We get a lot of things from both of our parents. I've been given a lot of qualities from my mother, including the bulk, or lack thereof, of my physical appearance. Built at 5-foot-6 (“and a half!” she’d add), and just naturally weighing in at about 115 pounds, give or take, she told me stories of being long and lean that trace back to when she was in middle school gym class, or walking down the high school hallways, that often led to her discomfort from other people's outward perceptions growing up in the 1970s and 80s. In elementary school, my scrawny weight of my own wasn’t even a thought in my mind—as long as it didn’t interfere with playing dodgeball and hockey on the playground during recess, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until middle school, seventh-grade social studies class, when a classmate had called me “sticks for legs” behind my back that I was able to put my physical appearance into a new perspective that I thought was realistic for the future. And then again when a friend told me I was “too skinny” to ever be taken seriously. And then again when a girl on my bus, as a “joke,” told me that I should lose some weight, because “you’re looking a little fat, Hailey.”
This was around the time that I was introduced to the world of Instagram and Snapchat that wasted virtually no time occupying my impressionable 13-year-old mind, and because so, these comments continued to take psychological roots, and resulting in an irrational anxiety about my body. As this continued to grow, a few years in my sophomore year of high school, my wardrobe consisted of baggy hoodies, long skinny jeans, and high-top Converse, all day, every day. There was never a moment where I was comfortable showing my wrists and ankles, even when springtime came around and it was 85 degrees outside. No short-sleeved shirts or tank tops. No dresses, cropped jeans, or anything that revealed something more than what made me physically sick to think about. I’d sit at the back of the class to avoid eyes. I hated public speaking. I dreaded the thought of everyone analyzing every inch of me and silently picking me apart. What really killed me was that I couldn’t tell if everyone thought the same way, or if it was all in my head. And it bothered me that I couldn’t ask for everyone’s individual opinion on if they thought I was too skinny to be comfortable, beautiful, or proud of myself.
Trying out for the cheerleading team at the end of that year started out as just a fun activity that was similar to ballet from elementary school, as I reminisced for a time where any other voice but my own was just needless background noise. Looking back at it now, it was the decision that takes the grand prize in what most contributed to the self-confidence I’ve been able to develop around, and from, my weight since I was 15. It became clear to me within the first week of making the team that being the only cheerleader who refused to wear the skirt wasn’t an option, which forced me to healthily confront my worst nightmare, of showing my perceived insecurities to the world without much of a choice. Sometimes I ask myself, if it wasn’t for that push, would I still be afraid of looking at myself in the mirror today? Would I still cringe at the thought of stepping on a scale? Where would I be now?
A few months later, a friend of mine I had met on the team, who had personally deemed herself as “plus-size,” and I were out taking a drive one day, when I brought up the concept of body image and confidence. Partially because we were immature high schoolers who struggled with conversations of a mature nature like this one, we engaged in an argument about who, of the two of us, faces more repercussions and heartache from society because of our build, matched in a circular lockdown of “No, my life is harder” with no clear winner in sight. This came from the undeniable fact that I couldn’t truly empathize with her, nor her with me, about what the other person had gone through because of our sizes on opposite ends of the spectrum. I left feeling frustrated that I hadn’t won my case hands down, as if there was anything to win. It was only a couple of months ago, when I was cleaning out my closet and resurfaced my ratty sweatshirts that used to be my holy grail for covering myself in high school, that I really began to reflect on how far I’ve come since I let my weight define every decision I made. And what hobbies I did. And who I talked to. And what I thought of myself and the others around me when it came to their outward appearance.
And honestly, my perception of myself, and the idea that just maybe my weight didn’t define my self-worth and value, didn’t come overnight. There are still some people, myself often included, that struggle with their self-image throughout college, their adulthood, or perhaps never learn how to tame that voice inside of them that's anxiously searching to fit society’s description of the ideal woman that belongs at the red carpet of the Met Gala. But I’ve learned that woman doesn’t exist. She changes every day: one day, she has the figure of a goddess and the next she needs plastic surgery, one day she’s an icon for feeling taking self-determination in her own skin, and by the end of the night she’s not enough. That woman can change easily, and I cannot. And neither can the other billions of women in this world who seek to live out their own truth and find comfort in just being who they are. Not to mention, if we all looked exactly the same, with no variation, the world would be a pretty lackluster place, devoid of any beauty.
I’ve decided there are too many things I’d like to say about body confidence that would fill up a book if I didn’t limit them, so let me just say this—my body is mine, and it does everything that it needs to do quite perfectly, and I'm lucky enough that it lets me live to appreciate the world around me every day. And, going back to the argument I had with my friend about whose life is harder because of our weight, and how I was mad that I hadn’t proficiently advocated for myself, I’ve learned that “winning” that argument would have caused more division, not progress. There shouldn’t be a competition to prove who, or what group, struggles the most with society’s double-edged sword of who deserves to feel empowered in their own skin. Rather, we should focus on a collaboration through empathy for others’ experiences we may not fully understand, but can at least take to heart, so that ultimately, we can dull those sharp edges and no longer give them the opportunity to hurt anyone. With that being said, I hope just one person can read this and be positively impacted by it.