As my sister and I got ready in front of the bathroom mirror, she said she hated how her shirt made her look fat. I ranted back, “What are you talking about? You look amazing in everything; you’re a size 6! That’s not fat, are you crazy!? Be confident, don’t talk badly about your body like that!”
I stopped cold. She was right. I do. And I am confident. I genuinely believe that I am smart, powerful, and beautiful. I sure as hell believe that both of my little sisters are. And yet, I still do criticize some aspect of how I look nearly every day. Somewhat ironically, I did so even more when I was her age and a size 6 than I do now as a size 12. I’ve gotten better. But I still do it. And I’m sick of it.
It’s the first day of summer, the height of bikini season, and Instagram’s finest hour. It feels like this time of year – more than ever – people care about how they look. And for me, this is a special summer – the one between high school and college. It’s a transition, the opportunity to reinvent myself, to look better, feel better, and be better, before I dive into a whole new world.
In the spirit of that, I started this morning with yoga and organic granola. I spent 15 full minutes picking out my outfit and earrings – WHAT? – and even put on a little make-up. I flossed and put on sunscreen. I took an hour long walk with Teagan as we’re both trying to get healthier. Today, I actually put far more effort into my appearance and health than usual.
But I also started this morning with a promise: at least for the rest of this summer, I will not say anything negative about my body or anyone else’s. I will not hide or edit my appearance in photos. I won’t compare myself to other women based on how we look. I won’t say, “Oh I wish I had her ____” or “She really would look better if _____” or “If I could I fix this about myself I would _____”. If I can fix it, I will quit talking about it and do it. If I can’t, I’ll let it go and shut up. I CAN make myself stronger, and I will. I CAN work on having a slightly more fashionable wardrobe, which will make me feel more confident and could even be fun. (Keep in mind that I’m starting from “wearing sweatpants with boots,” so take this with a grain of salt.) And yes, Dr. Pape, I can floss. I can do these things BECAUSE I value my body and want to give it the love it deserves. But for the same reason, I can accept it right now for what it is – right now.
I am tired of cropping photos to make my arms look thinner. Yes, seriously I did that.
I am angry that at a Scholars Weekend with 150 of the brightest and most accomplished high school seniors in the country, I worried that I looked way worse than the other girls – ON OUR COMMUNITY SERVICE TRIP TO PICK UP GARBAGE.
I’m even more angry because I know I’m not the only girl who’s thought that way – where your appearance compared to others is always on the back burner of your mind, and sometimes front and center – even in a moment where you’re all being recognized for your minds and hearts. I don’t mean to generalize, but I have a feeling this just wasn’t something the guys worried about. Like, ever.
I will no longer criticize a body that has been so resilient through so very much. My twelve little scars are not flaws but badges of honor. The fact that they are the only visible sign of a two-year fight for my life – when so many other survivors have lifelong, sometimes crippling side effects – is an immense blessing that I will never stop being grateful for. My heart has stopped seven times in one day, and I can still run. Does this body – that has escaped the fires of hell more than once remarkably unscathed – deserve for me to pick on it for not having a thigh gap? Hell no. For all the times I’ve narrowly avoided treatments that would have destroyed my ability to have children, my period should be a victory lap.
No matter our personal challenge, no matter who we are or what we look like, our bodies are probably doing the very best they can.
I am a teenage girl in an age where the rates of obesity and anorexia are both frighteningly high. So one day I hear, “Love your body as it is! You never need to change!” And on another, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels! Choose to change your life now!” For a long time I could relate to both but couldn’t pick which one to listen to.
But when my sister said, “you do,” I realized that this is not the choice we have to make. It’s not: “Love yourself as you are OR strive to be better every day.” Our choice is whether we live for ourselves or live for what other people think about us. Whether we make our decisions based on what is best for us and those we love, or based on what meets a standard created by strangers – and very often, strange men.
I will love who I am AS I strive to get better every day because I know I’m worth the effort. Today, I choose to live for myself, for my perfectly imperfect body that I’m more proud of than ever – and for my sisters. Because they are listening.