced me to realize that maybe having larger-than-average thighs isn’t really the end of the world.
I truly believe that’s the key to body acceptance: realizing how your body allows you to do the things you love, and understanding that there’s more to you than a number on a scale or an idealized dress size. If you have the ability to chase your kids around the backyard or practice yoga or lace up your sneakers and go for a walk whenever you feel like it, I’d say that’s something to celebrate.
So I’ll continue to eat as healthy as possible, and take vitamins, and exercise daily, and slather on sunscreen, and drink plenty of water, and avoid smoking (always) and drinking (most of the time)…and I’ll never take my body for granted again.