The Skin I'm In

In fifth grade, a boy in my class called me fat on the bus ride home from a field trip to Boston.  I remember the moment vividly, sitting on the itchy, obnoxiously-patterned seats and eating Sour Patch Kids with my friends, looking through the souvenirs we had purchased at Quincy Market a few hours earlier.  Before this moment, I had never really looked at myself or my body with disdain.  I was just Jenna, and that was enough for me.  Almost immediately after this incident, however, it was no longer enough to just be me.  I had to be skinnier.  My self-image became painfully present in my everyday life, and it wasn’t a positive one.

In seventh grade, I went shopping with my mom, my best friend, and her mom.  We were going to buy our first bikinis, a milestone in the lives of a lot of middle school girls.  We each brought an array of brightly-colored swimsuits into our dressing rooms, but as soon as I put on the first one, I started to cry.  I thought I was over the stupid fifth grade drama, because now I was in middle school, and definitely not awkward at all (kidding).  Plus, everybody carries some extra weight in elementary school, right?  I stared at myself in the mirror, unable to shake the feeling that I looked like a sausage, squeezing out of its casing.  I was disgusted by my appearance.  It didn’t matter that everybody else said the bathing suit looked great.  I felt like I looked terrible.

I didn’t realize that a silly comment made by a prepubescent boy a few years before was still on the back burner, but once I thought about it, it made sense.  Ever since that day in fifth grade, I never felt confident about the way I looked, I was always comparing myself to girls I deemed “smaller” or “skinnier” than me.  I always used to think of myself as “the fattest” in my friend group.  Even though I considered myself a happy person, I was never truly satisfied with my appearance or the numbers on the scale.

Last year, my freshman year of college, I lost a significant amount of weight.  In all honesty, the food wasn’t great, and I was unintentionally eating way less than I should have been.  I definitely didn’t lose weight the healthy way, but for the first time since fifth grade, I felt okay with myself.  I liked the way I looked.  I could fit into jeans that were slightly too tight in the years prior.  I could wear a bathing suit without being completely embarrassed.  It felt good to finally be comfortable with myself.

This past summer, I gained back all the weight that I was so happy to have lost.  I was catching up with a lot of my friends about our first years as college students, usually over breakfast or lunch at our favorite restaurants.  I also fell in love.  My boyfriend and I spent a lot of time eating takeout and simply being so caught up in each other, that I didn’t pay much attention to what I was eating or how much time I was spending at the gym.  And now, I don’t love my body like I did a year ago.  I look at myself in the communal bathroom mirror, and I see the girl in the Target dressing room... but I don't despise the reflection.

I’m lucky that I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder or other forms of self-harm, but for me, self-love is still a work in progress,  and it is always fluid.  However, I’m learning to accept myself, and I trust that you will, too.

Jenna Toth is a second year student at the University of Vermont, majoring in public communication. Jenna is no stranger to the world of writing-- her grandfather, Owen Canfield, is a former sports writer for the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. She considers him one of her biggest inspirations when it comes to writing. During her downtime, Jenna enjoys long walks to the fridge, playing songs on her ukulele, and cuddling with her black lab, Oliver.
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