This one goes out to the high school girl who thinks she is fat, that new mom who is struggling with her postpartum body image, that mom of three who wishes she was as fat as she thought she was in high school and to anyone who has struggled with body image issues in their lifetime. You’re not alone. I am with you.
Throughout my entire life, I have always believed that if I looked good, I would be the happiest version of myself — I would have the best of friends, I would fall in love, I would have a successful career, I wouldn’t have to worry about money and I’d travel the world. I believed that life would be grand if I just looked good and I was willing to do anything to feel my version of beautiful, an unrealistic version that came from the press and celebrities.
My version of beautiful was the skinny girl with the expensive clothing, great hair and amazing make-up. Oh and she could walk in heels like a champ, something I have never mastered to this day. I wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve this idea of beauty, but I was determined to take control and make it happen which led me down a slippery slope eventually causing me to slip right down to rock bottom.
I was at the top of that slippery slope when I printed out a picture of a super skinny Marykate Olsen in a trendy hat holding an iced Starbucks coffee. That picture was a picture of my hopes and dreams and I carried it with me in my wallet as a reminder of what I wanted when I really wanted a cookie dough blizzard with extra cookie dough from Dairy Queen. When I was about to make a “poor” diet decision, I would look at the picture as a reminder that my strength to avoid food would someday make beauty attainable for me.
It wasn’t long before I signed up for this thing called Xanga. Gosh I feel so old typing that out. For those of you who do not know what Xanga is, it’s this Facebook like thing that existed prior to MySpace. And for those of you who don’t know MySpace, well goodness, I am just old. Anyway, Xanga was this weblog/social network thing where I connected with girls like me who strived for this unhealthy version of skinny. We supported and encouraged each other in our journey through starvation, bingeing and purging. I literally read blog posts on how to starve myself, curb my appetite and hide that I wasn’t eating so that I could look like Marykate Olsen or Jessica Simpson.
It was the summer before ninth grade and my desire to look good and fit in was stronger than ever. I was entering my freshmen year in high school. It was a pretty big deal. The hot and sticky August air came quickly and that meant field hockey preseason was upon us. I played field hockey ever since I could remember. I was anxious to get started with the high school team but I was so excited to enter this chapter of life that everyone raved about being responsible for the best years of your life. Field hockey preseason meant lots of exercise and weight loss all while feeling the pressure to fit in, to make the team and to make a name for myself as a freshmen in high school.
Before I knew it, I was out on the field with my best friends having the time of my life. The field hockey field was just a short walk from the high school football team’s field. They practiced at the same time as us which added a whole new element of fun to our summer preseason but with that came the pressure to fit in and to “look good.”
Each summer just before the start of the school year and the start of the Fall sports season, there was a shaving cream party where the two teams, football and field hockey, would go to a friends house and run around outside smearing shaving cream on everyone they could. It sounds crazy but it was so fun and it was the first “party” I was invited to as a freshmen in high school so it was a big deal.
I survived that party and all of the other anxiety provoking high school events that followed but it wasn’t without worry and feelings of being self-conscious of my body image. I continued to treat my body poorly and I constantly beat myself up with words as I stood in front of the long mirror in my childhood bedroom. I believed for years that I was fat and not worthy of anything good. I kept journals under my bed counting every calorie I put into my mouth in a day and to counter that, I logged every calorie burned during cardio exercise to offset the intake.
A few years later when I started binge eating and purging, I realized that I needed help. I was in deep and I felt so bad about myself but I thrived on the control that my eating disorder gave me. It was something that was completely up to me. The success or the failure was directly related to my actions. If I made a good choice, I had a good outcome. If I made a bad choice, I had a bad outcome. It was mine but this path was the furthest thing from motivating, inspiring, nurturing or empowering.
This was my rock bottom and eventually I had the courage to speak up and tell my parents that I needed help. So many people rose up to the occasion and were in my corner. First and foremost, my parents sought out the professional help they thought I needed. I had a therapist that I saw pretty regularly through my lowest of lows as I battled anorexia and bulimia, a nutritionist who tried to correct my relationship with food, a school counselor who recommended I join a school based support group for eating disorders, and my family doctor who performed weekly weigh-ins to monitor my recovery. I was grateful for the resources and they helped with the initial recovery. I stopped starving myself, I stopped bingeing and I stopped purging.
I vaguely remember correcting this self destructive behavior because I was able to set little attainable goals on my journey. Again, this gave me control over the situation. I felt proud of myself as I succeeded to meet each goal. While this helped on the surface, it didn’t really help me to dive into the hard stuff. The stuff that really made me feel like I didn’t look good or I was not good enough. It was a lack of self confidence, a feeling of not being good enough, the thought that every bad thing that happened in my life was my fault and I was responsible for fixing it.
It wasn’t until adulthood where I learned that it wasn’t my appearance that would make me happy. It’s all of the other stuff. The motivation, the inspiration, the nurturing, the empowerment. Ultimately, it came down to confidence and self-love.
Up until this point in my life, I have always believed that people were confident because they were lucky enough to be born with perfection. Maybe they were born with perfect bodies that allowed them to eat all the snacks they wanted, or with the talent that helped them succeed at a sport or hobby, or rich parents who could buy them everything they ever dreamed of. My idea of confidence was so far from reality it is almost embarrassing to even admit.
Flash forward to 2020. The world enters a pandemic and we are forced to stay home. For some, the pandemic was and still is a very difficult time. For others, this was the push toward self-care, mindfulness, creativity, and healthy that they needed. I fall into the latter category.
2020 was a year of growth for me. It was a year where I put a lot of work into myself and I dedicated a lot of quality time to myself.
2020 was the year that I gained true confidence. Confidence in my appearance, in my work, in my thoughts, feelings and desires. It was the year where I really learned that I am worthy and I am capable and good things don’t come to those who are lucky or who wear a size zero. They come to those who work for it, to those who are confident in their abilities to take the next leap or the next baby step toward their dreams. They come to those who set a goal, then an intention and they make a plan and they make it happen because they believe in themselves so much that it doesn’t even feel like work anymore, it is a passion.
Successful people are not successful because of their designer clothing, their amazing make up, their weight or their ability to walk in stilettos. They are successful because they are confident in themselves to do the work. It’s not luck. We all have the ability to have anything we want in life. We just have to work for it. We have to stand up for it. We have to fight for it.
So how did I get here? I’ve always known that I lacked self-confidence and self-love. I always tried to correct that with yo-yo dieting and exercise even after my recovery from my eating disorder but it has never helped to boost my confidence or grow my love for myself. Ultimately, I knew I needed to work on myself in a new way. I knew that I needed to try something else and that is when I stumbled upon self-care.
The more I took the time to invest in healthy practices for my mind, my body and soul, I learned what it meant to love myself. The more I participated in wellness retreats, read self-help books and allowed myself to forgive myself for my past, the more my self-love grew. I set small attainable goals and when I achieved them, I set a new one, maybe a little bigger of one and I crushed it. I also just started doing the things that make me happy, without worry or fear. This helped me to see that I really can do whatever I put my mind to and that boosted my confidence which boosted my self-love and ultimately helped me to be kinder to myself and to appreciate me for who I am.
I hope that my story will help you to understand the importance of confidence and self-love but more importantly, I hope it helps you to see that self-love and confidence is not a product of our looks. Don’t practice self-sabotage. Don’t apply make-up to cover up what you perceive as your flaws, apply self-love to embrace the truest, most authentic version of yourself.