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We are all shaped by our experiences—and, of course, by our DNA.
You see, genetics gives us our traits—curly or straight hair, tall or short, curvy or lithe—but our environment can shape how those traits represent.
Now, that does not mean I, a curly-hared, curvy woman, will suddenly have long, straight hair, grow six inches, or lose my bust and hips, but it does mean that I have a choice in how to take care of my body and how I choose to view and represent it.
As a child, I was a little chubby. And I was a tomboy. I was mistaken for a boy more times than not before puberty hit, and, in fact, I announced to my family, friends, and anyone who would listen that I was not going to be a girl, but that I would be a boy. That was back in the 70s, though, and I got a lot of funny looks and even more whispering behind my back about being that “weird kid.”
I was never that pretty, pink, frilly, demure girl. What was I? Awkward, chubby, unconfident, and, for some reason, ashamed. Ashamed because my hair was constantly frizzy, my body was not quite thin enough, and my aspirations were far from wanting to be a pretty princess.
Did I make these negative assumptions because I was somehow all wrong? Nope. I made them because, throughout my childhood, I remember feeling “not quite right” in my skin. There was always an uncomfortable buzz under the surface. I could not define it; I just knew that something was not right—that I was not right. Now, though, I know there wasn’t anything wrong with me at all.
But my environment told me there was.
My mother told me I was “wrong.” The girls in my neighborhood told me I was “wrong.” The other kids at school told me I was “wrong.”
That buzz that I had felt during my childhood years was the friction between who I was and am, and who the world was telling me I needed to be.
I hit puberty and accepted that I was, indeed, a girl—and an attractive girl. But the stigma remained. I still felt awkward, shy, unconfident. So I did what any girl who needed affirmation of her self-worth would do: I went all out.
I showed off “the girls.” I started the endless search for my prince who would rescue and complete me. I took any and all criticism of my looks as truth and developed an eating disorder. Anything to mold myself—my body—into what it was “supposed” to be.
Everything but myself.
I struggled for decades—even after meeting a wonderful man who is the best life partner anyone could ask for. Any time I failed, didn’t live up to my unrealistic expectations, or something spiraled out of my control, I reverted to my dysfunctional coping mechanisms, including bingeing and purging. Obviously, things would just be better if I was thin and perfect.
Except I never got thin enough or perfect enough.
I went to counseling—individual and group—started exercising regularly (sometimes excessively), read every article and self-help book I could get my hands on. All of these things worked—for a little while. Then, as soon as that demon whispered in my head that I was not enough and I believed it, down the rabbit hole I went.
I wish there were a tried and true method that I could give you, a magic spell to weave so that you would believe your body is beautiful just the way it is. The reality is, it takes hard work, especially if you did not receive positive body affirmation in your childhood.
You know what it took for me to appreciate the body I have?
As cancer goes, it was a good diagnosis—Stage 0 (I didn’t know there was a Stage 0, either) Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) breast cancer that had not metastasized.
I had a lumpectomy and radiation, but no reconstructive surgery was necessary. Nothing like hearing the big “C” to readjust your priorities.
Suddenly, I was faced with the chance I might lose my breast if the radiation did not work, which would alter my body in a way I had no control over. Furthermore, radiation does damage and weaken your body, so taking care of myself physically and emotionally became paramount. It was during these four months of surgery and treatment that my whole perspective on my body changed. I had to fight with my body, not against it.
Do I still assess myself in the mirror critically? Truthfully, yes. But then I remember that this is the only body I get in this life. That this body is strong because I feed it well and exercise it with care, with love, and with the reverence it deserves.
And I remind myself that I don’t need botox or liposuction or photoshop to make me beautiful. My body is beautiful because it is; as it is, it is perfect. The perfect vessel to give and receive love. The perfect vessel to go for a hike in nature or do yoga. The perfect vessel to teach, to learn, to grow, to embrace this imperfect life.
So, isn’t your body perfect, too? You just have to re-frame your perspective about how you want to see it. You see, your body is beautiful. Just the way it is.