My earliest memory of being uncomfortable in my body was in third grade. I was at a birthday party in a gymnasium and kids were sliding across the floor on those flat 4-wheeled scooters that sometimes made an appearance in gym class. I remember feeling too big for it. I was taller than most kids by that age and already a master of overthinking. What if I fell in an embarrassing way? How did the other girls make it look so graceful? I couldn’t do that. Clearly my bigger body wasn’t meant for this activity. I opted to watch from the sidelines instead.
This is the first of many times that I chose to miss out on a joyful experience due to fear of taking up extra space and being judged by others. It was also the first time that I assumed having fun was only reserved for a certain type of person. Specifically, a small, thin person.
Fast forward a few years, it was grade six in Catholic school and we all had to attend monthly mass. I dreaded these services not because of anything to do with religion, but because my thighs would flair out on the bench and there would be no desk to hide under. I’d sit perched on the balls of my feet to give that extra slimming inch of elevation. My friend and I would exchange wishes for a cleaver that we could use to hack off the sides of our legs, as if the entire congregation was staring at them in resounding disgust.
I can’t say it got better from there. I regularly read “health” magazines that preached about losing 20 pounds in 10 days, and attempted new diets with my mom. I tried numerous weight loss fads throughout high school… cayenne lemon water, the cabbage soup diet, fit teas that were really just laxatives, and even taking handfuls of real laxatives after an inevitable binge.
In my third year of University as the least athletic person around, I made a surprising discovery: a love for fitness. I went to my first boot camp and could barely do a single burpee, but I kept going back. I’d never played sports or kept up with regular exercise, so this was my first taste of those lovely feelings called endorphins. I was hooked.
Over the next couple of years, I built a community around this new fit me. I was feeling confident for the first time, had a close circle of friends, and thought I’d found my true calling. I was doing the fitness Instagram thing, and I was set to be a personal trainer and help other women feel great about themselves.
Here’s the part that gets interesting. I had made the dangerous assumption that my body composition changes were the main source of my happiness. Looking back on it, yes there was a certain confidence that came with being strong – but how much of it was about strength, versus external validation? Was this my purpose, or just my first time being a part of a community? I thought I’d found true belonging but it turned out to be a place I couldn’t show imperfection. And as good as I felt, many of my thoughts were from a place rooted in ego.
It was hard to not be consumed by my ego when the scales had tipped in my favour. There was a constant stream of external validation. Whether it was people congratulating me on social media, classmates, old flings, or close friends, the answer was clear: you look amazing, now.
Transformation photos would get floods of comments like, “girl – you look unreal! Damn! Amazing progress! So proud of you!” The number of likes on my photos went from 50 to 250. People were constantly pumping my tires about my accomplishment. After years of failed dieting and self-hate, I was finally WORTHY of admiration in this new body. I received DMs from people I didn’t even know telling me how inspiring I was.
The fact is, I was still insecure. My anxiety was at an all-time high. I still thought I was too big to be taken seriously as a trainer in the fitness industry. My own discomfort with my body never actually went away. I never developed true, inherent self-worth because I relied on a false sense of it found in the comment section. Any self-worth I had was attached to the way my body looked, opinions of others, and the game of comparison.
The thing is though, bodies change. I do not look like my ‘after’ photo today, and I used to think I wasn’t worthy because of it. But life happens! And when it does, those comments will not sustain you. Opinions of others will not carry you. No amount of ego stroking will feed your soul.
We get so hung up on our bodies, but they are simply the vehicle through which we get to experience life. Maybe we don’t need to strive to love our bodies, but simply stop letting our own and others’ judgments of them hold us back from an abundant life.
Love is not reserved for a certain body type. Each time that we lose out on an opportunity for joy due to discomfort with our appearance, we are choosing to remain trapped. We are being taken out of the present moment and into a place of fear and anxiety.
So please, whatever side of the spectrum you fall on: super fit or hates working out, confident or picking yourself apart – I ask that you just do a check-in with your values. See where your thoughts are rooted. Allow yourself to feel all the feels. If you workout because you think you need to be smaller to be loved, reflect on that. If you hate your body because you’re constantly comparing it to others, bring awareness to that. Catch yourself in these thoughts. Ask yourself if you are willing to let it hold you back from joy in this life. Are those values even your own? Let’s stop measuring ourselves on an imaginary spectrum. We are capable of so much more than weight loss.