Self love. It isn't easy. And it isn't something I realized I had an issue with really, until the last year or so. I just figured that this was part of life, that I'd always be held back from being truly happy because I wasn't thin enough. Or smart enough. Or coordinated enough. I just thought... it is what it is.

You see... growing up, I can remember seeing people like Cindy Crawford and praying I'd look like her someday. If not her, then maybe Mariah Carey. If not her, then hopefully I'd at least have abs like Gwen Stefani or be as thin as Britney Spears. 

I honestly cannot think of ONE person who stood out to me as a positive influence in the media who wasn't thin. I've been thinking lately about how that has shaped everything for both women AND men. Society and the media has been telling us that thin = happy, thin = beautiful, thin = successful for so long. No wonder we are all so obsessed with how we look. 

Now what you're starting to see is an influx of plus sized women who are proud of their bodies. They're showing them off and exuding an incredible amount of confidence that is inspiring to a woman of any size. (If you missed my post from last week, I talk here about why I feel that body positivity is about ALL women, regardless of their shape or size). 

This is incredible to me. To be able to watch this happen, and to be a part of it. It makes me wonder how the generations below us will feel about their bodies, happiness, and success. 

This is why I share my journey. Because WE, as women, are the change. Beauty is SO MUCH more than size. And it starts on the inside. 

My journey to self love has gone something like this. 

The first time I can remember being body conscious at all was when I was about 6 years old, and I had a babysitter who came over one day over the summer. She told me my shorts were too short and too small for me. And then mentioned something about how we wore the same size. I loved this babysitter, but I wish she would have never said anything. Or at least gone about it in a different way. 

I first got called fat in the 2nd grade, and I'll never forget that day. I even remember the name of the kid who said it. 

I can also remember being in 3rd grade and crying on the day of school pictures because I felt fat in my stirrups. 

In middle school, I started doing Billy Blanks Tae Bo tapes and drinking my mom's slim fast shakes. At this point, we were required to get weighed on a scale in P.E. class and EVERYONE saw. We also were required to do a certain amount of pushups and sit-ups and were talked down to if we didn't complete these. In 8th grade, I wore my navy Gap anorak jacket every single day to cover up what I thought was a fat body. 

In 9th grade, I gained the attention from a football player who was also a freshman and he actually liked me for who I was. This gave me some confidence, but I had started getting stretch marks on my thighs and arms which basically voided out any ounce of confidence I had. Homecoming was torture for me because I was constantly worried about how fat I looked or if anyone would notice my stretch marks on my arms. 

By 10th and 11th grade, I had stopped trying to impress everyone at my high school and was finding friends elsewhere. Friends who wouldn't invite me to the pool and friends who wouldn't notice all of my flaws. 

By my senior year of high school, I'm pretty sure I was barely eating but was "okay" with my body and who I was. By then I was dating a lot, which must have meant that my body looked decent. Right? (WRONG. But I didn't figure that out until much later). 

Ok, next stop: College. This is where I was hoping I'd find myself and finally be comfortable with my body, but nope. Didn't happen. Instead, I struggled to make it through my first two semesters and then by the summer I went into major deep depression, resulting in a 30 lb weight gain. By the end of the summer I went home and decided to take a year off of school. I was so lost. I didn't know who I was or what I was doing in the world. A story for another day... 

Fast forward to age 20/21, I got my butt in the gym and started taking care of myself. I called this "operation get hott" on social media because I'm so extra (hahaha)!! Even then, I wasn't necessarily talking about the desire to be physically attractive, even though that's definitely what I was going for... but more so I was learning how good it felt to take care of myself. Mentally, physically and emotionally. I was getting my hair done, going to the tanning bed (stay tuned for a blog post on that this week... do not go to the tanning bed!), and keeping up with my nails. I was tracking my food and felt in control. Sure enough within a few months, my body had started to change and after a year, I was a solid 45 lbs smaller. I felt amazing. 

I finally got into the school of my dreams and transferred in. I kept up with my workouts and clean eating but to be honest, it became obsessive. I would stay in and deprive myself of food because I wanted to fit into my dress the next day. Although I was "happy" with my body and the control I had over it, I was actually depressed. Some days, I'd sleep all day and ignore everyone's phone calls. Looking back, this sounds like the anxiety I never realized I had until I became a mom (also a story for another day!)

Eventually, my senior year I met the man of my dreams, now husband, and of course put on some happy weight. I was truly happy, though, so it didn't bother me. Until he asked me.... to go to the pool. 

I'll never forget that day. He loved me the way I was but I didn't. I straight up ruined the day with my attitude. And for years after that, I swore off going to the pool with him and his friends. I just. Couldn't. Do it. I felt like everyone was staring. And I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Fast forward to the months before my wedding. I had to look perfect for my photos, I just wanted to be able to look back on the pictures and be proud. I didn't want to hate what I saw. I ate a diet that consisted of chicken, spinach, protein shakes and totaled about 900-1100 calories a day. I worked out every day. And I was HUNGRY AF. And for the first time in my life, I went to the beach for my bachelorette party and felt SO GOOD in my two piece bikini that I didn't care about wearing it in public. I felt amazing on my wedding day. 

A few weeks later, we started getting the pictures back from the photographer and guess what? I cried. 

I hated what I saw. I thought my arms looked "so fat". 

I'm not even going to show you the picture here but just know, that my arms were the farthest thing from that. I even had that good pre-baby muscle tone that I'll probably never see again which I'm totally fine with ;)

Eventually, I got over it and went on with my life. For the next year, I would fluctuate up and down, depending on stress with work and how happy I was. Then, in the summer 2014 I finally started looking myself in the mirror and decided to make a change. But this time, it would be the healthy way. I started eating clean and trying different workouts a few times a week. I slowly, but surely changed my body and felt really really good. I was doing things I never thought I could do. I never thought I was athletic or skilled enough to be able to do some of these workout classes. But you know what? I was doing them and I was doing them WELL. 

I was 29, and it was the first time I really started to tap in to what it means to REALLY take care of yourself for the right reasons. But even then... all I wanted was to look a certain way. #Ytho

Then, in 2015 we had a baby, and I gained 75 pounds. If you've been following me for awhile you know all the parts to this story... but I basically lost all control of what I could and couldn't eat or do, and it was really depressing. I just came out of the fog last year (2017) and decided it was time to do something about it. I've been on what I like to call a "LOVE YOURSELF" challenge of my own since last October, where I committed to working out, seeing a nutritionist, and eating right. I decided I was DONE trying to live up to someone else's standards of beauty. Just DONE. It's hard... and trust me, I'm not totally there yet. I still catch myself saying something negative here and there about myself but the point here is... I have made a major difference in my quality of life and happiness just by cutting that out. Just by looking at myself in the mirror and saying - hey, you do you.

And for the first time in my life... I'm also trying not to obsess over food. Food shouldn't be a reward or a punishment. I have such a strong emotional connection to food and I'm trying to break that habit. For example, I needed a little pick me up while writing this... so I grabbed a bag of Pirate's Booty and ate it. Not one bit of guilt. I wanted it. I ate it. It was great. Moving on now. 

So, for me to take on this challenge and be forced to literally face myself for the last few months has been life changing. Stay tuned for a re-cap on the entire challenge I've done with Barry's bootcamp later this week, but all in all...  this is why I share my story. It may not be that crazy, or interesting, or whatever... but it's real.

And I feel like so many women go through this but no one talks about it. I'm so ready to change that by creating a body positive community for ALL women of ALL shapes and sizes. 

I've written more than a few times about body positivity and self love, so click here if you want to read more!

If you made it this far... thank you. Every time I write about this issue I don't think I can possibly feel more vulnarable. But then, there's always next time.