Like so many others, I have struggled with my body image from a very young age. I remember once in third grade gym class, a boy yelled at me as we were running laps "run, fat girl, run".That was the key moment in my life where I stopped loving my body - I wasn't even ten yet. People used to tell me that I was "big boned" or that "I would lose my baby weight". I assume they thought they were making me feel better, but they weren't. These words were now what I associated with myself; these are words that I still associate with myself.
As a child, I was never unhealthy. I played every sport I could, from track to basketball to cheer. Even in my high school days when I stopped playing sports, I went to the gym at least three times a week, if not more. In my honest opinion, I started looking great around my sophomore year. Like they said, the baby weight fell off, and my confidence skyrocketed. I was so confident that I wore a two-piece swimsuit on my vacation to Florida. However, that confidence didn't last long. Members of my extended family started comparing me to my sister, who is absolutely beautiful, but she is a competitive cheerleader. We are built totally different, but other people didn't see that. All it took was one comment at a Thanksgiving dinner to completely shut down my confidence, once again. For the second time, I had stopped loving my body.
Over the past few years, I have started to embrace that I have to be more aware of how much I exercise and what I eat to ensure that I stay healthy. I also had to accept that I will never be a size 2 in pants, but that does not take away from my value or my worth. This is no small feat, though. I have to constantly remind myself every day that I am beautiful, and that I am worth more than what others see on the outside. Above all, I have to stop comparing myself to other girls. I should not compare my behind the scenes footage to their highlight reel. Yes, they are beautiful, but so am I.
One way that I try to stay body positive is by having friends who know what I am going through. I have two amazing friends who struggle in the same ways I do, but we all lean on each other for support. We remind each other of our uniqueness and the gifts God has blessed us with. However, since we have not been able to see one another, it has been difficult not to spiral back into the same patterns of self doubt and the embarrassment that I felt before I decided to actively love myself. Yes, we text back and forth every day, and even Facetime or Skype as much as we can, but it just isn't the same as seeing them in person. For the first time in a long time, I feel alone with only my thoughts to keep me company. I feel the same way I felt in third grade when that stupid boy called me fat. I feel the same way I did my sophomore year of high school when someone in my family commented on my weight. I feel like I am about to stop loving my body for a third time.
The purpose of quarantine is to stop the spread of sickness and illness, to protect our health. However, this isolation had created a perfect environment for a pre-existing illness to fester and spread. Quarantine has damaged our minds while trying to protect our bodies.
I am not saying all of this to gain sympathy or to devalue the purpose of quarantining or social distancing. I am telling my story because I know that there are other people out there like me. There are people who have worked so hard to love the body God gave them. Do not lose out on years of hard work because memories of something a stupid ten-year old boy said almost a decade ago keeps running through their mind. Loving yourself isn't an easy task. It is something we have to relearn after years of other people, and ourselves, degrading us. It takes time to learn, so take it one step at a time. Use this time constructively, not destructively.
So, if you are like me, and your thoughts have become too much for you, just know that I am proud of every step you take in order to better yourself - whether that means doing at home workouts, or going for a walk, or even just getting a good night's rest. You are your toughest critic, so don't be so hard on yourself. Above all else, stop comparing yourself to other people on social media. They may have had to take five-hundred selfies to get the perfect one, but they only post the best one because that is what they want people to see: their very best. If the urge to compare yourself to someone else is too much, get off social media. Take a nice, long social media cleanse. You may find that life is simpler without the pressure of others to constantly live in a state of perfection. These things are easier said than done, and I know because I have to constantly remind myself to do them.
My Pastor, Craig Groeschel, of LifeChurch said in his sermon this past weekend that, “you can't out-succeed your insecurities," so don't let your insecurities limit what you can do. Embrace every part of who you are, because there is only one you.
Loving yourself is an active choice. Finding people to hold you accountable to that choice is important, but nobody can take the first step except you.