Growing into the Body of a Venus

For most people, learning is thought of as sitting in a classroom and being taught hard facts. However, as human beings with complex minds we must recognize that we are learning every moment of our lives. And one thing we most definitely do not get to learn in a classroom is how to accept ourselves.

From a young age, I was told I was overweight. Of course, by the time this was said to me by a doctor, I was already well aware of this, as the other kids around me made sure I knew. Starting from kindergarten, I can recall at least one moment each year where I was ostracized and hurt because of my weight.  Whether I was told I was “too heavy to be pushed on the swing” or told, “Girls should never weigh more than boys,” I was constantly reminded of my weight. There are not any other voices in my head so clear as the ones of those who commented on my "unappealing" appearance.

If there was one thing I really hated, it was sitting around and just wallowing in sadness over what the kids were saying. I put so much effort into making sure I was practicing healthy habits such as eating correctly and getting exercise, starting at the young age of seven. The weight remained for years. And the more I grew, the more I was exposed to the unrealistic expectations of women displayed in the media. I could look at as many fashion magazines I want for however many years, and know that one thing that’s always in style, is a size two. In my growingly self-conscious mind, I thought maybe more drastic measures had to be taken. The summer going into my freshman year of high school, I learned that skipping meals and smaller portions made the pounds shed more quickly than any other method of losing weight than I had ever tried.

The lovely feeling of losing pound after pound initially disguised the underlying problem I had carried this entire time. I could not accept my body as it was. I didn’t know that healthy did not have to mean skinny. My body was larger and that was okay. It was an awfully strange feeling getting what I had wanted for as long as I could remember and yet not feeling fulfilled.

I cannot say that there was a single moment where I had an epiphany of some sort that made me recognize that my harming ways had to end; rather it was a gradual realization that I deserve to be happy and proud of who I am. As I threw my heart and mind into activities I loved such as band and spending time with friends, my acceptance for myself grew. I found myself becoming interested and invested in feminism, as celebrating the beauty of women all over the world, no matter our different looks, made it so much easier to find beauty in myself.

Through all this, I gradually gained the respect for myself I deserved in my life. I thought what I should learn in life was how to lose weight so I could please others. However, that was not what life had in mind for me. I needed to learn self-acceptance. By learning what it is to truly love myself, I have become a more compassionate person towards others as well as become a more encouraging friend. By putting those immature, negative thoughts aside, I have been able to grow, even in a culture of dieting and body shaming. I feel as if I get stronger and stronger everyday through self-admiration. For the amount of calories I consume in a day does not define me. I am not more beautiful when there is less of me.

Note from the Author: This essay was originally written at the beginning of my senior year of high school. When I look back on this piece, I can’t help but to smile, and be proud of myself- but I also have to laugh for making body acceptance seem like something you can just turn on and off. “Hey I don’t want to hate myself anymore, so how about I just not!” The 17 year old me who wrote this had the right idea, but her journey to self-compassion was wildly incomplete. Whether I look back at pictures of myself when I was 14 or 18, my reaction is always “Holy shit- why did I always think I looked fat.” And so, here are some things I wish I could tell that calorie counting, roll-pinching girl.

  1. Stop looking for “thinspiration.” Yes, many thin models out there are beautiful! But they have different metabolisms, bone structures, and genes than you, and you will never change that. You need to love your body because it’s yours- not because you’ve made it look like someone else’s.

  2. Eat. Eat the foods you love. Eat the foods you’ve never tried. Eat foods with friends and family. It is not shameful to nourish your body.

  3. Your jeans are starting to not fit because you’re getting something called hips- and it’s hot.

  4. There are so many amazing workouts to experience that don’t involve wanting to die on a treadmill. Explore things you enjoy doing even if they don’t result in the highest amount of calories being burned. Exercise should be a rewarding and enjoyable activity.

  5. Never stop rocking crop tops. They’re iconic and you are amazing for showing other Venuses -toned tummy or not- anyone can look like a goddess in one.