Loving myself has never come easily to me. If I’m honest, it’s been a long, hard process, and I’m still on the path to self-love. I think it will always be a work in progress for me, and that’s okay. My relationship with myself ebbs and flows, but I’ve learned to be mindful about how I talk to myself because for a long time (and sometimes still), I wasn’t saying very nice things.
One of my first memories of feeling inadequate was when I was about ten years old. At the time, my “newsfeed” was Seventeen magazine, and I remember that nearly all of the girls featured in the magazine looked the same. They were tall and skinny, and I noticed that none of them had freckles. I hated my freckles because I couldn’t recall one single piece of media that I had seen with a girl that had freckles. I’d go in my bathroom, turn off the light and the nightlight would illuminate the room just enough where you couldn’t see my freckles. I would think to myself, “if I could only get rid of these freckles I would be pretty.”
I can’t exactly remember when I started treating myself so poorly, but I know that it escalated to a point where it was unbearable in my early twenties. For so long I had let others put me down that I started to think like them too. I had toxic relationships and friendships that affected how I viewed myself and chipped away at my self-worth. I was left wondering why am I not good enough? When I should have focused on why they weren’t good enough for me.
Over time I slowly weeded the toxicity out of my life, but the damage was done. I changed careers, moved away from home, created a circle of wonderfully supportive people around me, but I was my own worst enemy. I created this cycle of shame with myself. When something wasn’t going right in my life, and it was out of my control, I’d shift the blame back to me and focus all my energy into how I would never be good enough. In my mind, if I could achieve specific goals about my physical appearance, then I would finally be happy. This feeling would come over me where I knew I was irrational, but the only thing I could focus on was my body and how uncomfortable I was in my own skin. Anytime I saw a picture of me I would look at it and immediately shame myself for how “terrible” I looked. Every picture of myself I hated, and I was continually wearing loose clothing because I didn’t want anyone to pick apart my body more than I already did. I had created a toxic relationship with myself.
I started to recognize that when those feelings of shame came over me, that something else in my life needed attention. The first step was to learn to understand the trigger thoughts. Instead of letting my mind go down this rabbit hole of same, I would sit and think about what was stressing me out. In a sense, I had to rewire my brain to react differently to certain stressors. As soon as I was mindful of what my mind was doing, I was able to refocus my energy elsewhere and fix the actual problem. Not obsess over how I looked in a bathing suit.
I didn’t figure this out overnight, or even on my own. I went to therapy (and I still go for mental health check-ins) and was amazed at how much it helped me work through my insecurities. Therapy was a fantastic outlet for me, and it made a huge difference in my life. I was able to realize that I already had all of the tools for change and healing, I just had to harness them.
It took a LOT of practice throughout about 18-months to start seeing a change in how I treated myself. Over time I began to put myself out there and try new things and meet new people. Despite how scary it was, I took risks, changed careers, and even found a new fitness vertical that I loved. Most importantly, I slowly started to mend my relationship with myself (shoutout to The Barre Code!). I focused my energy on what made me happy, not what was dragging me down. I deleted a bunch of accounts from my social feeds that were fueling this idea that my body type wasn’t accepted in society. I spent my dollars with brands that supported diversity in their campaigns and models that (GASP) looked like regular people. It sounds simple, but that was incredibly empowering to me.
Recently I got married, and I always had this dream of doing a boudoir-style shoot and gifting it to my husband on our wedding day. I reached out to my photographer and scheduled a date. I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t deserve to do this because I wasn’t skinny enough. Would my husband even want these photos of me when there were so many other women out there more beautiful than me? Quickly I pushed these thoughts out of my mind, and I booked a shoot with my photographer. I showed up to the shoot, and I remember how nervous I was, but after I got the awkward first few photos out of the way, I felt so empowered. This was a gift to my husband, but it was also a gift to myself. To remind myself that I AM beautiful and I do deserve this happiness, curves and all.
My hope in sharing my journey of self-love is to inspire others that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you are beautiful just the way you are. Like anything, some days are easier than others. It takes a lot of work and mental focus, but you can love yourself in a society that capitalizes on your self-doubt. We’re all different, and we’re all beautiful. Beauty doesn’t fit into one box; it fits into many, many boxes. Maybe you’re completely comfortable in your skin, or perhaps like me, and you still have some work to do to love yourself completely. Both are completely acceptable. I’m working on embracing my body and every curve, every roll, and every dimple. Over the last few years I have watched cancer slowly take over my Mom’s body and along with it take her mobility. More and more I focus on the day-to-day tasks that I am so fortunate to be able to participate in, not my lack of abs. I’m more grateful than ever for my perfectly imperfect body and all of the things it allows me to do each day.
So this Valentine’s Day (and every day), all I am asking is that we be a little kinder to ourselves. After all, its the most important relationship you’ll ever have.