‘I was 6 when I wore my first bathing suit in a beauty competition. I was 8 when my dance instructor told my mom I was too chubby. I was 15 when I became addicted to diet pills.’

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“I was 6 years old when I wore my first bathing suit in a beauty competition. I was 8 years old when my dance instructor told my mom I was too chubby to be a ballerina. I was 12 years old when I started restricting my eating. And I was 15 years old when I became addicted to diet pills.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

By the age of 16, I was a regular attendee of weight loss meetings at spots like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. I’d frequently binge on foods I’d been taught were bad for me, and then exercise to punish myself for eating them. I also learned how to expertly throw up my food, survive on water and diet Jell-O, and basically destroy my body from the inside out to maintain my scary status quo. Not once did a single person in my life worry about my health, and more often than not, I received compliments for my tiny frame that just kept me wanting to lose more.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

The sad truth is, I spent all of my teen years and way too much of adulthood telling myself an ongoing lie – that no matter how much weight I lost, I could never be skinny enough. I went to great lengths to tear my body down on a daily basis as I constantly found something new to ridicule, and I cringed regularly at every inch of my reflection in a mirror. No amount of physical work on myself could ever meet my own approval, and no amount of pounds dropped could help me see myself in a positive light.

In an already thin body, I was a prisoner to thinness.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

I wish I could go back in time and tell the young girl who hated herself that there were justifiable reasons for her cripplingly low self-esteem. I wish I could have taught her the underlying causes of her constant inner judgment. The truth is, she was doing her best to survive ongoing trauma that was unbelievably destructive. After being sexually assaulted as a toddler, her foundation of trust was already shaken. She was violently disciplined as a youth for making mistakes, which taught her to seek perfection at every turn. She was also rewarded for achieving highly and performing well, which only bolstered her belief that her worth existed outside of her.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

As she grew into a pre-teen, the shame-inducing words used to describe her body would stick to her soul like glue, words spoken by those she loved the most. ‘Fat’ and ‘lazy’ were frequently used to tear her down in moments of conflict. She was encouraged to diet and told that certain body parts were too big for her frame. And by high school, the world had done an incredible job of teaching her that her value was solely measured by how much or little others approved of her. Since skinny bodies seemed to be a societal ideal for women, it was only a matter of time before she’d believe that being thin was her only route to love.

I now realize that no amount of talking to my younger self would have stopped me from the downward spiral I was on. Because I needed to move through each painful step of self-hate to get to the amazing point of self-love that I’m at now.

In the past four years, I’ve birthed two children and become a mother. And in the process of experiencing my pregnancies, I’ve gained 75 pounds. You’d think that existing in a larger body – something I feared my entire life – would lead me further down the self-loathing spiral. But quite the opposite has happened. For the first time ever, I feel completely free of the exhausting pressure to be thin. After seeing myself go through so much to bring my children into the world, I now know that worthiness is my birthright. I see the miracles that have been my two rounds of pregnancy, and I bask in awe of the physical evidence of motherhood. I am quite literally a miracle maker.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

Just after giving birth to my daughter in 2015, I remember laying on the hospital bed and asking my husband to snap a quick photo of my postpartum body. At the time, I thought it was just an opportunity to curate a memory, but now I know better. Now, I know that I wanted to document the first step I’d be taking to loving my body without condition.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

These days, I easily love the physical home that carries me everywhere I go. I eat intuitively and am active for the pure joy of it. I bask in the delight of my reflection. I talk kindly to myself whenever I can sense limiting beliefs popping up in my brain. And I work tirelessly to eradicate my inner shame by sharing my body-acceptance journey with others. My health is great, my energy is high, and my enthusiasm for life knows no end. I have come a very long way, and I surprisingly have my pregnancy weight gain to thank for that.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

For so many years, I mistakenly thought I was loving myself by constantly breaking my body down into tiny pieces. But when shame is at the heart of any effort, it cannot allow love to exist. The dangerous thing about shame is that it enjoys hiding in the deepest parts of us. So while it was masquerading as my thrill of self-control, it drove me to the most harmful of places. For far too long, I’ve allowed shame to keep me from embracing myself wholly and learning to love exactly who I was, as I was. But birthing my children and seeing my body as something miraculous changed everything.

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

Becoming a mother has also helped me understand something life-changing – in order to heal my relationship with my body, I’ve needed to learn how to parent myself with love, compassion, and appreciation. And in doing so, I’ve found more inner happiness than I could have ever imagined possible.”

Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf
Courtesy of Lindsay Wolf

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsay Wolf of Los Angeles, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram and FacebookDo you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more inspiring stories of women embracing their postpartum bodies:

‘DISGUSTING. I don’t know what husband would ever want to come home to that.’ That’s how someone recently responded to my postpartum body.’

‘It is not my job to be a decoration at the beach’: Strangers unite to write ‘hurtful words’ on each other to ‘wash away’ negativity, celebrate their ‘bikini bodies’

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