Body Positivity is something I used to roll my eyes at all the time. Every time youth group split everyone up into boys and girls, I knew that the girls were going to get told to find our worth in Jesus, and to love our bodies. And I was frankly sick of it. I didn’t care, I never really thought about my body. That all changed one day when a boy told me I was ‘skinny’. From that moment on, I was aware of my body. I noticed how my thighs looked in jeans, I started weighing myself. The insecurity rolled in.
As I got older, my hips got wider, my breasts got larger, and I gained weight. I was mortified. I began running. Every single day, I would run 5km, then 6km, sometimes even 7km. Everyone praised me for running, they said I was so ‘disciplined’ and ‘motivated’. I was praised for being so ‘skinny’ and small. The more weight I lost, the better I felt about myself. I began recording my weight, taking photos of myself every month, making sure that I was always getting smaller. I was running every day, not because I was disciplined, or motivated. I was running every day because I was afraid of weight gain. I ran every day to make sure I kept losing weight so that people would keep praising me, and telling me I was ‘skinny’.
All of a sudden, I found myself in a very dangerous headspace. Any weight gain was a disaster, I would burst into tears, I would bawl my eyes out. I even began self-harming to ‘punish’ myself for gaining weight. This headspace was so damaging. And what caused all of this? The world praising me for being skinny. People using the word ‘skinny’ as a compliment had trained me to think that if I wasn’t skinny, then I wasn’t worth anything. I carried this into university, still running every morning at 6am, before uni. Even to the point where I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open as I ran, even as winter rolled in and the streets of the City were freezing, even in the pouring rain, I ran.
The first step for me in getting out of this dangerous cycle was actually realising I was in it. That is actually the hardest part. I encourage everyone reading this to consider the exercise you do, and the amount you eat and question your own motives.
My next step was consciously deciding that I didn’t want to be like that anymore. That decision was hard too. It was really hard to let go. I was really worried, thinking to myself “if I stop exercising then I’ll gain weight, I have to keep going”. But I finally prayed, laid the situation at the foot of the cross and decided to let go. I decided to stop pushing my body to its limit, stop living with constant pain in my shins. I decided to stop anxiously weighing myself every day. It was a hard decision, but it has been so beneficial.
This decision didn’t come with instant body confidence at all. I remember even just last summer, crying for hours on my poor boyfriend’s shoulder, devastated at my appearance. I had been doing the ‘Kayla Itsines bikini body workout guide’, (which I am now completely opposed to as it advertises the false idea of an ideal body type you must have to look good in a bikini, and doesn’t even dissimulate that it is good for your health), and following heaps of unrealistically fit and thin women on Instagram, who would pose in their workout wear and bikinis, trying to sell a false ideal of ‘beauty’ (usually with the purpose of making money). I was looking at ‘fitspo’ posts on Pinterest, and comparing myself to so many women. I felt like a blob of fat. I cried for nearly 48 hours non-stop, and nothing he would say could console me.
That summer was a huge setback, but I decided to keep on persisting with my decision to gain body positivity WITHOUT trying to change my body. I put the ‘Bikini Body Workout Guide’ in the bin (thank goodness), and decided to just do exercise that made me happy, not worrying about how much fat I was burning. Walking, cycling, yoga or taking the dog to the park. I decided I would never again weigh myself because the weight of my body is not a good indicator of how healthy I am. I decided to eat whenever my body needed food. I would listen to my body, instead of trying to ignore it, and I finally started to heal.
I learned another lesson just last week. I went to see a nutritionist, and she got me to keep a food journal for a week. When I took the journal back to the nutritionist, I was feeling embarrassed at the amount of food that I had eaten, and that I had eaten too much chocolate, and that she was going to grill me. The nutritionist DID grill me, for NOT EATING ENOUGH! She explained that the reason I was feeling tired and reclusive all the time is that I was not giving my body enough fuel. She said she see’s it happen to girls all the time. They stop adequately fueling their bodies, and they start getting tired, they stop doing things they like to do, they stop wanting to hang out with their friends. So many of them (not all I acknowledge) could fix this by eating more food.
Now I eat lots of healthy, mostly plant-based food, all throughout the day. I make sure that I get all my major food groups into my body (gotta nourish to flourish), I eat when I feel hungry, and I do exercise that I like BECAUSE I like it, not because of fear of weight gain. I unfollowed all the fitspo accounts on Instagram and followed a body positivity page. I judge my health by the way I feel, not by what I see on a scale, and I can honestly say this has helped me so much on my journey.
Despite all of this, I am still on my journey. I think a huge mistake that people make is that they think ‘body confidence’ is something they will just wake up with one day. Maybe when they get married, or when they are pregnant, or when they achieve their goal weight. This is so untrue. Body confidence, and loving your body is actually a conscious and sometimes difficult decision you make every single day. It is hard, but with prayer, and help from friends, you can do it. Say to yourself ‘today I will love myself’, rather than telling yourself you are not good enough.
I know everyone’s journey is unique, and I don’t want to undermine or say that mental illnesses are easy to fix, they aren’t. But we are children of a huge God, who can do amazing things. I believe in you.