Lately I’ve been contemplating the concept of chance and how it relates to my academic career, family life, and now self love and body image. For some context, I attended a rural Ohio high school that lacked advanced placement options. After graduation I attended Ohio State University, where I had to take classes that my peers from affluent districts could skip thanks to their advanced placement courses. I could have skipped them too. My intellect matched theirs, but I wasn’t presented with the same opportunities. I didn’t have a chance.
Similarly, I just had an epiphany on chance and how it relates to self love. My body never stood a chance to be loved by me.
I recently listened to a podcast episode of the Ali on the Run Show, hosted by runner and writer Ali Feller. Ali is a positive force in my social media feed, and she’s taken that positivity to a new level with her podcast. She interviewed plus size model and newbie runner Candice Huffine, and they had a fruitful hour-long discussion on typically cliche topics. But this was different. Their casual conversation opened my eyes to a new line of thought on body image. They gave me a fresh perspective on a worn-out topic.
Huffine is a very successful plus size model, and she talked about her start in the industry as a teenager. As a 5’10” 15-year-old, a modeling agency told her she was too fat to be represented as a “regular” model, so they sent her to an agency who broke the news to her that she was “plus size.” Huffine talked about how confused she was in that moment. Obviously 15 is a hard year for teens of all shapes and sizes, but before this appointment, she said she was confident in herself, her looks and her style. She said, (I’m paraphrasing) “They saw my body and put it in a box. They didn’t give me a chance to prove my talent or what I could do.” This is the statement that made me realize that as women, all ages, races, and sizes, our bodies never stood a chance for self acceptance. There are societal expectations for how we look at all stages of life.
I remember as a high school and then college girl with an eating disorder, I was so focused on fitting into those “boxes” that had been laid out for me as a woman, that I never really developed a love for myself because I was automatically trying to be someone or something else. From the ages of 16-20 I lived in high heels and push-up bras because I wanted to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. That was the style then in the mid 2000’s. I wanted to be 6′ tall with ridiculously perky boobs because I thought that’s how I should look. My obsession with America’s Next Top Model did not help matters either. That’s not how I wanted to look. In fact, I had no idea who I really was at all.
I remember shopping for a prom dress at 17-years-old, and breathing a sigh of relief when the numbers ranged from 00-2. Ah. Thank God. I fit in the “tiny” box, so life is good. Actually, it wasn’t. I was crying myself to sleep every night after spending too much time criticizing my body in a mirror and wishing for a different one.
Young women don’t know themselves at 15, or even 20. I am 26, and I am still learning things about myself and my personality. It takes many years to learn to love ourselves from the inside out, but it would be a hell of a lot easier without these “boxes,” these expectations. With these categories present, “curvy,” “skinny,” “plus size,” “real women,” it becomes almost impossible to develop our senses of self without an outside opinion on how we should be.
In today’s world Instagram has glorified and emphasized the importance of perfection. Girdles, waist-trainers, contouring, lip and brow kits. Holy shit. There’s makeup for every part of your body if you “need” it. I’m so glad I’m not a teenager today, and I feel for the young girls who have to transform into women during this time in beauty and fashion. I promise I will do my part to make the transition easier for those I can reach.
Back to the academic analogy– I went through a period of feeling sorry for myself and a little bit of FOMO because I didn’t go to an Ivy League school and blah blah blah. But that part of my life is over. High school is long gone. College is over, but graduate school is soon approaching. As I receive acceptance letters from law schools, it is important for me to recognize how far I have come with the opportunities I’ve created for myself. I have had so many chances to better my life both professionally and personally because I made them happen. Like when I moved to Spain and decided to study international law!
I have done what I needed to do to get here after I recognized my disadvantages.
This applies to self love. You must recognize what is in the past, what you learned from it, and how you can improve going forward. I recognize that my body never stood a chance for me to love it without judgment, but I presently admire it with love and peace. It’s up to us to take this information and spread the news to our sisters, daughters, and friends. If someone calls you plus size, it’s up to you to decide what that “box” means to you and whether or not its relevant to your life. If someone tells you that you need to eat a cheeseburger, it’s up to you to decide whether or not that comment is going to ruin your day. It sucks, I know. I wish we could block these comments from strangers with trigger words like we can on social media. For me I would block, “stick,” “twig,” and “skinny” especially in combination with the word “bitch.” I don’t want to hear it, but when I do, I must be prepared to block it from my mind. Feller discussed a similar strategy to blocking negative self thoughts. You cannot let these boxes, strangers, thoughts, or expectations touch your inner peace.
Heavy. Thin. Medium. Average. Plus size. Normal. Busty. Flat. Curvy. Fat.
They’re just words, boxes, concepts, designed to hinder your chances of loving yourself.
Thankfully, I have not had serious body image issues for a long time. My body dysmorphia is still present, but it differs from day to day. I have become very good at shutting it down and completely ignoring it. Plus I feel great physically. I’m just coming off a my fastest half marathon in years, and ummm, ever!! It made me feel very mentally confident and strong. I achieved that goal because I worked with my body, not against it, and I trained it to perform. I’m also in a healthy relationship in which I feel valued in every way. I feel supported by my family, my partner, and my friends. So naturally I’m going to feel good about myself if all is right in my little world. But I must practice this for times that are not so easy.
I have given my body the chance of acceptance that it never had when I was developing myself, in mind and body. I hope you can give your body the chance it deserves too.