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It’s hard. I know. 

Every summer I see girls walking around downtown, rocking mini dresses, rompers, skirts, and cute blouses. Most of the time, I’ll think about how great they look and how much I want their outfits. But sometimes, a single thought creeps into my head: I’ll never look like they do. 

I’ve never been skinny. I did dance and gymnastics just like most other little girls, but even at the age of 7 or 8, I noticed that I didn’t look like the other girls. I was always not just taller than my classmates, but a lot heavier. By the time I was 10, I was considered obese. I could still do every dance move they could, but I lacked the grace that their willowy bodies seemed to come by effortlessly. At recitals, I felt like everyone in the audience could see how different I looked. I felt big and clunky. I felt like I didn’t belong. 

Being overweight as a child was hard. My older brother was much skinnier than I was, and sometimes he would tease me about it. Even my parents would make comments that would hurt my feelings. My friends were always much smaller than me, and even though they never said anything, I could tell that they knew it. 

By the time I started high school, I had started to grow again. I was taller, and my weight redistributed itself. I no longer had the big belly that I did when I was a child, but my arms and legs were still thick. I felt frumpy in the school uniform that looked so cute on the other girls. I felt ugly at homecoming and winter dances. My flat chest and broad shoulders didn’t suit the bodycon dresses that my classmates pulled off effortlessly, so I wore dresses that were far less trendy. My makeup skills were also lacking, and I felt stupid and ugly.

As a junior, I began to feel more body positive. Exercising and doing sports had changed my body. My shoulders were still big and broad, and my chest was still flat, but my overall body looked more fit and toned. When I moved my arms and legs I could see my muscles. I felt good. I started to upgrade my wardrobe with trendier shoes and outfits. I was no longer shy about showing off my body. I rolled up my uniform skirt like my friends did. I wore shorts in the summer. I didn’t shy away from crop tops and low-cut dresses. I felt good about me. 

I went to prom that year with a boy I had been dating since freshman year. I picked out an emerald gown, got my hair professionally done, and did my own makeup. I thought I looked beautiful, but once we arrived and I saw the other girls in their elegant formals, I started to feel self-conscious again. They were all much skinnier than I was and far more confident. I felt embarrassed and wanted to stay away from the dance floor. All my friends rushed to tell me how pretty I looked, but I didn’t believe them. I just wanted a body like all the other girls had. 

Fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic. My senior year ended in March, and I was devastated about not being able to see my friends, have a prom, or have the graduation ceremony that I had been looking forward to since I was a freshman. I started to go to the gym with my mom, and again felt embarrassed being around so many people who were so fit. But then I looked harder and saw people of all fitness levels, working as hard as they could and not caring about how they looked. I decided that I needed to stop focusing on others and start focusing on myself. 

Today, I still work out at that gym. I’m proud of how strong I have become. I realize that my body will never be small and skinny, but I’m okay with that. I’m not embarrassed about my thick legs or big arms anymore. Why should I be? This is the body that I was born with. This is the body that knows my story. This is the only body I’ve got. 

I understand the struggles that so many of us fight through. It’s so easy to wish that we looked different. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in how society tells us we should look. But those beauty standards don’t matter. All that matters is that we love and accept ourselves for who we are. 

Your body deserves to be loved by you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it doesn’t. 

 

Rachel is a freshman at James Madison College at MSU studying Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy with a double minor in Business, and Science, Technology, Environment, and Public Policy. After graduation, she hopes to become a public interest lawyer or maybe run for office. She is an avid camper and enjoys spending her time in the great outdoors fishing, hiking, or bird watching. Rachel also enjoys reading, cooking, crocheting, and trying as many bubble tea places as she can find.
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