Have I learned to love my body?

*Once, when I was open with the struggles I’ve had with my body, someone close to me told me that these things did not belong on the internet for everyone to read. I believe otherwise because I believe that if my story helps one person, than it was all worth it. So, if this story bothers you, I apologize. But that does not change how important I believe it to be.*

I was one of those kids in high school that was athletic enough to be healthy, but not athletic enough to be considered “athletic.” When Novembers would roll around and gymnastics season hit, I’d shape up, but found myself comparing myself to every other gymnast that would flip by me at meets, not looking at their skill level, but their stomachs. While I had the grace of a gymnast, I had not the abs, and teenage me took this quite personally. I enjoyed being active, but I hated running, hated “exercise,” and could never convince myself to continue post-gymnastics season. I, unfortunately, was the “typical” teenage girl – feeling inadequately unable to meet a standard, a certain waist measurement, a particular shape found on the girls who graced the covers of magazines.

Then came college, and on came the so-called freshman 15, met with trips to the gym that were more “trips” than “gym.” I still was not happy with the way I looked, but I couldn’t seem to get myself to do anything about it. That was – until my sophomore year of college. My negative view of my body was winning, and instead of forcing me to hide, I allowed that view to control me. I found myself running laps in the gym, counting calories and servings in the dining hall and in my dorm. Meals were logged, steps were counted. Goldfish were divided into ziplock bags of 54 apiece (that’s exactly one serving), Nature Valley bars were eaten in ones and not in twos, lunches became salads and dinners became the same salads, meals began to look more like numbers and less like food. These negative thoughts were winning – I was losing weight and I was losing it fast. But the weight I lost wasn’t correlating with the (lack of) happiness I was feeling. I just wanted to be in control of something, and while I thought my body was where I wanted it, I still had no control over the things that I was feeling. By the end of that year, I was the tiniest I had ever been, but I was mentally out of sync and knew that this “eating thing” was a symptom of a bigger (and then not-yet determined) issue.

My junior year was met with a lot less strict food habits, but a lot more exercise and even more stress. I was running every single day, training for a half-marathon even though I still hated running. My need for control shifted from food onto exercise – and the miles were tracked, the times were kept, and the calendars of goals were filled in. I’d take my tear-filled worries out on the treadmill, on the elliptical, on the steep hill between old and new Lancer Park. I continued and I continued and I convinced myself that I was healthy because I was eating “enough” – but while my body may have seemed healthy, my mind was far from it. It took a mental disorder diagnosis for my exercise obsession to halt, for me to hit rock bottom before I could begin to swim to the surface.

My senior year was full of a lot of struggles but even more strength. While my body wasn’t as tiny, wasn’t as muscular as it was the years before, I began to see that my imperfect self was special. My form of exercise came from climbing into ropes courses, belaying, rock climbing, and canoeing – showing me for the first time that being healthy means being active in ways that you’re passionate about. When I’m on the edge of a cliff, on a wire in a tree, in a boat on a river – I’m healthy both mentally and physically. While I still find myself buying clothes a size too big on purpose, it isn’t for the reason of hiding; rather, for the reason that sizes are just numbers and I need to find the clothes that I feel comfortable in. My worth as a human when I’m wearing that XL sweatshirt is the same as it when I’m wearing that XS sundress. The letters and numbers printed on tags inside of my clothes have absolutely no correlation with my health, with my happiness, with the joy-filled spirit that I sometimes lose sight of. As I learned to relinquish control where I had none, I found myself falling in love with my life in ways I hadn’t done before. I was so preoccupied with the size of my stomach and the roundness of my face that I was missing out on what life was offering me. New beginnings, incredible humans, unbelievable experiences and a lot of laughter – all things that changed my life and have nothing to do with what’s on a scale beneath my feet. When I stopped trying to be in control is when I actually gained it, when I wasn’t hidden behind dumb rules and regulations is when I felt the most freedom.

Our world today places an unmeasurable amount of “worth” in numbers – calories, pounds, distances, GPAs. We stop seeing ourselves as humans and start seeing ourselves as mile markers – headed to some made up destination but far from “enough.” We cannot begin to fathom the beauty we hold because we hold in our hands magazines with airbrushed models and articles on how to be “perfect” even though no one actually lives like that. It’s time we stop worrying about what “other people think” – because the truth is, “other people” “think” just like us. We all live in the same imperfect world, trying to meet ideals that can never really be met.

I once fell for a boy who told me that I was beautiful – and he taught me that the reason that I was beautiful wasn’t because he said it, but that I was beautiful because of who I am. My beauty didn’t start with him and it doesn’t end with him either. I am not beautiful because of my food intake or because of my miles run or because a boy said so. I am beautiful because I am who I was made to be – flawed, imperfect, with a little bit of fat around the edges.

Have I learned to love my body? Not necessarily. But I’ve learned that the love for myself does not start or end or even really involve my body – that my worth does not lie in my BMI. Loving my body means being grateful that God built me the way He did because He is going to use this body to do great things. Who am I to say that I need “fixing” when I am exactly how I was made to be? It’s time that the numbers I count and the goals that I set be found in smiles given, in joy shared, in tanks full of gas on road trip adventures, in FaceTime calls and hugs from my campers and cups of coffee sitting on the counter between me and a friend. It’s time that I learn to love me for all of me – for my perfect imperfections and for every single battle I’ve overcome.

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