One of the biggest challenges in my life was learning how to love myself. Not just my looks, but my personality, my traits, me as a human being. It is not easy, especially for girls like me who tend to compare themselves to unrealistic goals and images. Unfortunately, it is part of the society we grow up in.
I remember even as a little girl I would always look at my Barbie dolls and wonder why I didn't have long blonde hair or bright blue eyes and perfect teeth. Why wasn't my chest large and my waist thin? Why did I have frizzy short brown hair, lots of freckles, and a big belly?
I spent most of my childhood and school years trying to fit another mold. I distinctly remember in 6th grade sneaking into my mom's makeup bag when she took my brother to school early in the morning to use her eyeshadow and mascara so I could look like the other girls in my classes.
Even when I finally lost my baby fat that I hated so much, I didn't have the right clothes and I still had glasses. I would roll my shorts up super high and rip off my glasses as soon as I got into school after my mom dropped me off in the morning.
Then I was finally allowed to wear makeup and do my hair. I would wear such heavy foundation you couldn't see my freckles and such dark eyeliner that my eyes appeared black. My hair was dry and dead from putting heat on it so much. In my mind, the less clothes the better. Oh what little I knew.
When I began high school was the first time anyone told me that I didn't need to do all of those things to try and look "good". At the time I thought it was the rudest comment any guy had made to my face, but looking back now I'm thankful for his honesty. One of my guy friends had approached me one day, a day I thought I looked my best, and said, "Erin why do you wear so much makeup, you don't need to." That changed my entire outlook on what it mean to be beautiful.
It was in high school that I learned I am beautiful without makeup. I can love my body without having to show off every inch of skin to try and impress guys. I could eat and enjoy food without worrying about where the fat would end up on my body because looking like a human skeleton wasn't what I wanted anymore.
From the moment I accepted these things and made the choice to change my unhealthy, obsessive habits, I learned to be happy and slowly love myself. It was not until March of my senior year of high school did I truly make a change. I decided to overcome my mental challenges by challenging myself physically with exercise.
I found a passion in working out and pushing my body to new limits, and of course loved the results. It made my mind more positive, it gave me something to work for instead of something to deprive myself of. I nourished my body and cared for it. I dedicated time to doing things to make me happy and to make my body happy. I was finally able to look myself in the mirror in August 2016 and say "I love the skin I'm in". It may have taken almost all of my adolescence to overcome a monster that controlled my social life and my mental and physical health, but I can confidently say today that I am thankful for what it taught me.
I have learned that no mental illness or disorder will overpower me. I learned I am stronger. I learned I am beautiful. I may always have cellulite and large thighs and I may never be a size 0, but I am so incredibly okay with that. My freckles are beautiful. My crooked smile is beautiful. My fair skin is beautiful. My brown hair and hazel eyes make me, me. I am thankful for the person God molded me to be, but I am overwhelmingly proud of the woman I molded myself to become.
To the girls out there that still struggle to love themselves. Know that you are beautiful, just the way you are. Stop comparing yourself to what you see on social media or in magazines or even in your classes. There is only one you and you only have one body. You cannot change that, and do NOT destroy it. Do not feel the unnecessary need to change your looks, personality, or anything based on society's unreachable standards. Set goals for yourself and reach them, and if you don't, that's okay too. But in all things, put your happiness first.