I’ve not always loved myself. Ive not always even liked myself.
For most of my life, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without poking or prodding different parts of my body, pinching and pulling at the places that I thought should look different.
I spent most of my time in comparison. Not even to societal standards, but to my best friends. In middle school, I was taller than most of my friends. In high school, I was still taller than most of my friends, I had smaller boobs than ALL of my friends. Being taller meant I weighed more and wore a different size. I didn’t have those perfect measurements, and I still don’t.
In college, I had my teammates. I was one of the shorter girls, still flat chested, and I was so stuck in comparison of athletic skill that I felt paralyzed during every practice and every game. I didn’t play well, ever. I went from record setting top dog, to barely scraping by during a walk on tryout. I wasn’t as fast, as skilled, as powerful, as muscular. I felt so out of place. So inadequate, again. Still.
Later in college, all my roommates were my height or taller. I had finally found people who I could share clothes with! But the comparison and not good enough was so deeply engrained that I could only cope with it by overachieving academically, controlling my eating, over exercising and socially drinking so I could feel good about myself for once and blame my behavior on the alcohol.
That continued through my twenties. The comparison was no longer between me and my friends. But now me and the ideal version of a woman that I created in my head a long long time ago. My disordered eating continued. Restricting, bingeing, punishing - repeat. My self worth had taken a huge dump in college when my first love broke my heart and my identity shattered into a million tiny little pieces. I floated through my twenties not knowing a single thing about myself, other than I wasn’t good enough.
I worked hard to force my body to look a certain way, yet I could never seem to achieve what I wanted. I attended a yoga workshop for eating disorder recovery, while I didn’t have a diagnosed eating disorder I certainly had disordered eating, and when I walked in the room I felt so much shame and guilt - again feeling like I didn’t belong. “How could you possibly think it’s ok to be here when you don’t look like you have eating problems” was the story in my head. I was judging myself so hard through the lens that I perceived others were seeing me.
I didn’t feel like I was allowed to have food and body image issues because my body fit certain societal standards, and shouldn’t I just be so happy for that? Part of me felt like I had to be uncomfortable with my body so it would make other people feel more comfortable. Like I had to reject the body I was given because it’s appearance might upset someone else. And let me tell you, I rejected it hard.
But I wasn’t happy. I was filled with self loathing. And yet at the same time, while I was still trying to reach perfection via my body, I was using it to seek the validation I so desperately craved. I hated it and I used it to manipulate how men saw me at the same time. I was simultaneously rejecting myself and using my body for attention.
Eventually one day I had a come to Jesus moment. I started on a long journey of doing the inner work. A couple times I thought I was at the end of the journey. I wasn’t.
Not until a couple years ago was I ready to fully surrender, to stop fighting my body, forcing it to look a certain way. I gave up my identity of an athlete, a fitness professional who is supposed to fit a certain standard, and I started to listen to myself. I chose movement that I wanted to do instead of what I thought I SHOULD do.
My body changed a little. I lost some muscle. My bum flattened back out. But for the first time I wasn’t ashamed of what I saw in the mirror. I could just see my reflection and there were no stories or negative thoughts about what I saw. The stress and pressure that I put on myself to look a certain way finally stopped weighing me down - literally and figuratively.
Just last week I did a boudoir shoot. It wasn’t my first or even my second, it was my third time. Each shoot was empowering, but this last one captured something different about me. The fierce, confident, badass woman that I know lives within me was caught in the moment. In the moment of both sensuality and power. The yin and the yang. The masculine and the feminine, finally balanced.
I want to share these with the world and shout from the rooftops “look at how incredible these photos are” and I haven’t because that feels selfish, vain, and like I’m fishing for compliments. I want to blow the prints up and hang them in a she shed so I can sit in the energy that exudes from these photos. And I don’t because that would be perceived as arrogant or narcissistic.
For the first time, I love what I look like! But importantly, I love what I look like because of all the work I have done to get to this place. What I look like on the outside is a representation of the work that I did on the inside. And I’m damn proud of that work! And I don’t want to be ashamed, guilty or feel bad for finally liking myself and celebrating that! And yet, I hold back because I don’t want other women to be triggered by it.
The transformation isn’t easy. The inner work is hard. It brings up a lot of shit. It forces you to look at everything you don’t want to look at. It also brings up that trauma comparison (my shit isn’t as bad as that persons shit and so I don’t feel I deserve to feel the way I do). But no matter how hard or uncomfortable, it’s so worth it.
My purpose in life is to help alleviate the suffering of women who have shared similar experiences to me. And yet, I have to start with alleviating my own suffering that is still lingering. I cannot do anything about how I am perceived, I cannot take it personally if me celebrating myself triggers someone, and I no longer am willing to accept the guilt and shame of the struggles I have had or who the version of me I have become. We all deserve to walk around without the pressure of our existence upsetting or offending someone.