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.