Every summer, after trading sweaters for swimsuits, many young people find themselves struggling with body image. Throughout middle and most of high school, I too felt insecure about my body.
Looking back, I understand where my negative view came from. From the time I started puberty, the opinions of family, friends and even strangers affected my self-image. I used to hear from female family members that being fat was their worst fear. Comments from peers about my body changed how I presented myself. I avoided attracting attention to myself. My existence became shaped by other people and their beliefs before I had the chance to sort out how I felt about myself.
My sophomore year of high school was a low point. I wasn’t confident in my body and was dealing with an undiagnosed migraine condition. By the time I was finally diagnosed, I had been leaving school one or two times a week with a headache so bad that I was nauseous and unable to see. Daily headaches and all the symptoms that came with them became my norm and worsened to the point where my condition was considered chronic. But surprisingly, I also took a big step forward in how I saw myself.
As I’ve learned to accept my condition, my body image has actually improved. Becoming more focused on feeling relief from my symptoms put my body image issues in perspective. More recently, I’ve started to appreciate my body more by focusing on what it can do and how it feels, rather than the things I visually don’t like about it. There’s now so much more meaning to existing in my body than just my appearance. I’ve become more mindful of the little things.
I no longer work out to look smaller. I lightly exercise and stretch to help maintain my health.
I no longer eat to change my body by losing weight. I eat to manage my condition and give me my best shot at being pain-free.
I no longer pick myself apart and find things to dislike. I now see myself as a whole person who is enough, just as I am.
I choose to surround myself with people who love themselves, love me and care more about the rich experiences that life has to offer than what they see in the mirror. And when I can’t do that, I put up boundaries with people whom I don’t want to discuss body image with. I do my best to hold onto my body-positive mentality when facing triggers or unsolicited opinions on what bodies “should” look like.
Learning to Love Myself
One day I hope to be secure enough in my image that hearing other people’s negative messages won’t bother me. I’m still learning. There are days when I struggle, but I’ve found that for me, this new mentality isn’t a choice. It’s something I have to tell myself in order to deal. This mindset is for anyone, chronic condition or not.
I wish more people would learn how to love themselves. When your body has the capacity to feel so much and bring you so much joy, why limit yourself? Take up space, feel everything and enjoy everything your body has to offer you.