‘I was surrounded by beautiful fat women I adored and admired, and I watched them hate their bodies.’: Woman shares self love journey, ‘I move with freedom’

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“Even as a child, I was confident in myself — in my abilities, my intelligence, my actions, and my choices. But I don’t think I ever really saw my body as being a part of me. It was just something I was inside of. I didn’t get to choose it. I didn’t get a say in what features I got or didn’t get. I was just born with it, and I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to think about it.

I looked around and saw my mom tell herself she’d get back into her size 10 Levi’s someday. I saw Stacy London forbid wearing horizontal stripes on What Not to Wear. I saw women in bikinis being ridiculed on magazine covers that were placed right at eye-level in the grocery store checkout line.

Courtesy of Tobi Bell

I was surrounded by beautiful fat women in my life who I adored and admired, and I watched them hate their bodies. It made me terrified to grow up and be fat. I didn’t want to have to try and lose weight all the time or dress in unfashionable clothes because my body wasn’t good enough for the trendy stuff.

After I made it through a few chubby years in elementary/middle school, I thought I was in the clear. I settled into my post-pubescent body nicely with only a little acne, a cute little butt, moderately sized boobs, and above all else — a flat stomach. But my 18-year-old body was not permanent, and eventually, I could feel my body changing again. Eventually, I looked in the mirror and just saw a fat version of 18-year-old me. I cried, felt defeated, and made a photo album on my phone called ‘body inspo’ that was just full of old photos of myself.

Courtesy of Tobi Bell

I was in college working part-time, editing the school newspaper, doing three internships, and pursuing two majors. I didn’t have any extra time to commit to losing the 20 pounds I needed to lose to get back to that pre-college body, but I tried. I drank slim-fast in lue of going to the dining hall, and I went to the gym late at night after I was done with everything else for the day. But at the end of the day, I was still in the same body.

After graduation, I started my first full-time graphic design job. For the first time in years, my days ended at five, and that was it. No theses to write or internships to get to. I was free to do… whatever I wanted. So I tried to lose weight. I dedicated that empty space in my brain to calorie counting and exercise, and I finally lost those 20 pounds. I felt very proud of myself for losing weight, but I still saw my body as something I was stuck inside of that I wasn’t necessarily happy with.

Courtesy of Tobi Bell

Eventually, my mind wandered from losing weight to other things like making friends and enjoying my life. I still exercised. I still ate healthily. But I didn’t count every single calorie anymore. I had a beer when I felt like it, and I worked out less frequently. And the weight came back. And I cried again.

I knew the only way to be the thin version of myself I wanted to be was to focus on my weight all the time, and I really didn’t want to do that. So I put weight loss on the back burner, something to get back to eventually. I spent my time making art, and I opened an online shop selling earrings and designs. I used my friends as models and curated an Instagram feed showcasing my earrings on a bunch of thin faces.

Courtesy of Tobi Bell

When Covid-19 hit, I lost access to the skinny girls I was leaning on for pretty photos. I asked my husband to take photos of me instead, and I loved the photos he took of me. He took photos that showed a version of myself I’d never really seen before. I had always wanted to be someone with a lot of photos of themselves. I wanted to have cute pictures of me smiling and wearing great outfits. I always knew that I wore cute clothes, but I never got to see what I looked like from outside of the mirror or unposed, unflattering photos taken by others.

As I developed some confidence I revealed more of myself and my personality in my photos, I got to see so many new versions of myself through them. I began to understand my body in a way I never had before because I saw how it looked from an outside perspective. I saw dozens of photos of myself sitting, standing, walking, jumping, laughing, and just living. I saw good angles and bad angles, and I saw myself in those photos. I saw myself in my body for the first time.

Courtesy of Tobi Bell

When I look in the mirror now, I’m no longer looking to see how flat my stomach is or how defined my jaw is — I’m looking to see myself. I get to appreciate the beautiful face I got from my mom and enjoy all of the amazing clothes I buy for myself. When I’m out in the world living my life, I don’t think about how my clothes are sitting on my body anymore. I move with a freedom I’ve never felt before because my body and I are one instead of two opposing forces trying to get along.

I’m not a person inside of a body anymore, I’m a person with a body — a body I love.”

Courtesy of Tobi Bell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tobi Bell from Nashville, Tennesse. You can follow their journey on Instagram or their website. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more about body positivity:

‘Just enough fat.’ He grabbed my stomach. ‘No one else will want you.’ He wanted to keep me in a box.’: Woman promotes body positivity, ‘Take control over how you see yourself’

‘My mom would say I was ‘ballooning.’ I was in 4th grade. She’d implement some new weird food rule for my ‘health.’: Woman is ‘blown away’ by body positive community, ‘I learned to love myself, heal my relationship with my body and soul’

‘Curvy women welcome, but ONLY if the curves are in the bust or butt.’ I would wear t-shirts over bathing suits out of fear someone would see my stomach and die of disgust on the spot.’: Mother advocates for body positivity, ‘You are perfectly imperfect’

‘You need to lose your baby fat.’ At 13 I was deemed ‘unworthy.’ I was told I shouldn’t exist.’: Woman fights for body positivity, ‘I want to define what ‘healthy’ is’

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