So I’m going to be completely honest… for most of my life, body positivity wasn’t really on my radar. I knew it existed, but I didn’t give it much thought. I never judged others because of what they looked like and instead cared more about what they were like as a person. But my self-talk was another story… Although I was blessed with a body type that was at least close to matching the industry standard idea of “beauty” (I’m tall, thin, have long skinny legs, a flat stomach…), I would always find things that I did not like about myself superficially. I did feel good about working hard at my fitness and nutrition (most of the time), I took pride in the way my body looked (except for little details I would always work on and for a period of time my freshman year of college); but my body type was mostly because of my genetics. But I was so insecure about things like my skin, acne, facial structure, my height, my hair, my giant hands…. I can literally go on and on about all the other things I really didn’t like about myself that didn’t match what was “pretty”. But outer appearance was just one of so many areas that I was overly self-critical about. I have always been naturally accepting of others, but a perfectionist with myself. So admittedly, I never really paid too much attention to body positivity or the ridiculous standard that fashion, advertising, and society set for girls and women to look exactly ONE type of way. That’s not to say that I didn’t know that it was important; it’s just that it never really affected me that much. I never realized how much of a HUGE impact society’s strict definition of “pretty” could have on a person. That is… until I got Ulcerative Colitis, needed invasive surgery, and realized that my body would never be the same again.
I recently went back and re-read the journal entry that I wrote the day after I was told that I would need surgery or I would die. I read through what I was scared of and why it was so completely terrifying to accept that I needed the operation. Although there were many scary parts, a huge (deep down and completely raw and honest) concern of mine was what my body would look like and what people would think of me because of it. It is ridiculous because I would never think those things about other people; but for some reason I thought them about myself. I realize now how completely shallow some of those thoughts were; but I’m here to be honest with you guys, even when I’m not necessarily proud of it. Looking back, I feel so bad for that girl writing that journal entry – that she literally spent almost half of the writing talking about how much she would not be able to feel “pretty” anymore and all of the things that she was afraid people would think about her, just based on what she looked like. I am so sad that I was so wrapped up in society’s message to women – that their worth is somehow hinged upon what they look like. Here I was, needing surgery to save my life within the next few days, and one of my deepest fears was if I could still be “pretty” afterwards.
The thought of putting this journal entry out there is terrifying and one of the scariest things I have ever done. But I think that it is the best way to show how much I have grown from my experience in the past years, and I’m ready to share because I know I’m not the only one who has struggled to feel attractive. You can see how completely absorbed I was by the (absolutely ridiculous) idea that my worth was somehow based on what my body looks like. Here’s what I wrote on August 27, 2014 – two days before my first surgery. (Full disclosure: I have taken some chunks out for length)
“Yesterday was pretty hard for me. Yesterday, I came to terms with the fact that I will probably need surgery. It was very hard to admit to myself. For so long, I have been trying to stay positive and convince myself that the meds were working and that I was GOING to get into remission. I was so in denial about the fact that I could not be improving enough that I refused to even really think about surgery as an option…. I wasn’t really getting any better anymore…. I cried a lot because it’s so frustrating and scary. So scary to admit to yourself that you’re probably going to need surgery which will change your life. It’s scary because I have always (besides freshman year) been very proud of my body. … With a bag and big scars… it will be so hard to feel pretty. And then you add that to the fact that I’ve lost so much weight…. I already always think people are judging me about the way I look or whatever. I’m afraid people will judge me….I am afraid people will think I want to be this thin. And then the bag is another thing that I’m sure people will stare because they don’t understand it and will think it’s not attractive. And then after, when I have scars, those aren’t feminine either…”
How ridiculous it is that I was going to die without surgery, but was worried that if I was too skinny, had scars, or had a colostomy bag, that my post-surgery self would somehow be less valuable as a human being. What a waste of precious time and emotional energy! NONE of those things mean that a person is any less beautiful. And for the record, everyone I have talked to has either said that my scars and bag (when I had it) are not a big deal as long as I wear them with confidence, or said that they actually make me MORE beautiful because it means that I have a story and is a sign of strength.
THAT is why I have learned that body positivity is so important for EVERYONE to hear and understand. There needs to be a greater appreciation of what true beauty is, as well as a greater representation of it so people don’t think that there is only one “look” that constitutes “pretty”. To me, it’s not even “beauty is more than what you look like on the outside”… Instead it’s “beauty has NOTHING to do with how you look on the outside.” Yes, you can radiate beauty and you can BE beauty for the world to see. But that’s not at all dependent on what your body type is, what your hair looks like, what color your skin is, if you have acne or not, if you are covered in scars or stretch marks, if you have all of your limbs or not, what you weigh, if you have wrinkles, or what clothes you wear. To me, beauty is health, self-love, and the truth of the human experience. You don’t have to have a perfect bill of health to be beautiful. You have to be real and true to yourself. Beauty is about respecting yourself and others, caring about the world, and having a spirit of love in general. If that means you want to be a body builder and work to sculpt every muscle as close to “perfectly” as you can, and that makes you happy, that’s fantastic. If you have IBD and couldn’t leave the bathroom today but you tried your best, you’re still beautiful. If you love fashion, great! But if you have worn the same pair of baggy pants for 15 years because they’re comfortable and you can move freely in them and that’s important to you, that’s great too. Being true to yourself and accepting that everyone is unique is what’s beautiful. Trying your best is beautiful. Embracing yourself – the good and the bad, your talents and struggles… that’s beautiful.
Since my surgery, I have grown so much in this area. You are not your body. Your body is simply a VESSLE for YOU. It’s here to serve you and it carries you around and helps you do life. That’s it. HEALTH is so much more important than what you look like. It’s doing the best with what you’ve been given and being on a constant journey to build yourself physically and mentally. It’s all about finding YOUR balance and what you value in yourself, and understanding that other people’s values and balance will be different than yours – and respecting that. For me, working out and eating right makes me feel good – body, mind, and soul; so I try to do it consistently. But I also love eating delicious meals and desserts and having days that I don’t leave the couch. So I feel good about splurging sometimes. But I do not let what my body looks like define me anymore. I’m me. And I am beautiful because I’m me. Period.
As I have said before, I created this blog to connect with people, to talk about real issues in life, to be honest with my readers, and to hopefully inspire some people along the way to live their best lives. Body issues, confidence, self-love, and mental health are not the easiest things to talk about. But I have learned that we all struggle sometimes. Everyone has their own story – whether we see it or not. Of course I still have days when I feel ugly and don’t want to be seen by another human. But I work on it and I hope that by telling this story, others will realize that they are beautiful and feel confident to live their lives proudly today. The pursuit of body positivity and confidence is a very individual and personal journey. But by sharing our experiences, spreading the message of body positivity, loving and supporting each other, I believe that it will be easier for everyone to love and accept themselves.
I am so grateful to every one of you. I would love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to reach out to me by following me on Instagram and Facebook, and/or by subscribing to this blog. Hearing from people who connect with my stories, struggles, travels, or adventures has been completely amazing to me… it helps to know that I’m not (completely) crazy… 🙂