Body positivity has never been in my vocabulary. In previous articles I've written, (i.e. see Struggling to Love My Reflection in the Mirror, Screw Being Self Conscious), I've mentioned my personal battle with loving what I saw in the mirror. When I was in middle school, I went on a diet. I woke up early in the mornings to make a meal that hardly consisted of calories. I was fixated on the idea of weight loss, even when I didn't need to lose weight. I remember one time that I was so excited that I lost seven pounds. What I didn't know was that I had developed an unhealthy obsession with hating myself. I was 12.
A few months back, I was determined to get the perfect summer body. I told myself because I was turning 21 this summer and because I was going to be on vacation during that time, I wanted to make sure I had lost enough weight to look good in a two-piece bathing suit. I was tracking my food intake on an app. Taking into account my height, weight, and the amount of weight I wanted to lose, I was instructed to consume 1200 calories per day. To me, this was already insane. I was hungry all the time but continued to force myself to stick to the plan. I exercised 5-6 times a week, losing at least 500 calories per day. What I didn't know was that because I was working off these calories, I needed to replenish them. Essentially, I was only eating 700 calories per day (sometimes 900 on the good days) after exercising. A few times during my workout, I was so lightheaded that I thought I was going to pass out. Despite that, I continued my workouts. I didn't care that I had to stop five times in an hour to regain my vision. I was often lightheaded, extremely tired, stressed, emotional, and hungry. I didn't know I was depriving my body despite all of the signs. To be clear, I have never battled an eating disorder or anything of the like. Rather, my struggle was in my head.
My desire to lose weight became more evident after I went on birth control. I was 13. Now, I didn't need birth control as a contraceptive. I needed it because it was the only way to make my cycle somewhat bearable because it would at least regulate or stop my cycle altogether. I switched birth controls multiple times throughout the years to find one that would finally help me. After switching to another in high school, I gained 25 pounds. A year passed and I was fed up. Not only did I gain weight, but my cycles were still awful. I got off of it and immediately lost the 25 pounds I had initially gained.
At the end of high school, I switched to another form, and although it has mostly regulated my cycles, I also gained back the 25 pounds. I tell you all of this to explain that my battle with loving my body was accelerated in puberty. This is a part of my life that is very personal and overwhelming, but I find that it's important to share with anyone going through the same struggles so that you know you're not alone.
Sometimes the easy way out seems to be getting off birth control altogether. As intriguing as that sounds, do I really want to go back to multiple heavy cycles a month with horrible side effects? I've been on birth control since 13. I've poisoned my body with hormones, but what's the alternative? No matter whether I decided to stay on birth control or not, there are negative trade-offs. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Now that I'm older, I've wanted to start loving my body, start appreciating it and being proud of it. So, when summer rolls around, naturally I'm excited for all of the summer festivities, including swimming. I've always wanted to pull off a two-piece swimsuit but just never felt like I could. When I've tried before, my vulnerability always crept up, caused anxiety, and I couldn't make myself wear one out in public. I was too worried that I was disgusting. So as my birthday nears, I began looking for bathing suits. Even at my highest weight, I wanted to feel beautiful. I wanted to wear a two-piece bathing suit. I want to wear a one-piece bathing suit, even, without wearing shorts to cover my thighs. I want to take cute pool pictures and feel proud of myself. But with the long chain of birth control, to gaining weight, to finding clothes that look good on me, it takes a huge toll. Looking for the perfect summer swimsuit is torture.
Self-consciousness is nothing new. Everyone experiences it, whether it's with their body, their abilities, or something else. I don't mean to unload all of my struggles and self-pity. What I mean to do is explain to all the women who are going through the same thing that it's okay to experience these same feelings. It's easy to tell someone they're beautiful and that they shouldn't feel like they're less than, but it's so much harder to take the advice for yourself. No matter how many times you try to make a person feel like they're enough, they won't feel it until they're ready to, and that's just the harsh truth. To those who have loved ones buried in the trenches of self-consciousness, just be there for them. Share your positive thoughts with them but realize their viewpoint will only change when they're ready for it. Just know that being self-conscious is a real emotional battle and it takes a heck of a lot to fight back against.
To those going through this treacherous terrain, you're not alone, you're valued, and we'll get through it. Some days are better than others. But just know, even though you've struggled with loving yourself, just know that God made you in His image and in His eyes, you're perfect. Keep on keeping on.