Do you ever see pictures of yourself from a few months or years ago and think, “Wow, I was so thin!” And do you remember that at the time, you thought you weren’t thin at all? This happens to me frequently. I see pictures of myself that are pretty recent and I remember being so unhappy with my body at the time. I remember all the negative thoughts, like thinking I was too big, too soft, too bloated. Then I see these pictures some time later and I think, I looked really great. Why did I waste so much time being so hard on myself about the way I looked?
Insecurity about our bodies is not a new issue. It’s something we constantly struggle with, and I mean that for both men and women. I used to believe that men never wrestled with body image, but over the years, as I’ve become more aware of the negative self-talk that exists about body image, I’ve heard men make some pretty sad, self-deprecating comments about their bodies as well. They’ve been unhappy, too. A lot of us are!
I’ve read about studies of little girls as young as age six talking about diets they want to try or commenting that they don’t want to be fat. This breaks my heart. I guess in this sense I’m “lucky” that my body image issues didn’t start until I was about age twelve. This is around the time puberty hit and all of a sudden, my body was doing its own damn thing and I felt like a passenger on its crazy train. But from the time I began to worry about what my body looked like until very recent years, the effect of trying to achieve a thin, lean figure has been so damaging to me.
I’ll take it back a little bit. I don’t believe anyone had a good time in high school, and if you did, you’re lucky. As dramatic and angst-y as it sounds, I hated high school and you couldn’t pay me to go back. I’m grateful for the harsh lessons that were learned, but dear Lord, I dreaded walking down those halls every day. It felt like I was always being scrutinized, and I wanted so badly to look good while being scrutinized! I guess I thought if I was pretty enough or thin enough, it would lessen the blow of the mean things people would say. When I started the ninth grade, I was exercising numerous times a day and I simultaneously got sick (unrelated to the exercise). This caused me to lose a significant amount of weight and I felt good about myself. People noticed, and I was happy. Later on that year, I put the weight back on. Mind you, I was never fat or even overweight. I was just an average looking girl. But it got back to me that an upperclassman cheerleader had said, “Dania gained weight, right?” I remember that day so clearly. I remember the cheerleader’s name to this day. I got home and cried and refused to eat the rest of the day. I fought with my mom because I took my anger out on her, as teenagers do. I remember crawling under the covers of my bed and thinking I never wanted to come out. I just wanted to wrap blankets around my body and never have to show it to anyone again. I felt so ashamed and disgusted with myself. It honestly breaks my heart thinking about it now. I see pictures of myself throughout all my years in high school now and I was, dare I even say it, thin the whole time!
Fast forward to the years after I graduated from college. I went to Boston for my first year of law school, and I became so anxious and depressed that I had to withdraw after I finished my 1L year. Because I was so depressed, I had begun losing a lot of weight. When I moved back to my hometown in the Valley, I didn’t have a job and I wasn’t going to school. So, I took up cross-fit. And I loved it! And I got pretty good at it (if I do say so myself. Nobody else said so, except my coach. Once.) I also auditioned for a semi-professional dance team and made it. This meant I was working out five to six times a week doing cross-fit. I had dance practice twice a week. The dance team also gave us a free gym membership, and we were required to go workout twice a week in addition to dance practice. (Yes, they checked to see if we fulfilled this requirement each week). I would start my cross-fit workout at five a.m and then dance practice or gym time (or both) later that day. So what did this mean for me? It meant I was suddenly in the best shape of my life. Not only was I leaner than I had even been in high school, I was strong. I was fitting into clothes I hadn’t even fit into when I was twelve years old. I was down about 25-30 pounds and I loved the way I looked in a bathing suit, and/or my very small dance uniform.
So that’s it. Obviously, at this point of my life, I was ecstatic with happiness, right? My whole life I thought if I were thin and built and beautiful, all my self- esteem issues would go away. And is that what actually happened? NO.
I remember weighing myself every day and night and freaking out if there was even the smallest increase in my weight. I remember sitting at a family get-together once, and my cousin told me, “Stop touching your stomach! You think you’re fat, but you’re not!” I hadn’t even realized I had been fidgeting the whole time, trying to suck it in and touching and touching my waist. I’m not going to pretend I hated this whole exercising like crazy experience. It actually taught me just how capable my body is of doing things that I never thought possible. It taught me that I was strong and I had stamina. And honestly, ever since then, I may not exercise as intensely, but it is something I will always do.
But at the time, even though I was happy with my body, I hated myself because I hadn’t finished law school and I didn’t have a job. I was living at my dad’s house, and I felt like a failure. My self-esteem was shot.
Fast forward and I’m in law school again. I went from exercising every day, sometimes three times a day, to exercising once a week if that. School stressed me the hell out, and I neglected taking care of my body so that I could put that time into studying instead. When I did make some free time, it was to see my friends and go out for drinks. Definitely not to exercise. So, of course, I slowly gained all the weight I had lost over the years.
And guess what? I hated myself again. Now I was in law school, working hard for my dream, but I wasn’t skinny anymore. So, of course, that made me a huge, unattractive failure in my eyes.
Do you see the vicious. fucking. cycle?
I am just so tired. I’m tired of hating my body because it can’t be thin and toned during the times I want it to be. When I was in law school, I would cry and hide under the covers like when I was in high school for the same damn reason. Wasn’t it time that I grew up and stopped acting like a scolded child? Why do I have to be ashamed of my body, like it did something wrong? My body is beautiful, not offensive.
It has taken me several years to finally reach the point that I’m at now. That point is to stop hating myself and my body because I’m not thin. When I’ve had relationships end, I’ve thought, “Maybe if I were skinnier, he would have stayed.” When I’ve been happy in a relationship, I’ve thought, “What if he cheats on me with that girl because she’s skinnier and prettier than I am?” When I’ve dated someone who can’t stop singing praises about my body and tells me that I’m beautiful every single day, I’ve thought, “He’s just saying that because I’m his girlfriend and he feels obligated to.”
The truth is you will never be happy with yourself and your body until you decide to be. We will always feel we can be more toned, more muscular, more fit. Some people are trying to gain some weight or add some curves. But at what point will it be enough? Why are we so unkind to ourselves now? And who decided I had to look a certain way to be worthy? We keep striving for this ideal goal and without knowing it, we believe that once we reach it, everything will fall into place and we will never have a negative thought about ourselves ever again. But that ideal goal just does not exist. Or it does, and you’ve already reached it. You just have to decide.
We are so accustomed to calling ourselves “fat” or “not skinny enough” or “ugly.” We are accustomed to seeing someone disgusting when we look in the mirror. We are so accustomed to those things that we will not recognize when the moment comes that we realize we are actually just fine as we are. Even if you decided today to never make a negative remark about yourself for as long as you live, your brain will still make those remarks for you because we’ve trained it to be that way. It’s wired to be an asshole. We have to reach a point where we fight back. We have to reach a point where we grow up and stop accepting society’s lies about our bodies, like scared little kids who believe anything you tell them.
This is where I’m at now. As much as I love to preach body positivity, it does not mean that I see no flaws when I look in the mirror. I’m not going to lie – I’ve come a long way and I can’t help but love the person I see in the mirror these days (Hey, girl, hey! I see you feelin’ yourself!) But it took me a lot of tears and self-loathing to get here. I had to make a conscious effort to look in the mirror and say, “I love you. I love your legs and your stomach and your super round cheeks.” And I had to do that every time I wanted to say the opposite, or every time my brain was automatically saying the opposite for me.
Could I stand to lose a few pounds? Sure. Am I going to feel like a disgrace until I do so? Nope. Do I even want to make an effort to lose the weight? To be honest, no. I love to exercise, I love to run, I adore yoga. I also love to eat tamales and I adore buffalo wings, and I don’t own a scale. I feel good about myself. You should, too.