When I look at photos of myself toward the end of elementary school, at 10 and 11 years old, I see a gangly, knock-kneed girl sporting acid wash jeans and a hideous perm. I see a girl who was, thanks to early puberty, much taller than the other girls—a trend which, sadly, did not continue. I also see that in almost all of the pictures, I am wearing an oversized T-shirt or sweater—anything to cover up my newly burgeoning body.
I see those pictures and think, yes, that’s when the shame began. That’s when the thoughts first surfaced that my body was too big, too curvy, taking up way too much space.
But then I realize, with more than a little relief, that I no longer feel that way anymore.
I can’t pinpoint when my relationship with my body changed, but it has shifted gradually in the last five years as I’ve entered my late 30s and push toward 40. Maybe it’s just age, the passage of time. Maybe it’s the glorious “I don’t give a fuck” attitude I’ve developed in recent years. Whatever it is, it’s happening, and it feels so damn good to at last feel comfortable in this skin of mine, to not feel like I have to hide anymore.
Like many women, my weight yo-yoed up and down through my teens and 20s. Genetically, I’m meant to be somewhat curvy. I’ve got large breasts, wide hips, and a short torso. But somehow, I bought into the myth that a tragic number of young girls buy into: that somehow there was a way to change all that, to take the shape you were born into and mold it into the shapes venerated by TV and movies—the shapes that culture deems beautiful and sexy.
I was always too frightened to do anything drastic, and I am grateful that I never developed a full-fledged eating disorder. But I didn’t have a healthy relationship with food or my body for many, many years.
There were years I ate very little. I’d skip breakfast, eat the smallest lunch, exercise for hours, and then eat a meager dinner. I wouldn’t be able to sustain that pattern for very long, though, and I’d soon swing the other way, eating everything in sight.
Neither extreme worked. Even at my thinnest, I always had those curves, that shape, those breasts that took up most of my torso. When I overate, I gained weight quickly (probably because I’d been in starvation mode before). For years, I felt catatonic, sluggish, miserable. I’d use food to cushion my anxiety and pain.
I never did attain “the perfect body.”
At 28, I became pregnant with my first child and packed on an extra 40 pounds. I assumed it was all baby, plus maybe a little water weight. Not so — after my 7-pound baby was born, I still carried another 25 pounds. It was the heaviest I’d ever been, and it took me a long time to lose the baby weight. Unlike some mothers, I did not lose weight while breastfeeding, and I absolutely could not skip meals or cut back on calories — I felt awful if I did.
Plus, it wasn’t about just me anymore. I needed energy and stamina to feed and care for my baby.
As such, motherhood was a turning point for me in terms of body acceptance. Pregnancy helped me finally understand that all those loathsome curves were there to serve a purpose. At last, I was proud of my large breasts, how they filled with milk and sustained my growing babies. And as the focus shifted away me and toward my kids, it became easier and easier to forget my obsession with attaining “the perfect body.”
But it wasn’t until I was 34, after my second child was born, that I truly began to feel my relationship with my body change. It was then that I started to eat normal amounts of healthy foods (and sometimes unhealthy foods — perfection is overrated). I started to eat foods for sustenance and enjoy them without withholding or overdoing it.
I had thrown out my scale a few years back in order to combat the anxiety I would feel anytime I’d weigh myself. But in recent years, I’ve felt just fine having a scale around. I weigh myself rarely (rather than 50 times a day!), and when I do, I’m pretty sober about it all. If I’ve gained a few pounds, it’s nothing to freak out over.
I now understand what kind of body I am meant to have, and I know that there’s a sweet spot with my weight. I’m never going to be thin, but there’s a weight that’s healthy for me (give or take a few pounds). It’s my healthy weight, not anyone else’s, and it’s useless to compare myself to anyone else.
My relationship with my body is certainly not perfect. There are times I’ll get down on myself for my squishy stomach or the pesky flesh swinging from my upper arms. But I can call myself on it and move on. I don’t fixate on every little perceived flaw like I used to.
I know not everyone gets to this place. And I’m still not exactly sure how I arrived here myself. I think it’s mostly just the passage of time, life finally coming together as it’s supposed to. Whatever it is that lead me to this point of body acceptance, I’m grateful. Letting go of my obsession with my body — with the constant self-criticism — is huge. It’s liberating. It means that I have the headspace to focus on the things that matter most to me.
Most importantly, loving my body means loving myself, respecting myself, giving myself the permission to embrace the totality of me. My body doesn’t simply take up space anymore; it occupies it, owns it, shines within it. My body is beautiful, and so am I.