Self-love. That’s hard. I imagine it’s hard for most people, but it’s especially difficult for me.
You see, I was an active kid. I played soccer, I danced, I walked to and from school every day. I was never a skinny child, but I was lean and muscular, partly due to my dance training and partly due to the fact that I take after my father, who is a somewhat stocky, very muscular man.
That changed when I was 14. I got my period at 12, like many other peers. It was pretty irregular, but my doctor assured me that it was just because I was young and that it would “even out” as I got older. It didn’t. In fact, I would go months without it for the next few years. But that’s later in the story.
I steadily began to gain weight, despite walking and dancing every day. During the summer between grades 9 and 10, I gained a bunch. I don’t remember how much, but enough that my grade 10 school picture was shockingly different from even a year before. I became self-conscious. I wore sweatshirts to hide, I didn’t draw any attention to myself in class and I kept gaining weight. I quit dancing because I was so self-conscious about wearing a bodysuit and tights in front of my fellow ballerinas, all of whom were long-legged and skinny. I no longer walked to school, as I went to a different high school. I found it difficult to make friends, and I began emotionally eating, which only helped the weight pile on. It didn’t stop and I didn’t know what to do.
My physician became concerned about my lack of periods, so she sent me to a gynecologist to find out what was wrong. I had been researching on my own and I was pretty sure that I had an endocrine disease called polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. When I mentioned this to the gynecologist, she dismissed me. She told me I was just fat and that I should lose weight. Then she left. No exam, no questions, no nothing.
The weight kept piling on. I began exercising excessively to try and “get skinny”, but I couldn’t keep up with the routine that I made for myself (1.5 hours a day, every day) and I soon faltered. So, I stopped eating. It began with no breakfast, then I slowly stopped eating lunch, only pretending to pack it and then taking an empty lunch box to school. I ate supper with my family, but I tried not to eat very much. I began to lose weight and people began to comment, so I kept at it. Nobody had any idea what I was doing to myself.
The weight kept creeping up and up and up. I tried Atkins, Weight Watchers, the South Beach diet, the cabbage soup diet, the all-fruit diet…anything you could think of. I bought magazines that screamed headlines such as “How to lose that stubborn fat!” or “Lose 20 lbs in 7 days!”. I tried all of the ridiculous things that I could find, then punished myself by binge eating when they didn’t work.
Cut to age 24. I decided that I wasn’t happy with my doctor (who I found to be very pill happy, which I dislike) and so I set out to find a new one. Luckily for me, a brand-spanking new female doctor opened up a practice relatively close to me, so I paid her a visit. Let’s call her Dr. A. When I went in for my first consultation, I told Dr. A my suspicions about PCOS. Instead of brushing me off, like my previous doctors had done, she asked me a bunch of questions and immediately ordered an ultrasound. A few weeks later, lo and behold, I had a diagnosis. PCOS, just like I had thought, 10 years before. (For those who don’t know, PCOS, in a nutshell, affects a woman’s hormones. It causes the body to have an irregular balance of estrogen and testosterone, and it affects insulin levels. Symptoms include irregular periods, unexplained weight gain, increased acne, excessive body hair (primarily on the stomach and face, but thankfully I haven’t had that), thinning hair/male pattern baldness and it increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, ovarian cancer. It also makes it much more difficult to get pregnant, due to the body not ovulating properly, and it makes miscarriage or premature delivery more likely, along with other complications. There is no known cause or cure, but it’s estimated that 10% of women have it. Delightful!)
The battle isn’t over. I am still struggling with my weight and I probably will for the rest of my life. Now, however, I have some people in my corner: a GP and an endocrinologist. I feel hope again, which I haven’t felt in a long time. But there is still something missing: self-love.
I spent a lot of years waiting for my life to start. I said to myself “When I lose the weight, I’ll start dancing again. When I lose the weight, I’ll travel. When I lose the weight, I’ll do X and Y and Z.” What a waste.
I follow a lot of larger women on Instagram. I no longer have a “goal” weight or size and a lot of that has to do with these women, who are happy and beautiful and full of life, regardless of the number on the scale or on the tag in their shirt. But self-love still hasn’t come quickly. I am better than I was, and I am trying hard to limit the negative self-talk, but it’s still hard for me to look in the mirror and find beauty in the cellulite, the stretch marks and the rolls. But I’m trying.
What pisses me the hell off though, are companies telling me that I don’t deserve to be happy with myself at my current weight. I am sick to the back teeth of being bombarded with ads telling me that I should want to “look great” for a wedding or a high-school reunion or what have you. Why can’t I look great the way I am now? Why shouldn’t I love myself how I am now? I don’t, yet, but the truth of that is because I’ve been told my entire life that I am only valuable if I am skinny and beautiful.
People who criticize the self-love/body-positive movements really piss me off. “You’re glorifying obesity! You’re telling young girls it’s okay to be fat!” Yeah. We are. Nobody is saying “YOU MUST BE FAT” but it’s telling the women who are “fat” (and let’s be real here, when someone like Khloe Kardashian is called “fat” and talked about as if she weighs 700 lbs, “fat” is an objective word) that they CAN be happy with themselves as they are. That they do not have to hate themselves until they reach a certain weight or a certain size.
Do I want to lose weight? Sort of. I do want to become more fit, as I love to dance and to hike and I am just so out of shape right now that neither of those activities are enjoyable. And I won’t lie when I say that losing weight has lots of non-aesthetic advantages, like not being scared that a chair will collapse when you sit on it, or not having people yell things like “HEY FAT ASS!” at you out their car window. (Which happened, by the way, when I was 17. I was planting flowers in a garden with a co-worker in front of our office building, and a grown man felt it was appropriate to shout that at me as he drove by.)
But being a certain weight or looking a certain way is not my goal anymore. I love sports, I love swimming, I love skiing and being active and outdoors and the truth is that my fitness level is too low to enjoy any of those things, so I would love to be more active and to get there. If I lose weight along the way, which I probably will, then great, but I am working on the self-love thing, which means that I am trying to be happy with myself as I am right now, in this moment. I should exercise and eat right because I love my body and I want to nurture it, not because I hate it and I feel that it needs to be punished.
It’s a complete 180 from how I have felt about myself for almost my whole adult life and I won’t lie, there are times when I look in the mirror and think “Gross. I look disgusting.” But I am trying my hardest to banish those thoughts, to find beauty in my stretch marks or my belly. It’s a long journey, and it won’t be linear, but I will be damned if I let another company tell me that I shouldn’t be happy with who I am, no matter what I weigh.
It’s my body and I’ll love if it I want to and damn the torpedoes! (Or weight-loss industry, as it were.)