"You just need to love yourself". I hated hearing these words from family and friends who were trying to help me overcome my low self-esteem and body shame. When I heard these words, I would say to myself, "Great! I must be missing the “I love myself” gene because I certainly can't figure out how to do it." I had bought into the idea that because of my larger size, I was not in the same league as smaller women. In other words, I was less than them in because I was more than them in size. For many years, I lived as if it were true. But after losing and gaining fifty or more pounds for the sixth or seventh time in an attempt to change myself, I realized I had to do something different. I was reminded of my high schools days and how they had impacted me. My best friend in high school and I were both considered “big” girls. People would say we had big bones. She and I were a size 16 but our experiences during those years were very different. I was ashamed of my size. Low self-esteem and body shame made it difficult for me to enjoy this time in my life. My girlfriend, on the other hand, did not give her size a second thought. She lived her life doing any and everything she wanted. She played sports, socialized like crazy, went to every party she was invited to, wore a bikini to pool parties with no cover-up, dressed in flattering clothes, and her hair and makeup were always perfect. She was confident, outgoing, and a ton of fun. She was popular with the boys and dated the best looking, most desirable guy in school. Other girls could not understand how a big girl managed to snag to the dreamiest guy in school. After all, they had better figures. I couldn't understand it either. It went against everything I was ever taught.
When I decided to get off the “changing myself” merry-go-round, I reflected on my friend and our different experiences. It was at that point I realized I had to find a different path to self-acceptance and self-love. Trying to change my size to meet cultural standards was clearly not working. I made the decision to live my life as if I was at my ideal weight and I stopped dieting. I told myself every day that my size was the perfect size and I needed to flaunt it. I had to tell myself this 1,000,000,000 times a day but whenever the negative messages crept into my head, I stopped them and reminded myself that I was the perfect size. One of the first things I did after making this decision was to get a makeover. I loved how makeup made you look but I rarely wore it because I thought it was useless to decorate a “fat body”. I certainly did not want to bring more attention to it. After getting the makeover, I was amazed at how I looked. I remember walking around that day with my head held a little higher. I received so many compliments and people asking me what was different about me because I was glowing. The feedback helped my self-esteem and gave confidence to stay on this new path I was on. The next thing I did was sign up for a clothing subscription for plus-size women. For most of my life, I wore frumpy clothes that hid my body. I wore dresses mostly because they hid my thick thighs and when I did wear pants, my tops had to be big enough to cover my butt. Joining the clothing subscription was the second best decision I made. I was able to choose many different styles of clothing, try them on in the privacy of my own home, and figure out which items of clothing looked best on me. I picked pieces that I would never had tried on in the stores and realized many of them looked great on me. Every morning I started dressing in a flattering outfit and applied makeup. I told myself I was the perfect size and I needed to flaunt it. And something amazing happened. I slowly started to see my true self and to see that I was beautiful. But I wasn’t beautiful because of the clothes and makeup. I was beautiful because I was learning to love myself. And I thought maybe I had that “love yourself” gene after all. As I continued on this self-love and acceptance journey, people started to respond to me in a new way. They said I looked different. That I looked happy and full of energy. Strangers would even smile and compliment me. The old me would have said, “Wait. I’m a size 20. You think a size 20 woman can be beautiful”. But the new me smile back and said thank you.
Learning to love yourself is not nearly as easy as people like to think. If you are struggling with loving yourself, you are completely normal. You have heard many negative messages about your size and it will take time to change your way of thinking. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like I tell my son when he is trying to learn something new, your brain has to process new things many times before it starts to believe it. But once you get it, the sky is the limit. It is not your outer appearance that makes you beautiful. Your beauty comes from within you. It comes from loving who you are. It comes from believing you are worthy of all the wonderful things life has to offer. I comes from living a life you absolutely love and never allowing yourself to think for one second that you can’t be who you are because of your size. Mostly importantly, know that when you believe you are beautiful, the world believes it to. We think if we can get the world to believe we are loveable, we can then love ourselves. But that is completely backwards from how it really is. When you believe you are lovable and beautiful, the rest of the world believes it to. Trust me. I know.