body image.

Author’s Note: This post has been in draft for some time, and I keep coming back and editing, removing, and adding to it. It was definitely hard for me to write and edit, deciding what I actually wanted to say about this topic. Even with publishing this post, I don’t consider this issue closed for me.

I think I’ve made reference here at some point to the fact that I am not at all times completely satisfied with how I look. I know earlier in the year I made some sort of note that I was going to get healthier and/or lose weight. I made declarations about not drinking pop and drinking more water. I have definitely yo-yo’d with that. As a couple we spent a good deal of time eating out and regularly eating frozen meals. It was only within the past month that I really started meal planning and making healthy meals. I won’t say much about that because I don’t want to jinx it, except that Husband is pretty grateful because the older he gets, the more he tends to have a sensitive stomach (honestly, that was half the reason I started meal planning).

My eating habits consist of the following: no breakfast, a small bowl of whatever my center is serving for lunch, and then a regular sized meal for dinner. One or two pops each day, depending on how much energy I have. I’ve been sleeping from 9:00 to 5:45, roughly eight to nine hours each night. Even though I feel ‘elderly’ for going to bed so early (sometimes it’s 8:30 if I’ve had a rough day), I wake up less cranky and more alert for the day. One week I had a weird schedule on a Tuesday, and I didn’t get to bed until almost 11 that night. Wednesday was the worst day ever — I almost fell asleep several times on the floor. So I definitely know that sleeping for eight hours consistently every night works great for me. I haven’t had anything close to a night terror, and I zonk out and deep sleep with no troubles.

But all of this, of course, means nothing for positive body image. I can sleep well and I can make meals with actual vegetables (gasp!), but I know from yeeaaarrrsss of body hate that it is all moot if I don’t look in that mirror and like what I see. I can honestly say that since I hit puberty, I have struggled with loving what I see in pictures and in the mirror. Is any girl different? I don’t think so. I think loving what you look like — from your facial features to your hips and thighs — is the biggest challenge for women, no matter what size you are.

I am a size 10/12; my sisters are sizes 4/6 and 0/2. Now take a moment and imagine not only going through high school and college where people can easily compare you to your skinnier sisters, but also having a job with them and going out to the bars/clubs with them. I lived this life, and it was so so so so rough. All the pretty compliments, all the skinny compliments, all the single guys go straight to them. Before I met Husband, I entered a mini crisis in my life because I didn’t look or weigh anything close to my sisters, and I had pretty much determined that I was not going to ever find love. I don’t think my sisters really realized this, but I stopped wanting to go to clubs and bars with them because 80% of the night was guys hitting on and dancing with them. My first boyfriend told me, to my face, that my sister was prettier than me and if he hadn’t thought she was out of his league, he would have rather dated her than me. Now this guy was a complete asshole, but that thought buried itself in my brain and stayed with me for YEARS and thinking of it even now still upsets me. Two other guys I had crushes on told me after I admitted my feelings that they wanted to go out with my sister, not me.

Now honestly, could some of that last example have been personality? Most definitely. But when you’re twenty, and you like someone, the biggest attraction in the beginning is obviously physical attraction.

So what was my body image like when I was in my early twenties? Um, in the tank. I wore a lot of masculine outfits — jeans and shirts, khakis and button ups when I was ‘dressng up’. The junior high kids during my field observation thought I was a lesbian. I KNOW. I ate what I wanted and never weighed myself — I considered myself fat and felt like I would never be pretty enough for anyone.

I know at this point it would be pretty non-feminist to say that Husband changed everything for me. Luckily I am here to say he did NOT completely change how I viewed myself. However, he did start the change.

Husband tells me I am beautiful (or skinny, or sexy, or cute) at all times — when I come home from work with spit up on my shoulder, when I am dressed up for date night,  when I am in pajamas with wet, snarled and stringy hair. I don’t think anyone taught him this, at least as far as I know. I think it comes from a genuine place — he’s not saying it to ‘check off’ on a list of Good Husband behavior. One day I realized I was doing the same thing — I was waking up with him and telling him how cute he was, I was greeting him home from work, him decked out in sweaty bike gear, telling him how sexy he looked, and I was watching him doing something as mundane as shaving and feeling overwhelmed by how handsome he was. I think (and I realize we are still ‘newlyweds’, blah blah) this is true love — seeing the ‘on’ and ‘off’ times of your significant other and yet genuinely feeling that they look so cute, so hot, so attractive.

ANYWAY, because of this, I really started thinking, ‘I am hot!’ when I would get ready for work. I’d put on my khakis and polo and go, ‘Damn, this fits me right! Props to me!’ So Husband gets the credit for turning the tide of my self image. HOWEVER, obviously, there would still be a lot of times when I would feel overwhelmed by my size and a terrible body image.

Like a weekend in December 2012.

That weekend I stayed at my parents’ house because we were going wedding dress shopping for my newly engaged sister. Now if you’ve been married, or been a bridesmaid, you know that the wedding dress is a BIG deal. My oldest sister went to six stores, because she had an image in her mind of a plain wedding dress, and it was terribly hard to find because wedding dresses are all about the BLING. I went to only two stores and my wedding dress shopping was not harsh on my self image at all, because I did not have any fantasies about losing weight or wearing a certain size. Plus, size 12 is the average size of the American woman so I didn’t have to worry about sucking it in to try on a dress I really loved. SIDETRACK. BACK TO THAT WEEKEND.

My sister found her wedding dress at the first store, and we were all crying and it was a beautiful, special moment. Since we found her wedding dress so early, we decided we’d look for bridesmaid dresses at the next store. I wasn’t feeling anxious about it at all because my sister wanted us to have the same color, but not the same style dress, so my larger size was going to be accommodated and I could still look good.

Well then we got there, and the consultant decided that since my oldest sister was a size 4/6, and I have a large bust, she would zero in on me and spend all her time finding something that complimented me. (Let me say now that I understand this woman is trying to be helpful and make a sale … but she still upsets me.) I was trying to have fun and just try on dresses and see what looked good. We were not seriously trying to find dresses, since half the bridal party wasn’t there. But this consultant … she came in the dressing room with me every single time to help me put the dresses on. Now I want you to imagine trying on a bridesmaid dress, which isn’t really made to flatter you to begin with, but still trying to keep an open mind while the person zipping you up says (over and over), “This dress looks terrible on you. I mean it’s not even the right size, but this is all we have, and it doesn’t flatter you, and this looks awful. This looks awful. Can you suck in a little so I can zip this up? I don’t know why you’re trying this on. This is going to look terrible.”

Now imagine that scenario repeated for a hour and a half. No one else knows this woman is talking to you like this, so you have to just keep coming out of the dressing room with a smile on your face. By the time we were done there, I was ready to cry and my body image was in the toilet with shit. Then we got in the car and checked Facebook. My sister had posted a picture of the three of us in the dressing room when she had been trying on dresses. This girl who I don’t even know commented, “And then the prettiest of the [maiden name] sisters …” Now why does the comment of a stranger affect me so? I think it re-sparked a lot of my insecurities of how people compared my sisters and me.

I have a lot of stories like this. A lot of stories about guys bypassing me for my sisters, about sucking back tears in a dressing room because I can’t find anything on a shopping trip, about arriving at events to have people fawn over my sister’s appearance while I stand next to her, unacknowledged.

I’m almost twenty-six years old. Where is my body image now? I’m at the best point I’ve ever been with embracing and loving my body the way it is. And I know this because I actually posted a self portrait a couple times from Instagram on Facebook. On Instagram I will take pictures of everything but myself. So when we went on a date in December and I thought I looked good, I actually took a picture of myself and posted it. Doesn’t that sound so simple? However, it was a major step for me, and I was completely proud of myself.

It’s the little things like posting that picture which show that I have a healthy body image. I’m going to keep working on it. I started printing out outfits I Pinned, and for my birthday, I’m going to stores and buying the basic pieces so I can have cute outfits. I’m going to dress myself up when we go out because it makes me feel cute. I say aloud, ‘I look good in this.’ When I’m chilly, I’m going to put on a cardigan instead of a hoodie because it makes me feel more feminine. I started wearing a watch and/or bracelet because I’m not a big fan of jewelry, but even something that simple makes me feel put together.

Right now my hair is in the tiniest pony ever, I’m wearing glasses, and I have on yoga pants. I went in the bathroom to throw something in the hamper and smiled at the reflection in the mirror, checking myself out.

And the fifteen year old inside me applauded.

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