“I’ve been poking and prodding at my body for about 25 years, and I’m over it.
My earliest memory of feeling like something was ‘off’ with my body was when I was in the 8th grade: I was well past the peak of puberty and everything had sort of ‘filled out.’ Something they don’t tell you in those sex education classes is a girl’s body morphs into something else, apparently in preparation for childbirth, gaining weight in areas that are the most sensitive and insecurity-provoking for a girl of thirteen. I guess they’re too focused on the ‘don’t have sex’ part to tell a girl to celebrate the fact she is likely now a fertile goddess and the extra fat on her body is what prepares her for all kinds of survival skills.
At least, that’s probably the scientific explanation for the stretch marks I started noticing all over my legs from this so-called beautiful process.
Yes, it was in Mrs. Johnston’s Algebra class when I looked down at my thighs and immediately decided I would no longer be wearing shorts. I saw veins and stretch marks and all I wanted to do was hide. Those little lines defined me that year, and I never wanted anyone seeing my body: in shorts, in a swimsuit, in anything but clothes that would hide my imperfections.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in a very conservative environment where short shorts were a sign a woman was a sinful temptress, and girls had to wear t-shirts over their bathing suits at summer camp lest they cause a boy’s temptation. Relevant to my perpetual body shame, but still a story for another day.
Much of my teen years were spent chasing after any fad diet I could find, just for the hope of slimming down to a size 4 from a size 6, and fluctuating between bingeing on fast food like any other normal teenager, and refusing to eat anything but apples or cabbage soup any time I had a ‘fat day’ or felt insecure about my body. By the time I had my first child at the ripe old age of twenty-one, taking care of my body or even celebrating what it had done for me was a foreign concept. And when I had my second child at a positively ancient twenty-two years old — and my second c-section — I was practically abusing myself when it came to anything involving looking at my figure. I remember crying in the fitting room at Walmart over the fact I was now in a double-digit size; never mind the fact my body had just born two healthy children in just over one year.
I cursed both my new and my old stretch marks. I cursed my height, my weight, my acne-ridden skin, and my new ‘mommy pooch,’ as we so affectionately refer to that flap of dead, useless skin that remains after you’re cut open and a human is physically removed from your body.
I spent the next 10 or so years trying to lose 20 pounds and get back to that pre-baby weight, all while very effectively following the rules of being a conservative good girl in every aspect of my life; covering up and never drawing too much attention to myself. The body I had so loathed at 19 was now my ideal weight, my dream figure. I kept cursing myself, only now it was not only because I saw myself as extremely obese (there was a time when I would point women out to my husband, asking him if I was skinnier or fatter than she was — a sick and twisted practice), but also because I couldn’t believe I’d thought I was fat before! I would work out in fits and eat less than 1,000 calories a day sometimes. I don’t think I was clinically obsessed with my body or close to having an eating disorder, but my negative body image was always in my peripheral vision, dictating how I presented myself to the world, how I pursued my dreams (‘only those women who are a size two can truly be successful,’ I thought), and how I spoke to myself… even while my young daughter was listening.
That was the part that got me most: I realized, one day, my daughter could hear me talking down to myself. It was even more of an awakening when I heard her say some of the same negative things about her own body I was sure she’d heard from me. It was then I knew I had to change the narrative for myself if I ever expected to raise a confident daughter who could understand just how beautiful she is. My daughter won’t be able to love herself or see herself the way I see her if she doesn’t see me loving mySELF. How can we truly love someone else if we aren’t willing to freely love ourselves?
It’s been about three years since I’ve started trying to love and truly appreciate my body. I’ve learned to thank it for everything it has done for me. It has expanded with my needs and healed every single time I’ve been sick. I’ve learned when it comes to health, weight is just a number and progress is way better than perfection. I’ve been so used to being at war with the image of the girl in the mirror, cursing her for eating too many French fries and never quite being able to stay out of the double-digit dress size. Now, my mission is to be at PEACE with my body. My mission is to hug every curve and smile at every stretch mark. It’s the only body I’ve got, and I will live in it my whole life.
When it comes to my body, my assignment is to learn that poking, pinching, and saying negative things about my body does far more damage than eating the ice cream ever will. I will be unwavering in my pursuit to listen to my body when it tells me what it needs, like rest, water, and a good stretch — instead of condemning it and feeling guilty for everything I eat.
If you would have told that thirteen-year-old girl who was desperate to cover up — or that twenty-four-year-old mom who only thought you could be successful if you were a size two — that she would be posting a picture of herself in a bikini on the internet, she would have thought she was in a nightmare. But as sure as this thirty-seven-and-a-half-year-old woman is standing here today, I’m telling you to wear the suit, eat the ice cream, and pursue peace with your own body. THAT, my friends, is the dream.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristen Wheeler from Castle Rock, CO. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their podcast. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories about body acceptance here:
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‘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’
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