Growing up as a young girl in America means growing up wanting to look like the girls seen on our favorite TV Shows, magazines and in movies. So, basically, we all want to be skinny and perfect. Unfortunately for me, this was not the case. It's taken a long time, but I am comfortable in my own skin and I love myself the way God made me, curves and all. My journey to this place has taken many twists and unfortunate turns, but I wouldn't change my experiences for the world.
It all started this one day at soccer practice.
At the age of 5, my parents signed me up for soccer. I was already doing ballet classes and was having a fun time at dance class, making friends and learning new things every week. However, I wanted to play soccer too, just like a girl that I read about in a book. I got out of the car at my local YMCA, and I was really excited to start. About three practices in, I got a spot at the end of the line ready for a drill that we were doing. After I completed the drill, a small blond kid looked at me and called me a fat slowpoke. I didn't even know what to think. No one had ever said anything like that to me before. At five years old, this had an absolutely terrible effect on my self esteem. I went to school the next day (kindergarten, for crying out loud) and started looking at all of my other female classmates and comparing myself to them. I didn't really see much difference, but I was a little taller and my calves were bigger. Yes, I started caring about the circumference of my calves at the age of five.
Then, my parents got divorced.
One of the most traumatic things that can happen to a child is a divorce. Mom and dad are supposed to be showing you what a healthy relationship looks like. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get that lucky until my mom married my stepdad many years after the divorce. My mom had to return to work full time, and I got sad. I'm not going to call it depression, because it really wasn't. But, I was sad. I don't remember eating more than normal, but I did start gaining weight. By second grade, I was ashamed of my body and I was ashamed that I wasn't as skinny as other girls I went to school with.
Puberty was soon to follow.
By fifth grade, I was "big". I didn't understand why some girls could wear kids clothes and I was already moving on to the junior's and women's sections. As my body started changing, the weight gain got worse. Kids at lunch used to always talk about how much they weighed, and I was too ashamed to even participate in the conversations. Bless the one kid who always stood up for me when the other kids made me spit out a number by saying "It's okay, you're tall!" I looked in the mirror one day and noticed ugly red marks all over my hips. I was disgusted. At eleven years old, I was using stretch mark cream religiously because I was insecure about people seeing them and what they would think. I also stopped enjoying going to the pool in the summer time because of the way I looked in a bathing suit.
Next, middle school.
Middle school was probably the hardest bump in my journey of loving myself. I was in sixth grade when two kids started bullying me on the bus. Calls to the school board were made, but they weren't removed from the bus or even written up until nearly summer. I cried myself to sleep almost every night. I just wanted to fit in and be skinny like everyone else. I didn't understand why I was bigger than other girls. Nothing beats the first day of seventh grade, when a random stranger came up to me in the bus loop and called me a cow. A cow? Really? Just a few months later, I went through the process of being confirmed as a member of the Methodist church, and my relationship with God grew very strong. I understood that he had a plan and that he made me special for a reason. Nightly prayer and trust in God made me believe that one day, everything would be okay. By eighth grade, I was feeling a little bit better about myself and was ready to start over in high school with all new people who wouldn't remember sixth grade me.
Freshman year was hard...
My freshman year of high school, something changed inside of me. I told myself that the only way I could be confident was if I lost some weight. This weight loss experience went very bad, very quickly. I was eating about a handful of baby carrots and a slice of bread every day. I made myself throw up once or twice a week. The weight was falling off of me, though, and I was getting great compliments from a ton of people. "You look SO skinny!" "Keep up the great work!" "You look so healthy!" Haha, yeah, healthy. Funny thing is, I was the farthest from healthy that I had ever been. Summer rolled around, and I wore a bikini to the pool. One of my younger sister's friends came up to me and said "Wow! Who knew you could get so skinny!" Thanks, kid. Glad to know you approve of me starving myself. I know she didn't mean any harm, she meant to compliment me, but it just didn't feel like it. It was almost like approval of my unhealthy habits, but she didn't even know what I was doing to lose the weight.
But things got better.
I don't really know what changed inside, but something did. I told myself that what I was doing wasn't healthy, and amazingly, I turned things around all by myself. Now, of course, this meant I gained back some (most, actually) of the weight that I lost. I may have been acting healthier, but this didn't mean that I was confident. The weight gain made me very far from it and I often wondered "Will I ever just have peace with the way that I look?" I ended up trying out for and making the cheerleading team in high school, and I made some new friends and started to socialize more. This made me happier, and it gave me less time to spend sitting in front of the mirror thinking about all of the many things I would change about myself. My weight fluctuated but I was overall okay with the way that I looked. Old habits snuck around every once in a while, but they didn't stay around for long.
And now, I can say that I won.
I still take comments and I still have days when I feel fat. High school ended and I'm now a freshman in college, working hard to double major in journalism and political science with hopes of being a Fox News anchor or reporter. I grew to realize that God made me with curves because he creates all of his children in a special way. As I look around, I see that every other girl really isn't skinny, and that we all have our flaws. It's the way that we highlight our strengths that makes us beautiful. I eat healthy, I get exercise, I am beautiful and I am not fat, no matter who tells me otherwise. Do I still get body shamed? Absolutely. It may not be intentional, but it happens. I've gone through a lot while growing to love myself, which has given me super thick skin. I may not be a size zero, but I'm proud to be me.
See, body shaming is too common these days on all sides of the thin-to-plump spectrum, and let's be real: it really, really sucks. Something that people everywhere need to start getting through their heads is that no one can change the way that they were created. Sure, you can adjust your weight with the amount of calories you eat or daily workouts, but at the end of the day, your body is your body. It's absolutely infuriating that people can actually be so ashamed of their own body that they don't even want to leave their house. The worst part about all of this is that you can actually shame someone's body and not even realize that you're doing it. Making mean comparisons and being judgmental in general is a subconscious thing that we all do without realizing it. Calling someone fat doesn't make you any thinner, and vice versa. Even small comments can turn someone's world upside down and make them want to either starve themselves or eat until they're sick, and this is just so unfair.
So, to readers: love yourself. Don't let anyone tell you how you need to look or act. Be the best version of yourself. At the end of the day, the only person who has to live in your skin is you. Don't aim to meet anyone's expectations and most importantly: learn to love yourself. This won't happen over night, but it will happen and you will be amazed at how much better you feel. Wear as little or as many clothes as you want and knock the bullies dead. After all, they'll probably end up working for you one day anyway.