Leave Your Shadow

I’m passionate about discussing and sharing about difficult topics in order to allow other people to feel more at peace and beautiful within their own skin. It’s easy to talk about happy, exciting things but what we really need to talk about is the hard stuff. My thoughts today are on body image. As a health and fitness nut and coach I am constantly talking about, thinking about working on my own and helping others to have a positive body image. Self love and confidence is one of the MOST important gifts which I hope to instill and inspire in others but also one of the hardest things to attain. I think I have a very unique perspective and one I’m willing to share with you to try to expand your grasp of what it means to love yourself and the journey I went on to get there.

As a child I was the epitome of awkward; lanky, big feet, glasses, braces and of course the infamous unibrow. I was a nerd and a bookworm but genuinely a pretty warm and loving kid. I could play in my imagination for hours upon hours. Luckily, today that still is the case.

In my adolescence I realized that most girls were very concerned with how “skinny” they were. I could eat cheeseburgers, pizza, ice cream every night and nothing stuck. I’m not saying this to brag whatsoever, I am simply stating the facts. It is hilarious to me how people can poke fun at themselves for being overweight as a child or in the past but as soon as you mention the opposite problem people want to shut you up real quick. I was teased by friends and strangers about being skinny but I knew I couldn’t help it so I just laughed it off.

As I grew into a teenager I suffered the tremendous loss of my childhood best friend to suicide. She was absolutely gorgeous and “perfect” from an outsider’s perspective. I had countless people ask me, “what did SHE have to be sad about!?” Simply based on the way she looked. Why does an attractive exterior mean that you have an attractive interior? Why should struggling and feeling depressed be exclusive to people who have less appealing appearances? How can people be so ignorant as to not acknowledge that life is NOT all about how we look?

I spent the rest of high school learning what it felt like to look “pretty” and “skinny” on the outside but inside I was carrying so much grief, suffering and pain. I struggled for years trying to cope with the loss of my best friend and sure, I appeared normal and attractive on the outside but my inside soul and mind were in constant turmoil and anguish. I didn’t know what to say when people could only comment (negatively) about how lucky I was about being skinny. Or “shut up, you wouldn’t understand.” How selfish of you to exclude me from the “suffering club” based on my appearance? But, yet again, how is this something that any teenager could verbalize? Most adults still wouldn’t. But you know what, if I have learned anything about life, it’s that it is too damn short to walk on eggshells. I will bare my soul to you even if it’s about topics that are hard to discuss because real recognizes real and I simply refuse to silence my heart now that I have learned how to love myself properly.

As I grew into an adult and continued to heal, I went to college joined a sorority and saw a huge range of body image issues and beliefs. I heard so many of my friends always complaining about “being fat” or feeling like shit about their body. I was confused and honestly heartbroken. Should I participate in this just because everyone else around me is? I knew I wasn’t fat and I didn’t need to say I was for any validation. I was so incredibly sad that so many of my beautiful friends really had this kind of negative dialog about themselves when in reality they were stunning and in great shape. I didn’t know what to feel about my body and pretty much just felt weird for being finally feeling okay with myself inside and out.

In college I also started to get really into fitness and exercising. Not because I wanted to be skinny but because I loved the way it made me feel and it got rid of some of my nervous energy(if you know me, you know I have A LOT of that.)  Due to the amount of cardio I was doing it made me get really, really skinny and I didn’t even realize how skinny I looked. I look back and I hate how skinny I looked but I am happy that despite what it did to my appearance I found a saving grace in exercise that has gotten me through numerous difficult periods of my life.

I studied hard in graduate school, started to learn about the beauty of lifting weights, and then I made a life changing decision and moved abroad. I became very nervous about not being able to control my diet and nutrition while living in Thailand so I made sure to keep up with my exercise as vigorously as possible. Ultimately, my body wasn’t affected much but I began to understand the vulnerability about not feeling in control and worrying what could happen. I was highly conscious of my body and if I was going to be able to maintain the body that I wanted even though I was living and traveling abroad.

My college boyfriend and I had a very painful breakup and I was left with a mission to find and love myself better than I ever had before. I started to read as much as I could. I started to exercise my mind and learned so much about how our mind, body and spirit are connected. Inside, I was suffering tremendously but on the outside I had to put on a smiling face everyday in my classroom. Looks can be deceiving.

I dove deeper into my passion for fitness by becoming a coach and helping other people reach their health and fitness goals. I realized how many people struggle so intensely with body image, self love, self worth, comparison, negative self talk, etc. I realized that the little awkward skinny girl who wasn’t going to complain about being fat but felt persecuted for being skinny had yet again an awkward voice in the conversation of body image. How can I connect to you if I didn’t have 50  or even 10 pounds to lose? Because I have had hundreds of pounds of internal struggles that I have had to work SO HARD to shed. Those “pounds” affected my world and my mental health just as much as physical pounds. And because I am a compassionate human being, that my friends, has no dress size. As I dove deeper into helping others, I realized that once again real recognizes real and everyone who I have worked with or am still working with appreciates the support, guidance and motivation I give them regardless of difference in our health and fitness goals…we ALL want to feel strong, beautiful and confident in our own bodies.

Today, I can honestly say, that I love myself more than I ever have. I am strong. I feel strong. I work every day to be stronger and to not just look “skinny”. I accept that I can’t help the body I was given but I can help the way I treat it. I can love myself deeply and wholeheartedly. Some days I still struggle with the pounds of weight on the inside, but I am trying everyday to be a stronger version of myself. I can encourage everyone I work with or simply engage with to do the same.

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“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.” Let the light shine on you so you can let your light shine. Self love is not arrogance or cockiness. It is so far from that. Self love is treating YOU how you would your  best friend or your lover. Give yourself those positive affirmations and encouragement. Give yourself a break. Look at yourself in the mirror and don’t criticize everything you see, embrace it, compliment it and accept that you are SO MUCH MORE than that vessel. My strength and my self love have so much to do with what I have done with and to my mind. The more we love ourselves, the more we allow others to do the same. When I look in the mirror today I am proud of who I am. Not just the girl I see but the girl I hear in my head. Mind, body and soul. No matter who you are or what you’ve been through in the past, it’s up to you to start today and to love yourself ferociously. Stop living in your own shadow. 

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