As I read through the various stories included in this piece, I was struck with how closely I relate to one woman's words: "If I can be brutally honest, there isn't just 'one time' where I felt negatively about my body. There are always times." It's so true. We live and breathe through issues with our form every single day. We are human beings. And while she and I have suffered from eating disorders, those negative feelings don't evade those who haven't. So much emphasis, from birth on, is put on our body parts—their proportions, the length of our limbs, and the curve of our hips. Then it's the way our skin puckers, midsection fills out, or whether or not our boobs sit upright. I even recorded all my thoughts one day last year only to realize that even on a day I'd classify as "positive," I'm thoughtlessly negative about my body. The irony, though, is I feel better than ever. I have worked through issues with my weight and my body in a way that is both freeing and remarkable. So the takeaway is that love for your body doesn't mean you're never going to have an off day. In fact, quite the opposite. To be realistic and accepting of your form is to allow for negative thoughts to pass through and move forward. Self-awareness doesn't exist without balance, the negatives and the positives. Self-love doesn't either.
Here's the thing: Body-positive rhetoric can be exclusionary (and frankly, unrealistic) if you don't feel 100% about your body all of the time, and I'm working on highlighting that notion more each day. So I collected a series of two stories from each of the below women. First, a time they felt really amazing in their bodies. Then, along with that, each woman shared moments when they felt not so good. Keep reading for their poignant words.
Self-awareness doesn't exist without balance, the negatives and the positives. Self-love doesn't either.
"If I can be brutally honest, there isn't just 'one time' where I felt negatively about my body. There are always times. But those moments don't stick out for me. Maybe because we're human and we self-loathe too much, or maybe because it's not important enough for me to focus on. At least not as important as good times. I try to not be so hard on myself when I'm being hard on myself—does that make sense?
"Sometimes you just have a really shitty day, and nothing looks right. Your stomach isn't flat enough; your butt is too big; your skin is broken out. We are going to feel negative about it. That's just the reality. What we can do about it is to not torture ourselves about trying to feel better, because that moment will come and go. In that moment, when I'm feeling negative about the way I look, I just dress in the most comfortable way. So if I'm not going to feel good about looking 'good,' I may as well feel good about feeling good. We don't have to love what we see every second of every day. It's just not realistic. Do something you can be physically proud of—go for a jog, go dancing, paint something, play with a child, a dog. Think of all the ways we can assign value to ourselves above and beyond how we feel about our bodies. Whatever it is, just do it. You owe at least that to yourself."
"Over the past seven years, I've developed an addiction, appreciation, love, and craving for endurance racing. I had embarked on triathlons seven years prior when at Nars Cosmetics with the company's annual fundraising initiative. I was part of the inaugural team, and I signed up for each subsequent race without question the following two years. Prior to the triathlon, I had never even run a 5K or swam properly (swimming at the beach is quite different than swimming 1600 meters in open water while being kicked and splashed by 40 competitive girls in your age group). There I was, next to our then-CEO in a wetsuit or running next to our marketing VP on a six-mile jaunt through Central Park. No façade, no smoke and mirrors. A true test of self and body.
"I got the bug, and over the next seven years would start to unfold a part of me I never knew existed. Flash-forward to today. Now is the time I feel the best about my body. I recently made some major life changes—I left my job in an industry where I worked for 10 years to move to Washington, D.C., where my fiancé lives so that I can start a new life here. Over the past four months, I've completed two half-marathons (setting personal records for myself on both courses) and two Olympic distance triathlons. It was the most intense training season I'd ever put myself through. Add to that a very heavy load of stress from moving, schlepping between two cities, and planning a wedding.
"But training and running are what set my life into balance. I am so grateful every day for the legs that allow me to run. I wake up and thank my heart for working so incredibly hard to get me through 200-meter repeats at chest-pounding paces. I apologize to my glutes for those treacherous (but effective) Tuesday workouts at Barry's Bootcamp (with my favorite trainer, Matt Nolan, who pushes me to levels I never thought possible). I am breaking boundaries because my body is allowing me to.
"When I was in college I suffered from bulimia. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of that girl, the girl who was forcing herself in the ugliest of places to harm her body just for a little bit of control. She hated what she saw or hated some uncontrollable life circumstances. And now, a complete 180. I am cooking the prettiest of dishes for myself. I love to eat. I am actually trying to eat more because I know what my body needs for fuel. The very things I detested—food, my body—are now the very essence of my being. I fuel so that my body can perform. I just started training for the NYC marathon. It will be my second marathon, with a pretty aggressive time goal. The fact that I can even dream up that scenario is thanks to the reality and possibility my body has shown me. There's nothing more amazing to feel than that."
"I thought I would start on the negative so that I can end on a happy note. Call me a romantic, but I love a happy ending.
"I am 5'11'', so growing up, I always towered over all of my classmates. Males and females. And it seemed to me that all of my close friends throughout those awkward and formative years were tiny little dolls. At least, that's how my impressionable young mind interpreted it. They were always a size extra-small, tiny little hips, tiny feet—and then they would complain about their size, calling themselves fat. Little did they know, their complaints on their bodies made me more and more insecure.
"Also, being so tall and having larger breasts, that somehow gave people license to comment on my body. 'Wow, you have huge boobs!' 'Did you know that your boobs are large?' 'How do fit in that dress with those things?' 'You're a big gal, aren't you?' These are comments by strangers. No joke. I don't think people realize how detrimental and incendiary their comments are on young women trying to navigate their changing bodies during such a tumultuous time in their lives. Feeling like my body was up for public scrutiny made me feel vulnerable, indistinct, and like I couldn't feel confident about myself. Like having a good relationship with my body, big breasts and all, was deviant."
"Move forward a few years. In the past year or two, I have made it my mission to love myself, just as I am. I have learned to not care about the opinions of others. To live my life with authenticity and passion. To love my body and all that it does for me. To love the skin I'm in. And let me tell you, I feel liberated. That has been my life's theme for the past two years. Don't let the bondage of hearsay and self-doubt drag me down toward the dark depths of my mind. Now, I can rejoice in my figure, in my curves, and yes! I have hips! I have breasts! My feet are big. But you know what? I started to feel sexy. And that is a term I never would have associated with myself. Confidence leads to feeling adequate within myself and being proud of my body and showing it off if I want to. I'm so proud to say that I embrace my body as a 22-year-old woman, and I strive to show other women that they are beautiful. To not listen to the BS other people try to convince them is true and remind them that it is liberating to love themselves."
"We all have down days where we crave foods that are not optimal for us. I notice when I don’t sleep well or when I have exams, I eat lots of sweets. I can feel my body gets tired quicker. I feel lethargic. What I learned is that what we put in our body definitely plays a major role in how we feel. And truly, our body is a temple and we should take care of it. Body sizes don’t matter as long as you are taking care of yourself."
"I usually work out three to four times a week, mostly lifting weights. I feel when I keep up with my workouts and take care of my food intake as well, I feel great. After a workout, I feel the best [in my body]. Sometimes I’m tired, but when I see the results, it’s exhilarating."
"Body sizes don’t matter as long as you are taking care of yourself."
"She said it flippantly. Nonchalantly. An afterthought really. 'Well I have to wear a long skirt or pants because, you know, I hate my thighs.' The casual 'you know' struck me less as a figure of speech and more of a mathematical certainty. To her, it was an assumption that I would know this. Of course, I, as her sister, must know that she hates her thighs. I mean, how could I not know?
"But I didn't know. And the words she spoke on this particular day, during this particular morning Facetime session, while I helped her decide on a particular outfit to wear to a job interview, resonated in me so deeply that I had to stifle an onslaught of emotion and tears. Even though I'm sure I've heard her say it before. Hell, I know I've said it before. As the words reverberated in my ears, I was actually sure I've heard dozens of women say this before. But on this day, for a reason I can't be entirely sure of, they struck me anew.
"I didn't weep, of course. I swallowed my reaction and I continued feeding strawberries to my 9-month-old daughter. I continued our chat. I considered her outfit options carefully, ultimately deciding on a striking blue blazer that did, in fact, help her get the job.
"But later that night, as I lie in bed, the conversation played over and over in my head: 'I hate my thighs.' And I allowed myself to feel the overwhelming rush of grief. At what point did I stop seeing my perfectly functional and beautiful thighs as anything other than the gift that they are? How did my sister, and so many others like her, fall into the same trap? When did it become commonplace to hold onto hate trapped in the crevices of our human bodies? I had no answers, and finally, I wept.
"Not for my sister. Not for the millions of women who have uttered the very same sentiment. Not for myself, who has admittedly cast hate upon nearly every single body part I possess. But finally, I cried for the thighs.
"The thighs of my mother that were grasped tightly by the doctor and my father as I entered this world. The chunky thighs of my childhood that were tickled and bitten playfully by my parents until the bones grew long enough and I took my first step. Those timid baby thighs that supported me upright as I took that step, wobbly, exhilarated, and terrified. They held my hips and whispered, 'I've got you.'
"The thighs of every woman who ever ran a marathon, pushing them forward for 26.2 miles, burning, screaming, roaring with fiery heat and determination. I cried for the thighs of all the women I've danced with throughout my 35 years of this life, the gyrating, sweating, shivering thighs that kept going until the very last song. I cried for the skiing and snowboarding and skating thighs aching down the steep mountain slope or gliding on the thick ice so their owner could experience one more moment of joy.
"The criticized thighs. The dimply, fleshy, pimply, discolored thighs. Though to them, there is only one way to be. I imagined what it meant to be a thigh. To support a human being from the very first days of life. To remain with this human and allow her to step, to dance, to make love with reckless abandon. To do all of this and to be told, in the end, 'I hate you.' 'I hate you, thighs.' And to sigh and do it all again tomorrow."
"I went down the rabbit hole into the life of a thigh, and on the other end, I saw, for the first time, how very worthy they are. No more or less worthy than any other body part, but worthy all the same. Worthy of boundless gratitude. Worthy of a national holiday. Worthy of sonnets, of acoustic ballads sung out around campfires, of streets named after them, of whimsical sighs after their owners have passed on to the other side, 'Oh, remember Hilda's thighs? Damn, the best thighs never stay long enough.' Worthy of the kind of love that takes your breath away, that strikes you off guard as you ride your bicycle on a Sunday afternoon and you breathe into the moment. 'Oh, there you are, thighs. Still plugging away? Goddammit, I love you.'
"I realized in that moment that in their absence, the entirety of my life would be spent praying for their return. Yet until that day, I had yet to even say thank you. Perspective, like the mocking mistress that she is, rained upon me unexpectedly as she will so often do. And she stroked my face, and she kissed my eyelids as I curled my own two thighs under my sleeping daughter. 'Who would you be without your thighs?' she whispered. 'Who would carry you then?'"
"I dealt with sports bulimia and anorexia for quite a few years. As cliché as it sounds, that is what propelled my passion to become a counselor and help change the lives of other female athletes. I've felt negatively about my body for months at a time, years, and it resulted in a series of injuries, heavy legs, constant fatigue, period loss, irritability, and unhappiness. These times of body dysmorphia and under-fueling were due to anxiety and an unhappiness that came from a lack of gratitude and shitty energy. I am a perfectionist with a type-A personality and got too caught up in counting calories, focusing on numbers that didn't mean anything (i.e. the number on the scale), and keeping certain foods 'off limits.' It wasn't until I reminded myself that I must fuel, nourish, and cultivate endless gratitude for the fact that I have legs that can run, arms that can hug the people I love, feet that carry me for 14-mile-long runs, hands that can make homemade pasta with my mom, eyes that can see people and places I love, and so on."
"A time I felt amazing in my body… I cannot pinpoint one time, but it's when I run a personal best, especially one when I felt effortless and in the 'flow' that we, as runners, experience. It's when you don't feel pain and fatigue, but rather feel strong and focused. My most successful races and running seasons have been when I have nothing but sheer gratitude and appreciation for my body and what it does every day—miles upon miles in the blistering sun and freezing temperatures, my legs move, my heart pumps. I focus on fueling as an athlete to be strong and powerful, instead of focusing on numbers to attain an image that is unrealistic. My mantra is 'girl on fire,' I have it tattooed on my foot, and I remind myself that in order to be this, she needs to be fueled, nourished, powerful, energized, and grateful. Running a personal record is my body's way of telling me, 'You are treating yourself right. Keep it up.' I honor my hunger in ways I'd honor anything in my life that I am grateful for—relationships, my family, my teammates, my training—even if that means getting up at midnight to eat spoonfuls of peanut butter because that is what I'm craving (and clearly what my body needs). I think that's actually my secret for getting faster."