My body image issues have been with me as long as I can remember, when I was 5 years old I thought I would never be beautiful because I wasn't blonde. I told myself that when I was old enough to make my own decisions the first thing I would do was color my hair beach blonde, so I could finally be pretty. My only conclusion as to why I felt this way at such a young age was because of the images that were portrayed through the media of the time. In almost all of the cartoons, movies, TV programs, and print media that I was exposed to, the "pretty girl" was usually blonde, not brunette like me. Eventually I outgrew this idea as I got older and was exposed to other standards of beauty that included women of color and brunettes.
However, I started noticing that I was always a little stalkier than the other girls my age, my legs in particular. I began to develop the idea that I was "fat," and at the age of 7 I shared this idea with my mother, who naturally became concerned, especially because I was completely healthy and not even slightly overweight. As time passed my body image slowly turned into insecurity as I started to develop from a young girl into a young lady.
I struggled with being "thick" and "skinny" through high school, but it was in college when it became a complete obsession. My freshman year I worked out 5 days a week to avoid putting on the dreaded "freshman fifteen," which I did successfully. However my sophomore year I started joining more student organizations and taking on more responsibility which took away gym time and increased my stress levels. Needless to say the freshman fifteen that I avoided became the sophomore twenty in my second year. I had let myself go and trying to get back on track felt like a losing battle.
My self worth had somehow become tied to my weight and external appearance, and by my skewed perception I was disgusting. I started to compare myself with every image of beauty I encountered whether real life or media based, always coming up short. It became an obsession and everything became a reminder that I was not fit or pretty enough, I wasn't good enough. I began developing very unhealthy eating habits and was completely out of balance. I would practice depriving myself of everything that i wanted to eat that was "bad" until I would lose control and completely go overboard binging and telling myself that, "the diet will start tomorrow." This very destructive cycle became my reality and completely damaged my self esteem. I began hating myself, and believed that regardless of my other qualities and accomplishments I wasn't worthy of love because in my mind I wasn't beautiful.
The road to recovery from self loathing to self love was a long one. I have had to shed old beliefs and thought patterns that were very destructive to come back into balance, into reality. Somewhere along the way I thought that I had to be perfect in order to be loved, but have found that in order to find balance love comes first. In order to practice loving ourselves we must eat, sleep, drink, and move like we love ourselves. We must love ourselves so much that even when we fall off track, as we will, we extend ourselves the compassion to get right back on the road of self love. No, we are not perfect, but we are worthy of love regardless of our imperfections.
It has taken me well into my 30's to realize that my body is going to continuously change, and that unless I start to appreciate every inch of it, I will always be in a space of fear and disharmony. I don't have to be afraid of not being enough because regardless of my external appearance my self worth comes from being kind, loving, helpful, smart, driven, and generous. And when I find myself falling back into old patterns of comparing, I remind myself that true beauty has nothing to do with external appearances and everything to do with the light that radiates from within. This is the truth that advertisers hope that we never remember, we are all beautiful. Our bodies will continuously change with the seasons of life, we need to learn to love and appreciate every part of ourselves, inside and out.
There will always be someone prettier, skinnier, etc. but there will only ever be one you. So my advice to the younger me and those who have ever suffered from poor body image, is to rock that thing that only you have that makes you special, and unapologetically Love your body, and the skin you are in, it's the only one you've got.