I’ve gone through phases of being unhappy with my body pretty much since I knew what a mirror was. I remember watching my reflection during dance class when I was seven or eight and worrying about the way my arms looked in my leotard. Like many people I know, there have been times I am happy with the way I look and times when I can’t stop worrying about my weight. But by the time I was a teenager, my insecurities about my weight consumed a lot of my time and energy.
I spent the majority of my first summer after starting college losing the “freshman 15” that I swore I would never gain in the first place. While I eventually reached my goal, it came at a pretty steep cost. I was the strictest I’ve ever been about dieting and exercise. While at the time I was overjoyed to see that there were finally results for my hard work, I look back now and realize how obsessive I became with the way my body looked.
I did develop some good habits that summer, such as eating more vegetables and starting to run. However, I became very restrictive about how many calories I could consume in one day. I logged every single thing I ate into an online food journal, and guilted myself into spending hours at the gym. Weighing myself in the morning seemed to set the tone for my day. I was happy with the results of my dieting, but I was constantly hungry and stressed about what the scale would say the next day.
It didn’t hit me until nearly a year later that being unhappy with my body simply wasn’t worth it. I was sick of feeling guilty every time I ate a slice of pizza. I was sick of forcing myself to go to the gym on a day I was tired or needed a break. And I was sick of looking in the mirror and being able to point out way more things I disliked about myself than things that I loved.
Our society seems to be obsessed with what someone’s body can and can’t look like. We accept the idea that certain body types are ‘trendy’ like articles of clothing or hairstyles. For example, women who have very small waists and wider hips are considered to have the ideal body type today. Since these trends are unattainable for the majority of society, we are unhappy when we inevitably fail to reach these standards.
This became apparent to me when I read an article about a controversial ad asking women if they were “beach-body ready.” To my surprise, women responded to the ad by tweeting or writing on the advertisements that all they needed to be beach-body ready was a swimsuit and sunscreen. It was the first time I really thought about all the implications of our societal beauty standards. I realized that I was guilty of buying into these standards by always being unhappy with the way I looked. I allowed society to define me as a failure because my body fell short of the idealized body type. Believing that we must have a certain body type just to enjoy a day at the beach is an extremely unrealistic and damaging mentality — yet it is a mindset that I adopted for years and years.
This is the first time in my life that I am starting to see myself in a different light. I am realizing that I do not have to constantly work on maintaining a certain weight or body type to feel confident in my own skin. My body is not meant to fit a trend; it is meant to be healthy and strong and allow me to live my life to the fullest. I’ve decided to stop weighing myself and letting the number determine my self-worth. I’ve begun to worry less about the number of calories I eat, and more about the types of food I am eating. Of course, I still have plenty of days when I feel unhappy about the way I look. Accepting myself is a journey of ups and downs and a conscious decision that I have to make, sometimes over and over again. It isn’t easy, but for me, it’s been worth it.
Originally published on August 1, 2016.