Somewhere between the ages of 13 and 15, I started to notice my body changing. I noticed the way my face was filling out, how my thighs were bigger than my friends, and my stomach was no longer flat as a board. I desperately wanted to fit into a size 0 or 2; instead, everyday I reluctantly pulled on my size 6 jeans. It was from then on that I began to compare my body to every girl I saw, diet and exercise like mad, and wonder why I wasn’t skinny.
It was May of my senior year of high school, and my annual dance recital was a few weeks away. The costume for one of my dances was a nude two-piece ensemble that prominently displayed my stomach. When everyone in the class was first shown the costume, I didn’t think anything of it. However when it came time to actually try it on and dance, I couldn’t do it. All the other girls rushed to the dressing room to put their costume on, and I froze.
My teacher pulled me into a separate room and I started sobbing. I confessed how uncomfortable the idea of wearing that costume on stage made me feel. I told her how I felt fat and thought there was no possible way I could wear that costume. The thought of having to face an entire auditorium of people with my fat stomach visible for all to see was enough to make me fall into hysterics all over again. That night I went home from dance class and had my first proper panic attack.
Fast-forward a year to when I met a cute, red haired boy at a party my freshman year of college. What started off as a drunken one-night stand quickly developed into a budding relationship. He was funny, charming, and sat through all of the 80’s movies I insisted we had to watch together. One night he asked if he could give me a back massage, and I reluctantly agreed. I took my shirt off, but kept my sports bra on, leaving him to find a way to work around it.
I hadn’t felt that uncomfortable in a long time. In fact, it may have been a year ago, sobbing to my dance teacher about my fat stomach. I kept my arms firmly folded across my stomach as he massaged my shoulders, and the second he was done I pulled my shirt back on. I couldn’t bare the thought of him seeing so much bare skin. If I didn’t want to look at it, why would he?
From that night on though, and largely due to my now boyfriend, I began to love and appreciate my body. I ended up switching birth controls, dropping 25 pounds, and learning to respect the one body I’ve been given. I began weight lifting with my boyfriend, and loving it! The gym was a place I had been going for a while, but it was my time there was mostly occupied by cardio. Lifting weights made me feel strong and provided me with a sense of confidence I had never felt before. Every time I lifted a heavier weight than last time was cause for celebration, and we celebrated together.
[Related Reading: How Birth Control Impacted My Life]
Each time that red haired boy called me beautiful I believed him a little bit more. He made me see my body what it was: strong, capable, beautiful, and even just a little bit sexy. Knowing that someone else loved me so much made me realize that maybe I should start loving myself as well.
That was when I was 18, and at 22, I still can’t say that I don’t compare myself to others. But when I see a girl who has thinner legs than I do, I think about my muscular back from countless workouts, my flexible muscles thanks to yoga and all those years of dance, and my abs that are (almost) visible 😉 It is exhausting to constantly compare yourself to others. We are all built differently, with different body shapes, compositions, and metabolisms. While it can be easy to think about what your body isn’t, or cannot do, it’s so much more rewarding to recognize what it is and what it’s capable of.
Now, I have a feeling my boyfriend regrets giving me that first massage, because I ask for one every time I see him. I’ve stopped counting calories (too hard to keep track of) and am consistently making personal gains at the gym. I can confidently step onto the beach in a bikini and often catch myself looking in the mirror, thinking about how good my legs look. Whether or not I’d be at this point without my boyfriend is hard to say, but having him around has certainly helped. I’ve only got one body, so I’m going to appreciate it for all that it has to offer.