“There aren’t many whole-body pictures I’d feel comfortable posting of myself, let alone in a bathing suit or one-piece. I know, I know. Women post pictures of themselves all the time in bikinis, bathing suits, birthday suits. But even if I felt I looked good, I’ve always been afraid to actually let the social media world see the whole me for fear of what other people would think because of my weight. After all, we’ve all been conditioned to believe that only skinny is worthy, or at least I have been.
I grew up in a family where beauty was only seen in the thin. Ever since I can remember, I was told, ‘Ugh, you’d be so much prettier if you could just lose some weight.’ Imagine going to your grandmother’s house to visit with family from out of town: aunts, uncles, cousins… and in front of everybody your grandmother or aunt proclaims, ‘Wow, Ashley! You look like you’re losing some weight. Keep it up and you will look so beautiful!’ Or, you are offered water while your siblings and cousins are offered juice. This wasn’t a one-time thing, either. It was every single time I visited my grandmother or aunt, starting as early as I can remember. It should come as no surprise that by 10 years old, I already began being self-conscious. To add to that, any time my siblings and I got into a big fight and they really wanted to hurt me, their low blow was always ‘fatass’ or ‘fatty.’ I don’t blame them for it, but I will always remember how it stung.
And now that I look back at pictures, I realize I was never really even fat as a child! I had a little pudge, sure, but not fat. My siblings and cousins were all skinny, so I guess in comparison I was ‘overweight.’ In my teens, however, I struggled a lot with my weight and self-image. At one point, I was a size 7 and 130 lbs and still thought I was huge, and then ended up a size 13. I never felt I was good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough. I always felt I was in competition with my siblings, and it was a losing battle. Scratch that: lost. It was a lost battle. By 14/15 years old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, had tried killing myself by downing a whole bottle of antidepressants, was ‘promiscuous’ at every opportunity, and dropped out of high school. Was my weight the cause of all of that? Probably not 100%, but I feel my insecurities influenced a lot of my issues.
I continued to grow up, started college, and met a man at 16 (who I’m still with almost 16 years later). I like to think I ‘grew out’ of the Bipolar II disorder, but I think anxiety has replaced depression for the most part. Anyway, I joined gyms, hired personal trainers, then would become discouraged or overwhelmed and quit. When I was about 24 years old and had a one-year-old baby, I was trying to get into shape and joined a new gym (again). I had already been regularly attending it for a couple months and was finally starting to see results. I felt like I was really in the groove, so I decided to schedule my free personal training session and consultation.
We talked, went over routines, and did a quick workout. She took my weight, BMI, and body fat percentage. After going over it all, she looked at me, with almost a disgusted look on her face, and flat-out said, ‘How did you get so big? Why are you so overweight? Your body is mostly fat!’ I was speechless. I felt like I was just punched in my (fat) gut, and I had no response for her. I couldn’t look at her after that. I just wanted to go crawl in a hole and cry. I’ve never felt so embarrassed, ashamed, disgusting… After that experience, every time I went to the gym and she was there, I just felt so inferior and little. I eventually stopped going in fear of her seeing me and imagining what other thoughts must be going through her head about me. And soon enough, I just stopped going altogether and cancelled my membership. It was several years before I joined another gym, and again, quit.
Though I disliked my body, and at times loathed it, I somehow managed to maintain some semblance of confidence. For some reason, this made others feel like I was cocky or conceited. Many people have even confided that they were intimidated by me when we were first met. My husband’s usual response is, ‘It’s because you are confident, and it scares people.’ I think he’s trying to make me feel better, but I don’t take offense to it in the first place. Maybe that comes as a surprise to some. But being stuck-up, conceited, intimidating, or whatever you want to call it, is how I have coped my whole life. It’s been my defense mechanism and I honestly don’t think I would have made it very far into adulthood if I didn’t keep that sense of self-importance, especially with the rise of social media and the constant barrage of photos of perfect looking women in your face on every single platform.
I would rather be viewed as intimidating and confident, even when I don’t feel it, rather than someone who looks meek and insecure. It’s also what attracted my husband to me. He loved the fact that I seemed so self-assured and could turn heads by walking into a room full of people just with my aura of confidence (his words, not mine, but I’ll take it). And speaking of my husband.. I truly have him to thank for my newfound real, deep love of myself. I could be 3 days in without a shower, in sweats, and no makeup, and he still looks at me like I’m the most beautiful woman alive. He loves every inch of my body. Rolls, dimples, and all. And the thing is, he means it. Other than my children, he has shown me what unconditional love really is.
So now, with two daughters, I know how important it is that they have a mom who loves herself and is confident in her body, regardless of what I look like. I promised myself I wouldn’t let my girls (and now my son as well) see me hate on or talk down on myself. What if they grew up to be overweight or dealt with the same struggles I have? I don’t want them ever thinking they need to lose weight or be skinny to be beautiful. They will grow up with enough pressure from their peers and social media. They certainly don’t need it from me or other family members.
Of course, my body struggles continue to haunt me. But I don’t let the kids see it when I’m feeling down. If they see me working out and ask why, I tell them it’s because I want to be healthy, or stronger. I never mention my weight. I am constantly reminding them of how amazing, smart, unique, and beautiful they are… and I realize I should be telling myself those things too, and BELIEVING IT.
In the midst of the back-and-forth of self-loathing and self-loving, I think it was a couple years ago that I read a piece about how it’s okay to want something else for yourself, but to love yourself and enjoy what you have in the meantime. Out of all the self-love articles I’ve read, that has stuck with me most. Enjoy what you have now while working for what you want… Or just accept and love yourself as is. It’s not always easy and I still have periods of disliking my body, but I try to focus on the good and what I DO like.
Recently, I started working out at the gym 5 days a week again, and it’s actually been quite easy for me. And for once, I’m not doing it because I dislike myself or my body. In fact, I realize it is because I finally did come to a point of acceptance and love for my body that instead of feeling like I’m punishing it, it is more of an act of love.
My message for other women may sound simple, but those who live it know it isn’t. Stop comparing yourself to other women. Compare yourself now to yourself yesterday, if anything. Don’t settle for anyone who makes you think or feel any less amazing than you currently are. They need to love every inch of you, whether it’s growing, shrinking, or remaining the same. I refuse to let society, and Instagram accounts, magazines, commercials, or even MY FAMILY tell me I’m not good enough. To make me feel any less beautiful than I already am. I set MY OWN beauty standards from now on. If I want to post a picture of myself in a bathing suit, like millions of others, I’m not going to apologize for how I look. I shouldn’t have to be scared of what people will think just because my body isn’t a ‘bikini body.’ It’s mine, it’s a body, and it’s beautiful.”
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