Learning to Love Yourself: A Personal Journey with Body Image

For a long time, I never gave serious thought to what I looked like or how my body was viewed by others. I was a scrawny kid that played sports, had a mullet, wore knee-high mismatched socks and had a vibrant collection of neon plaid shorts. Clearly, my appearance wasn’t a priority. I was confident that my fun personality, brains, “girl-next-door” energy would be enough to attract anyone worth dating. It wasn’t until I came to college that I really began to think about my appearance such an objective and unhealthy way.

College is an exciting and terrifying fresh start. You are constantly meeting and making first impressions with people that you hope will become your friends for the rest of your life (or at least the first few weeks so you don’t feel so alone). It is during this time that the "freshman 15" slowly crept up. I added fuel to the fire by coping with my stress and feelings by eating lots of ice cream and tater tots with little thoughts of going to the gym. By the time I got to the middle of the second semester,  I realized that I began to think about my weight and appearance

I have always been cautious of labeling feelings for fear of discrediting others. For example, I’ll say I’m feeling down or unusually sad rather than “depressed” since I don’t feel it is right to claim an experience that I don’t have on a consistent basis that I know affects people I love. However, this left me in a place where I began to discredit my own feelings. It was while tackling this in my own head that I learned of the word body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is a disorder where you are obsessed with your own personally-perceived issues or flaws with your body. While I was never medically diagnosed with it (something that can be done), I noticed that I fit some of the descriptors.  I would constantly compare my appearance to others, tried to hide my “flaws” with external things like clothing, and felt I was constantly thinking about what I looked like and how I could look better. It wasn’t until my best friend pointed out that I was picking out jeans to try that were two sizes too big because I felt that I was that size that I really reflected on my situation.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

I remember the late spring of my second semester being a very insecure time.  I would console myself by saying that I would feel better after seeing my boyfriend again.  He had spent the semester as his respective school with mono, so I had not gotten a chance to spend time with him or be intimate. I vividly remember the seeing him in April and working up the courage in my mind that I was going to open up to him about my insecurities and struggles around the issue of my weight and physical appearance.  I remember him looking into my eyes after I expressed my concerns and saying, “Yeah I got lucky with mono and lost a ton of weight.” My ears suddenly filled with cotton and I felt as if I was swimming inside my own brain. If he gave an affirmation or validation after that, I didn’t hear it. I waited all that time for a boy to tell me that I looked good and was enough, and he didn’t do that for me. I was crushed, not about the fact that my boyfriend was insensitive, but because I had decided that the validation I needed in myself had to come from a boy. After getting dumped by this boy a few weeks later, I knew that I needed to make a change.

Some amazing friends, self-help books, and positive affirmations brought me back to a better reality. I realized that I needed to take more time to acknowledge and appreciate the strengths and beauty that I do have rather than focusing too much on where I want to be. I started buying clothes that made me feel powerful, regardless of the size on the tag. I began going to spin classes with my roommate and giving myself lots of credit for choosing an apple over a cookie for a midday snack. Most of all, I was kinder to myself with my thoughts and words. I didn’t get down on myself if I felt insecure, but I also made sure that I reminded myself that I was a strong woman with lots of amazing qualities. While I still have my moments of struggle, I always try to bounce back with the positivity I know that I deserve.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

The singer and actress, Sierra Boggess, says it best: “You are enough. You are so enough. It unbelievable how enough you are.”