‘Nobody commented on my bathing suit. Not only that. My butt. I’m sad now, you see. I was never a bikini kind of girl.’: Woman struggling with body positivity says ‘the world isn’t judging you like you think it is’

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“Real talk.

I didn’t take this picture to be body positive. I’ve never been confident like Lizzo.

I didn’t take this picture to share an adorable new bathing suit with my girlfriends.

Truth is, I hate bathing suits.

And also, this one isn’t even mine.

No, I took this picture in a hotel bathroom after putting on this borrowed bathing suit—simply so I could stare at it, maximize the image in certain areas, and scrutinize my body.

I wanted to decide whether or not I should walk down the hallway and join my friends in the hot tub.

THAT is why I took this picture.

You see, I was never a bikini kind of girl. But I have friends who rock bikinis and I’m proud for them.

Maybe there was a time when I had some cute curves, but after a mastectomy and phase one of reconstruction, my boobs are literally just chunks of empty plastic jutting out beneath my skin.

Not only that. But I have stretch marks on my inner thighs. On my outer thighs. My butt. My gut. My sides. My under arms.

It’s like a miniature angry bobcat tried to claw its way across my body, leaving purple streaks every which way. Bleh.

Sometimes, I struggle just looking at myself. This vacation was one of those times. I’m sad, now, looking back at this picture. I miss taking trips with my friends.

I should have smiled because I was happy. I should have smiled because I felt cute.

But the reason I smiled for this particular selfie was because I thought it made my face look skinnier.

And even now, at 36, after battling childhood eating disorders and adulthood cancer and a million issues in between…

Here I am still using that word:

‘Skinnier.’

Somewhere along the way, I guess I was convinced less of me was more. That the more I shrunk the more eyes I could catch.

I grew up believing being petite was adorable and being curvy was obscene. When I jogged in high school, I wore three sports bras. I felt like every wiggle or jiggle had to be hidden.

I’ve been counting calories since I was eleven.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember a time, ever, when I actually loved my own body.

How sad is that?

Back to this picture.

Courtesy of Mary Katherine Backstrom

You know what happened when I breathed in deep, walked down the hallway, and disrobed to jump in the hot tub with a bunch of friends?

Nothing.

Nobody said a word about my body. Nobody commented on my bathing suit.

In fact, all that was said was a casual, ‘Oh, there she is!’

…Man.

If only those were the words in my mind whenever I walked past a mirror. Or a plate glass door. Or a shopping mall window.

‘Oh, there she is.’

Like, yay—our friend is here! In the flesh! We are so glad to see her.

No judgement. No criticism. Just love.

Courtesy of Mary Katherine Backstrom

I can look at this picture and tell you ten thousand ways I hate it. But when you looked at this picture, what did you honestly notice?

My smile? The towel on the floor?

The fact I took a selfie in front of a toilet? (I admit, it’s not my proudest moment.)

Whatever you thought in the first two seconds of seeing this picture, I can guarantee it was kinder than what I expected you to think.

So please, friends.

Let that be a lesson to you.

A lesson I am still relearning, decades after I understood it was true.

Nobody is judging you as harshly as you are judging yourself.

Nobody is looking at you as critically as you are looking at yourself.

Nobody is assessing you in the cruel ways you assess yourself.

People who love you, people who matter, people who are waiting in the proverbial hot tub—

All they notice is your presence. Your smile. Your personality, your energy, and every single thing they love about you as a friend.

They don’t see the things you are seeing. They see a loved one, in the flesh, ready to join the party.

My friends, don’t be afraid to show yourself. The world isn’t judging you like you think it is.

Except, you know…maybe for the toilet in the background.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mary Katherine Backstrom. Follow Mary on Instagram here.  Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best stories here. 

Read more stories from Mary:

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