My battle with my body image started in elementary school. What started as a silly teasing turned into a two decade long obsession to attain an unrealistic body weight. Growing up, I always felt fat because I didn't look like my sister or my friends. I was a good 10+ pounds heavier and I tried everything from consuming 500 calories a day, to diet pills, or making myself sick after binging on candy and sweets to try to look like them. Nothing worked. Instead of working to love the body I had, I spent my time pining for one I thought I needed.
It wasn't until my brother passed away and I gained over 75 pounds that I realized my problems with my body image, weight, and food were out of control. I wanted my life back so I got into therapy to try to fix whatever it was that was wrong with me. I think a lot of people, myself included, assume that you have a problem when you go to therapy but therapy is really just another way to work through the hardships you experience throughout your life.
My therapist never made me feel like I had a problem. She helped me understand that I'd experienced a traumatic loss and I was only doing what I could to survive. Then she helped me understand that looking a certain way wasn't the secret to feeling confident and happy with what you see when you look in the mirror. That, just like anything else, is a skill and a muscle you have to exercise every single day.
I was baffled. How would I ever be able to love the body I spent decades hating? Well, it was really very simple. She asked me to look in the mirror at least once a day and name things I like about myself. It sounded simple enough but when I went to do it, I couldn't find anything. I started with my eyes and it took me months before I was able to name body parts like my thighs or my arms. It's so much easier to name the parts we want to change instead of simply celebrating what we already have.
Then she gave me one of the best gifts of all, she taught me how to be grateful. Instead of saying that I wish my thighs didn't chafe when I walked, she taught me to feel grateful that I had two legs that carried me wherever I wanted to go. And at first, I felt like I was lying to myself but it didn't matter. My perception of my body image was so skewed that whether or not I believed what I was saying to myself was irrelevant. She promised me that if I stuck with it, I'd eventually start believing whatever it was that I said I liked about myself. And she was right.
I stuck with it and my non-stop positive self talk coupled with daily trips to the gym and an overhaul of my diet led to my gradual weight loss. It took months of hard work and discipline and I'll admit, it was anything but fun. Ironically enough, it took losing over 75 pounds for me to realize that I was more than my weight. The positive self talk helped me understand that I was never undesirable when I was at my heaviest, I was just unhealthy and unhappy.
And here's the real kicker, being able to love and feel empowered by your body is an ongoing, never ending battle! That's one of my favorite parts about being a runner. Running gives you the opportunity to realize your own strength while consistently being given the chance to push your limits. I was convinced after I signed up for my first marathon that I was going to lose 20 pounds and acquire that perfect "bikini body" I'd always fantasized about. I thought the second I looked like a model, I'd be happy. But I ran a marathon and didn't lose a single pound. But my body changed. I had these strong muscles and I felt totally and utterly empowered by own personal strength.
I thought after I ran my first marathon that I'd never feel ashamed of my body again. But I found myself looking in the mirror when I wore a certain pair of shorts or wearing only a sports bra, wishing I looked like the models I saw on my favorite brands social media channels.
I'd always wished I was confident enough to run in my sports bra. Despite the fact that I "loved" my body, I still didn't think it was good enough to be seen sans shirt in public. I'll never forget the first day I joined the #SportsBraSquad. I was terrified someone was going to put me down and confirm my deepest fears. I took my headphones out, ready to confront anyone who dared make fun of my weight but unsurprisingly, no one payed attention to me. I realized that my own insecurities were kind of like the boogeyman. What do I care if someone says something horrible to me? As long as I know my own strength and beauty, their words are empty.
And granted, people HAVE said things when I run in my sports bra. I've had my fair share of strangers telling me that I shouldn't be running in my sports bra but it's never once actually felt embarrassing or devastating. It's always happened when I'm running my hardest and every time I get to stop, smile sweetly, and say, "I'm in the middle of banging out my fourth 7 minute mile. I'm strong as f*ck and I hope you have a beautiful day." OK I don't think I've ever been able to run four miles in seven minutes but you know what I mean! It doesn't matter! Strength doesn't look a certain way, it feels a certain way and it's our job to change the standard on what is beautiful or strong.
I get frustrated when I see magazine articles with headlines like "5 Exercises for Rock-Hard Abs From Gwyneth Paltrow’s Trainer" or "The Secret to Kate Hudson's 6-Pack Abs" because to me I've never been motivated to work out to look good. Set a goal that is more than just a number, a pants size, or how you look. Tie an accomplishment to your goal and let that motivate you to put your strongest foot forward. Just remember, the secret to feeling confident in your own skin isn't looking a certain way in jeans or hitting a certain number on a scale, it's being able to look in the mirror and say, "I look beautiful" or "I look strong" or "I am foxy AF". You already are the best version of you possible because YOU are THE ONLY VERSION OF YOU POSSIBLE. Forget yesterday and forget tomorrow, just focus on what you can do today. Make it fun and remember, the sky's the limit!
Promise me you're going to stop naming the things you wish you could change about yourself and start celebrating anything that you think is a flaw. Because between you and me, those flaws are what make you, you. You're perfect just the way you are.
Go kick ass. Until next time, #RunSelfieRepeat.