All throughout high school, I was a solid size 0 or 2 thanks to being a competitive dancer since the age of 11, and yet, my very best friends in the world teased me about being fat. Every bite of food I took and every cookie I ate got a comment. I was also in a very negative and emotionally controlling relationship with my first boyfriend. I never realized what a toll this took on me and my own body image, or how utterly ridiculous it was, until I was in college looking back at old pictures of myself.
In addition to the teasing of my friends and the manipulation from my boyfriend, I had a mom who was very body conscious. She had suffered from anorexia in college and was so determined to keep me from going down the same path that it almost had the opposite effect. I, thankfully, have never suffered from an eating disorder, but I have always been highly aware of my body, its shape—and its flaws, because growing up, my mom put the same kind of focus on her body.
Fast forward to college, and I was finally in a really good place with myself. I had removed some toxic relationships from my life, gained new and truly supportive friends, was still dancing (on the collegiate level), and felt good in my own skin for the first time in a long time. It was during that time that I met my husband through mutual friends. We got married ten days after I graduated with my degree, and two years later we started a family.
Enter a rapidly changing body, and lingering self-esteem and body image issues resurfaced that I thought I had put to rest long ago. For the most part, I really did enjoy my pregnancy and my pregnant body. Some days were a struggle, as the stretch marks appeared and cellulite got more prominent, but over-all? I embraced it. Then the postpartum period happened. I cried and cried as I looked at my deflated, flabby stomach. I was deeply mourning my old body that I had unknowingly taken for granted. I just knew I would never look normal again. I just knew I was always going to hate the way I looked from now on. I was panicked. I was also an exhausted new mother going through a veritable hormone hurricane, and things actually did get better.
As I started to lose some of the baby weight and my stomach began to look more like a tummy—and less like a used balloon—I regained some confidence. But the questions were still there, lingering just beneath the surface. Was I still attractive to my husband? Was I ever going to feel like my old self? Was I ever going to be able to look in the mirror and not cry? More importantly, was I ever going to realize that I am more than my body and my body does not define me?
These body image issues and questions have caused me to do some long and hard soul searching. I realized that even though my body is not in the same shape it was before I had my daughter, it is an amazing thing that brought a life into this world—and that is nothing to take lightly. I realized that my daughter is going to be bombarded with stereotypes and negative images and ideas about herself and her body as she grows up. I want her to be able to look to me as an example of a strong, confident woman. I want to be that safe place that she can come to for comfort and strength. I cannot do those things while I am negative about my own self and body. While I’m definitely not to the point of having a completely positive body image or all of my old self esteem back, its something I’m actively working on—both for my daughter’s sake as well as my own.