The other weekend (pictured above yay!) was a big day for me. I ran a race. It went ok. But this has nothing to do with my race or my time...or even with running in general. It has to do with that little, teeny, tiny scrap of clothing on my upper torso. Can you see it?
That's right. I wore a crop top for the first time out in public. And guess what? Buildings caught fire, children cried out for their mothers, and sinkholes opened up in the street.
But before I tell you what really happened, none of which involved burning buildings or sinkholes, but maybe a few crying children, but instead something much more magical, let me give you some context on this whole thing and why it's such a big deal.
Why I Hated My Body
I won't dig too far into my past because if you follow this blog (all three posts of it) you've already heard my woes of my teenage years, but I'll just say it's been rough. My chunky little belly and my short stature and my broad shoulders left a lot to be made fun of and a lot for me to dislike. But yes, as a teenager is where my issues began...shocker.
I have never loved my body. That is the complete truth. As empowering as I want to be to other people and tell you all to go love yourselves, I have never loved my body. I remember standing in front of my mirror for hours as a teenager, sucking in my gut, pulling my skin around to look thin. I remember doing crunches on the floor of my room before bed thinking that if I could just get some muscle going on I'll finally be toned. I remember rubbing Jergen's firming lotion on my stomach in hopes that it would magically give me what I wanted. I wanted thin arms and a flat tummy. The kicker is that I'm 5'1'' with broad shoulders and big bones, so in reality, the thin, lanky body I always wanted I could never have. I didn't realize this, and that's is when the issue progresses.
Years go by and I discover running when I'm in college. Absolutely revolutionary. I'm in love. I feel better. I look better. But I still didn't have that body I want. I'm averaging running 35-40 miles a week, lifting weights 3-4 times a week, counting calories, logging my food. I'll tell you right now that honestly...I do not remember how I looked. I just know I wasn't happy with how I looked. I think back to that time and I remember that I still hated my body. I remember that my stomach and arms weren't good enough. I remember looking at my legs in a window one day, smiling at how thin they had gotten, but still hated myself from the waist up. I remember walking out of my doctor's office crying because I weighed more than I ever had but I was killing myself at the gym everyday and eating nothing. I remember how one day I'd already run 8 miles by 10 am, but had only eaten an apple and a banana, and was about to go run 3 more miles for the day. And that was ok with me. For all I know, I looked better than I do now. But I bet you I could go back to pictures of that time period and still pick out flaws. I remember so clearly that even though I was in tremendous shape, it just wasn't good enough for me at the time.
When I Started to...Not Hate My Body?
As I said, this has been a rough journey. I could never see what I had in my body back in college. The years of ridicule as a teenager and that never satisfied longing to be thin never allowed me to look at myself and love the fit, athletic body I was blessed with. I could never see what I had, only what I didn't. And it scared me to come to terms with that.
Now, let's be real. This period of my life was all about control. Because I felt like I was in control I was under the impression that I was thriving. I was controlling how much I ate, how much I worked out, etc. I felt like I was thriving, but looking back...it was stifling. I didn't like going out to eat with my family or friends. I gave up social outings because it didn't work with my multiple per day gym schedules. I'd wake up in the middle of the night anxious because I'd eaten Domino's. (Yup, that happened) Looking back, it was awful. Pizza is not awful. What I was doing to myself was.
At some point, I slowly started getting away from it all. I suffered from a few bouts of burnout with my running which suddenly allowed me to start letting go. It was freeing, it was fun, and it was a lot less stressful to be casual about my running and eating than to be excessive with it. You have to understand, for me it's either all or nothing. I've never really seen a point in dedicating myself to something if I'm not going to go all in, 100%. I get intense and passionate. So, as with everything in my life, I went all in with this, but it was too much, and it was a process for me to find balance and moderation in my running and my eating.
But I can't begin to tell you how much happier I am now not counting calories on everything I eat or trying to work them off in the gym. Because of this time period in my life, I was able to learn how to eat healthy, which I carry out in my daily life. But I rarely count calories, or at least not to the extent in which I was doing. If I want a treat, I have a treat. If I want 5 treats I have 5. If I want 10 treats...I'll cut myself off at 5 because let's be real I will actually throw up if I eat 10 treats. Letting go of calories and obsessive workouts and focusing on healthy habits instead has been freeing as hell. I know how to eat healthy, and I really enjoy it, but my habits now come without the heavy weight of having to count calories and burn them off at the gym.
Do I still long for nice arms and a ripped stomach? Yes. My body is not what I want it to be. It may never get there. But I've come to terms with the fact that I have a naturally floppy tum tum and a toned tummy isn't going to come as easy for me as it might for the next person. I'm going to have to work hard at it. I've come to terms with the fact that when I gain weight it goes to my arms and upper torso. I've come to terms with the fact that I'm athletically built. I've come to terms with myself and what I've been given, and it's pretty darn great. (Although I'm still rooting for a day when flat butts, broad shoulders, thin lips, and athletic builds are what's trending but hey a girl can dream.)
When I Realized That I Love Myself
Okay, so we trudged along and got the "Woe is me" part out of the way. We get it, I had issues that I needed to sort out, and I did. But that was in the past. Let's get back to what I'm really trying to get at; self acceptance and self love. For me, accepting myself and loving my body was something that I thought was a long way off. Like I said, my body is not how I want it to look. I still pick at my tummy in the mirror and twist my body into different contortions to make myself looks the way I want. I thought that my right of passage of self love wasn't here just yet. It wasn't my time. But actually...it was.
The day before my race I saw a fellow running teammate (subtle but not subtle shout-out to Marissa WOOP) going through the same debate I was in on whether or not to wear our 3/4 crop top out for a run. It was hot that weekend, really hot, and it seemed like the right choice. Seeing someone else going through this same struggle when she clearly had nothing to be concerned about made me ask myself "What am I so worried about? What's really the worst that could happen?" Well...as previously stated obviously the burning buildings and the crying babies and the inevitable sinkholes, yadda yadda yadda. But another, more important thought popped into my head as well. Who cares? Maybe it's growing up...but I just didn't give a crap. And because of that, this little, irrelevant 5k turned into one of the most life changing races I've had to date.
So...I did it. I ran in a crop top. I let my belly breathe. My white, floppy little tum tum was RIGHT THERE, out in the wide open, for everyone to see. And the world did not end. Nobody said anything. I didn't get any weird side glances (or none that I saw but I'm a pretty oblivious person in general so...). I felt good, empowered. I had the confidence to wear a crop top to a race...and I LIVED.
I don't know what really transpired in my mind that day, but after I got past the first awkward moment of taking off my jacket and exposing my belly to the world, there was really nothing left to fear. I'd already done one of the most terrifying things (in my mind) that there was to do in this life, and there was nothing else to lose. It. Was. Awesome. This was my body. It wasn't perfect, and it sure wasn't the body I've always wanted, but it was mine. And in that moment is when that all finally clicked. There's no shame in me working for the body I want, but there's also no shame in loving what I have in front of me right now, and for the first time in my life, I really, truly did.
All the Gains
I didn't realize this until it happened, but some amazing, positive things are gained from truly loving yourself, and you don't even realize it until after you start embracing self love. Some of these revolutionary things include: confidence BOOM, happiness BOOM, and loving others BOOOOM. (I say boom to add emphasis because these are so important in life DUH)
I know we've all heard the saying "Confidence is key", and it can be so easy to feel the complete opposite of confident in most things we do. I know I've spent most of my life going into things with a very timid manner, and becoming instantly intimidated by others. But here's the thing, and you don't realize it until after the fact, but when you start loving yourself this huge wave of confidence comes rushing in and you feel powerful. Like you can take on the world. You don't really care what other people thing anymore, but instead you're more focused on you and your own self assurance and success. You guys, I could go into a packed restaurant right now and eat dinner by myself with confidence and not even care what other people thought. Try to get me to do that a year ago and...well I'd squirm and run away from you because just the thought of doing that would've made me incredibly uncomfortable.
Right behind confidence is when happiness comes strolling along. All of the worries of "What does that person think of me?" and the unsureness in uncomfortable situations drifts away. Since you're sure of yourself and confident, you're not anxious or stressed about what other people are thinking, and you're just...happy. In loving your body, you find a new gratefulness for what you've been given, and the only way to achieve happiness is through gratitude. You're assured in yourself, grateful for the body you're in, and you are happy.
But probably the best thing you gain from learning to love yourself is that you learn to love others in return, and that's my favorite part of this process. Sometimes you won't even realize it's happening. Your relationships with your friends, partners, and even complete strangers will improve exponentially. When you're confident in yourself, you not longer have to stress over YOU and can instead start putting your energy toward the people around you. And this energy will be good. You will appreciate people more. Because you're happier, you'll implement more positive energy in their lives. You can finally see the good in yourself, and are then more inclined to see the goodness of other around you, even if they can't yet. It's a win-win all around.
Go Love Yourself
Justin Bieber isn't crazy (okay a little bit, but stay with me here). He knows what he's talking about when he says to go love yourself. (Even though he was saying it in sort of a derogatory way......like I said stay with me) Love yourself. One of the greatest things that can happen to you in life is learning self acceptance and self love. It's liberating. You break up with those negative voices that were holding you back from the things you really want to do, throw their things to the curb, and don't look back. You don't care about what other people think, and you're confident in what you do.
Ultimately, here's what I'm trying to get at. It is the absolute worst feeling in the world to be uncomfortable and unhappy in your own body. You have to live in your body your ENTIRE LIFE. I will never get over how horrible of a feeling it is to be unhappy in your own body. I spent almost all of my teenage years into adulthood hating my body and trying to change or hide it. I spent too many days avoiding social situations because of my body. I put my body and my mind through hell and didn't even come out victorious at the end. Don't do that.
Instead, do what you have to do to find true love for yourself. For me, yes it was running, but more-so it was setting goals for myself. Setting goals always makes me feel in control and accomplished, while running makes me feel powerful and healthy. But, until now, I never learned to love myself from it until I started finding a happy medium. What's revolutionary is that it took me doing something terrifying, like running in a crop top, to realize how much I actually do love my body, sans six pack and toned arms and all. For you, discovering what the key to loving yourself is may be entirely different. But whatever it is, whatever you have to do in order to discover a true love for yourself, just do it. It could be a new hair style. It could simply be saying positive affirmations to yourself in the mirror, or smiling more. Hell, it could be taking up a new hobby like....fencing, I don't know. I don't know. I'm spitballing. But whatever you have to do to find love for yourself, please do it.
I am not saying don't better yourself if that's what you want to do. We can all be better, do better. I'm in the midst of working on myself constantly. But in that process of bettering still love yourself through every second of it, and then love yourself even more when you're where you want to be.
I've recently embraced a relatively simple idea that more or less asks "Do you want to be happy or do you want to suffer?" We all have a conscious, sometimes not easy choice to find the good in things that happen to us, or to suffer through them. We can find a positive in a situation or we can find a negative. Do you really want to suffer through being you by concentrating on all of the self-perceived negative things about yourself? Or wouldn't you rather go through life loving these things about yourself because they make you, you? Why implement that unnecessary suffering on yourself just for being you? I know...it's easy for me to sit here and type "You are you. You are awesome. Love yourself!" to a bunch of strangers when I don't even know your personal struggles and stories. You probably all think I'm a gigantic lunatic (but you'd be wrong because I'm only a minor lunatic). Even so, trust me when I say that if I could learn to love myself, you can too. If you make a conscious effort for self love every single day, if you make it a priority, you will experience the most freeing feeling. I promise.
Just remember, I ran in a crop top and the world didn't end. It just got a whole lot better. You can do it too.
(Also, apologies for getting that Bieber song stuck in your head for the next hour of your life WHOOPS.)
Special second shout out and thanks to Marissa D. for endless inspiration! <3