“Imagine, if you will, a sassy, outgoing, fun 11-year-old girl with her own likes, dislikes, and sense of style. A girl who loved to sing and dance, wear brightly colored clothes, make jokes, and write stories. A girl who was authentic, said what she thought and felt, and wasn’t afraid to just be herself. A girl who didn’t care what she weighed, how many friends she had, or what other people thought about her. That girl was me.
Summer of 2003. My elementary school leaver’s barbecue. One last chance to be a kid, to play and have fun before heading off to middle school in September. My mom helped me get ready. I chose to wear my favorite flared jeans and a sassy Tammy Girl top with lace-style sleeves. If you’re not familiar with Tammy Girl, it was every young girl’s heaven in the UK, ashop that sold clothes with just the right amount of sass to make you feel grown-up, while still retaining your youthful playfulness. I remember feeling so grown up because my mom let me borrow some of her makeup. Just a little bit of blush, but to me, I felt like a model!
I was so excited, and couldn’t wait to get to the barbecue. I was feeling myself! Oozing with sass, confidence, and flair. My light was shining bright for all to see! That’s when it happened. I hadn’t even got inside the school when I bumped into some girls from my class. They took one look at me and laughed, exclaiming, ‘What are you wearing?’ ‘Is that makeup?’ ‘You look like a clown!’ ‘It’s too much!’ I had never felt so mortified. It felt like these girls were towering over me, and I felt so small. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. All the sass, confidence, and flair were gone. I desperately wanted to get changed and wash the makeup off my face, which is exactly what I did!
I never wanted to feel that way again, and from this moment on, I vowed to never let myself be ‘too much’ again. I would play it safe, blend in, wear what the other girls wore, and never be too confident or outgoing again. I had some serious damage control to do. My main job now was to be liked, to fit in, and to play small. From that day, I dimmed my light indefinitely. September came and so did middle school. The comparison, shame, and self-criticism stepped up a gear as I quickly realized I was nothing like ‘the popular girls.’ I saw this as a bad thing. I vividly remember thinking to myself in the first year, ‘I’ve got 5 years to get skinny and look good in my prom dress.’
Looking back now, I feel so sad for that girl and so guilty for thinking this. Middle school was 5 years of dieting, trying to lose weight, skipping meals, wearing clothes I thought I should wear instead of clothes I wanted to wear, listening to the same music as the other kids (music I didn’t even like), keeping to myself, keeping quiet, and staying small. Drama was my only outlet. I loved drama and performing because it felt like the only time I was allowed to be ME. The irony of this is I was always playing someone completely different. But it was an outlet for the outgoing, sassy, confident girl who was trapped inside.
This continued all the way through my teens and early twenties. I was always trying to lose weight, always trying to fit in, and always dimming my light. I continued drama throughout school, using it as an outlet to let the real me out in a controlled and relatively safe way. I tried to make myself smaller in every way, for fear of being ‘too much.’ In fact, my mantra became, ‘I’ll be happy when I’m skinny.’ As if being skinny was the magical answer to everything. As if being skinny would make me popular, fit in, and feel like me again. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
After education, I began a career I really didn’t enjoy: elementary school teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I adored working with children and still do to this day, but the pressure and the workload were too much for me. It felt like a weight on my shoulders was dragging me down into the ground. I would sit at the traffic lights each morning, willing them not to turn green as I couldn’t face going into work. My mental health spiraled, as did my self-worth. I stayed in this job for 2 years, telling myself over and over, ‘You don’t deserve more than this.’ And then came 2016. The catalyst for change.
I was eagerly and excitedly planning my wedding, but also desperately trying to lose weight so I would fit into my dress. When the big day arrived, I wore a pair of those hideous, uncomfortable Bridget Jones style sucking-in underwear to make sure I felt thin. Halfway through the big day came the miracle. I went to the bathroom, feeling uncomfortable and squished in these pants, so I decided to take them off. Looking in the mirror, I realized I looked absolutely no different in my wedding dress without them on, but I felt like a million times better. After that day, I threw the pants away! I even cut them up to stop me from fishing them out of the trash! I’ve never worn a pair since.
I started reading lots of self-development books, which gave me the confidence to leave the job making me so unhappy. It was upon reading these books I came across the wonderful term and practice of ‘Self-Love.’ It was something I had never heard of before, but boy did I relate to it, and moreover, boy did I need it! Self-love became my new addiction. I just wanted to read and learn more and more about it. I started to cultivate my own self-love practices, such as yoga, intuitive eating, throwing out the diet books and the scales. (I haven’t stepped on the scales for 4 years now!) Slowly but surely, I started to switch my inner light back on.
4 years on and, thanks to self-love, my life has changed completely. That sassy 11-year-old girl has been well and truly freed. I followed my dream of becoming a yoga teacher and starting my own self-love yoga business, helping other women to switch their inner lights back on too. I am a wife and a mama to my gorgeous one-year-old son Leo, and I live every single day through self-love. I am unapologetically authentic and real, I am kind to myself and my body, and I put myself first most of the time. I feel happy. I feel free. I feel like ME.
Let me share some of my self-love passion and wisdom with you, in my own words…
Self-Love is accepting and appreciating ourselves for exactly who we are in this moment.
Self-Love is giving ourselves permission to be our most real, most authentic selves.
Self-Love is making every single choice from a place of love.
Self-love is such a widespread topic and it is also a very personal practice. How it looks and feels for one person may be completely different for another. Here are my ultimate Top 3 Self-Love Tips:
1. Feels over looks—instead of focusing on how you look, focus on how you want to feel. This can be applied in all aspects of life: exercise, food, fashion, work, etc. Get out of the external and into the internal. Changing your mindset to how you want to FEEL helps you connect deeper with yourself, listen to your body, and appreciate yourself as a whole person, not just a body to decorate.
2. Authentic choices—when making life choices, no matter how big or small, ask yourself the following two questions: Am I making this choice for me? And is this choice coming from a place of love? If the answer is no, then adjust accordingly. If the answer is yes, then you’re practicing self-love!
3. Self-Care—schedule self-care with the same importance as you would a work meeting or a doctor’s appointment. Make it non-negotiable, and remember, self-care is important for your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health, so ensure your self-care toolbox nourishes all of these.
If I could go back and give 11-year-old me some advice, it would be the following:
Stay in your own lane girl. Don’t give a thought to what anybody else thinks about you. Being you is way more important than being liked.
Your body is amazing and will take you on the most incredible journeys. Look after her and be kind to her. You are worthy, loved, and enough at whatever size, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with gaining weight. Being skinny will not make you happy. Knowing who you are and being true to yourself, however, will make you happy.
You are going to do the most amazing things in your life. Enjoy the journey and don’t worry about the destination. All will be well.
Self-love is not a destination. I didn’t just wake up one day like, ‘I love myself now. I’m healed. I’ve finished the work.’ Self-love is a practice and a daily practice at that. Some days we do really well at it, other days it’s a lot more challenging and that’s okay. The important thing is to be kind to yourself and do the best you can. Self-love is not a destination. It’s a beautiful, beautiful journey… so make sure you enjoy the ride!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Little of Shrewsbury, UK. You can follow her journey on her Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more about body positivity:
‘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’
‘Starved for love, I made disastrous decisions. Eventually, I turned to food. I weighed in at 391 pounds, my body just as unhealthy as my soul.’: Survivor details battle with demons, ‘I am a beautiful disaster’
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