I believe in my body. This may not seem like a strange thing to do, but to me, it is everything. I love the stretch marks on my hips and the cellulite on my thighs. I am enchanted by the pimples on my face and the way my hair doesn't fall just right. See, I live in a world where a young girl loving her body is a revolutionary action. The whole world, the media, and the people surrounding me point to one magical body type, one skin tone, or one face shape that will finally make me beautiful. I used to believe them, but not anymore. I am me, and I am beautiful.
I always firmly upheld that one's body is their home. A person has the right to decorate it however she wishes. If a girl wants to dye her hair, she can dye her hair. Some guy wants to get forty piercings? Let him get forty piercings. Bodily autonomy is inalienable, yet the media deems themselves fit to tell people what is and is not acceptable. My relationship with my body is complicated, for even though I afforded this right to everyone else, for most of my life, I did not know that it was something I possessed as well. I thought that I was an exception to the rule: I was not pretty enough, thin enough, or smart enough. Differentiation was a right reserved for attractive people; I could only differ from the norm once I was beautiful. Differentiation was not the only right I denied myself, for I thought that I would only be loved if I was perfect. Thus, my quest for perfection began.
I tried so many ways to fit into the narrowly defined mold. Once I realized that I was "fat," I tried a string of yo-yo diets. From the time I was about 9 to 14, I was constantly on some new weight loss plan that promised to make me attractive. Each diet ended in disappointment, but not because of the diet itself. I always thought that the reason I couldn't lose weight was because I was weak, not because the diet was unsustainable and unhealthy. I would weigh myself twice a day and get upset if I didn't lose a pound a day, which meant that my life was a constant downward spiral of dieting and self-hatred. I have probably tried every diet ever made. Cleanses, the gluten-free craze, vegetarianism, and a liquids-only diet, I tried them all. At one point I was so desperate to be thin that I tried to eat less than 500 calories a day, but by the end of the day I found myself in the pantry eating everything I could find. I knew that my eating habits weren't healthy, but I refused to change. I was convinced that eventually I would find the one miracle diet that would cure me of the disease I thought fat was. But that diet never came, and all I had to show for my years of dieting was a messed-up metabolism, depression, and anxiety.
It wasn't until I reached the ninth grade that I started to realize that my body was worth something. This epiphany directly contravened my existing belief that my fat body and ugly face were the only thing people saw about me. I deeply believed that if I wasn't attractive, I held no value as a person, and no one would ever want to be near someone as ugly and negative as me. Even though I wore a uniform to school, I'd try on five different outfits before school to find an outfit that would make me look the thinnest. Going shopping was a nightmare, because none of the clothes fit me like they fit the tiny, Photoshopped models in the ads. I ended up crying in a dressing room every time I had to buy something for an event. For these reasons, I will never forget the first day in five years that I didn't think about my body as a burden. It was over Thanksgiving break and my family and I were at the beach visiting my paternal grandmother. My mother, father, brother, my dog, and I decided to go for a walk on the beach, so I was wearing a t-shirt with a bathing suit top underneath. I had only recently begun to wear bikinis again after years of hiding under full clothes and frumpy one-pieces in 110 degree weather. It was hot for the first time that week, so I decided to take off my t-shirt and walk in my top and shorts. I felt so free, and enjoyed the rest of my walk. It wasn't until I was back home that I realized where that feeling of liberty came from: a place of, if not loving, then tolerating my body enough that I didn't have to think about it.
Recovery is not a straight line. It is full of ups and downs, and I am still on the journey. I try to love my body, but everyday is a struggle against reason and the anxiety telling me I am worthless and ugly. Most days, I can push all negativity out of my mind and focus on the positive things about me, but sometimes it's difficult to fight against something that has been a part of me for so long. In fact, while I was writing this essay, I thought that my belief may be false; perhaps I was lying to myself by thinking that my body was worth anything. However, if I dig deep enough, I know the truth. I am worth more than I can imagine, and so are you. Knowing that I will triumph over my lack of self-esteem keeps me going. I will never be stick-thin, and that's just fine with me, because I am still beautiful.