Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Loving What You've Got!

This post is inspired by Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point! In honor of her new book, Operation Beautiful, she has challenged bloggers this week to blog about body image. If you haven't ordered your copy, do it now! I'm getting one for my classroom!

If you've read my About page, you know that I was an athlete growing up. I started playing soccer when I was just a teeny tiny thing.

My first soccer team was called the Shooting Rainbows. It was my idea. I was 5! Can you even handle our adorable PINK uniforms?? 

I continued to play soccer competitively (as well as softball and swimming) until my sophomore year of high school, when my first shoulder surgery sidelined me. I recognized that the super-competitive athletic environment at my elite private high school was not necessarily healthy for me and chose not to continue playing when my shoulder healed. Instead, on a dare, I tried out for the cheerleading team. And made it.

Cheerleading was both good and bad for me. On one hand, I stayed active and fit (we were a competitive stunting squad), but on the other hand, there was still a heavy emphasis on how you looked. I was not an itty-bitty cheerleader, and even though I was not big, I was still very conscious of my body (pretty much like all 16-year-olds!). 

To backtrack a little, my dad was obese as a teenager. My brother and I were both "heavy" as we went through puberty. My mom was a bit of a yo-yo dieter. Although we have all resolved these issues today, when I was young there was a lot of talk about weight in our house. I feel like all I ever did was compare my body to everyone else's. This continued through college.

Again, if you've read my About page, my weight fluctuated in college. And even when I finally got down to what I considered a "healthy" weight for my body, I still wasn't really happy. My thighs were bigger than my roommate's and my shoulders were wider than my sorority sister's. There were lots of little things about my body that I wished I could change and I continued to compare myself to everyone else. Despite being "thin," I still didn't really think I would ever be happy with what I looked like.

Throughout this whole time, if you can even believe it, I was mentoring a group of precious junior high girls through the youth group at the church I attended in Davis. I spent hours with these young ladies telling them how beautiful they were, how unique and special they were, how they should never compare themselves to other people or let other people make them feel inadequate.

If only I listened to my own advice!

I think the major shift in my thinking came around the time I met my husband, Brian. When we were dating, Brian was alarmed at how little I enjoyed receiving compliments. I did not particularly like being told that I was "pretty" or "beautiful" or even that I looked nice. I had never thought about this before, but upon reflection, I realized that I needed more specifics. This may sound like I was fishing for compliments, but I promise you it wasn't! Brian started telling me specifically what he thought was beautiful about me - my eyes, the color of my skin ("like a latte!"), my strong legs, my athletic shoulders.

I was surprised that many of things Brian found attractive about me were things that I openly criticized when I looked in the mirror. This habit continued as I lost weight for our wedding, gained the weight back after the wedding, and then started training for my half marathon. Regardless of my body's current "status," my husband always finds specific things that he tells me are beautiful.

The message of this is not to immediately go out and find a man who tells you that you're gorgeous all the time (although if you have one, keep him!). No, rather, the message is to learn to look at yourself in the mirror and do that for YOU. Sure, I have a great husband who tells me that my runner's thighs are sexy, but that habit of his has gradually rubbed off on me. I can look in the mirror today (or tomorrow, or in 3 years when I'm enormous and pregnant) and specifically find things that are beautiful about me. They don't always have to be physical.

For example: I am great storyteller. I look good in running shorts. I am an awesome teacher who loves her students. I tan really easily. I have a great laugh. I have a cute nose that looks good pierced. I wear bright colors well. I make a great lasagna. I can run for at least 90 minutes straight. I am strong, both physically and emotionally.

Finding yourself to be beautiful is so much more rewarding than having other people tell you that you're beautiful. While it's always nice to have my husband compliment me, I am more fulfilled when I take the time to compliment myself.

If I had a dollar for every negative thing I have said or thought about myself in the last 26 years, I would have enough money to get all the cosmetic surgery I would need to fix every single one of my perceived flaws. Instead, I'm going to spend the next 74 years (God willing!), loving what I've got. Life's too short (even if you do live to be 100!) to beat yourself up all the time or wait for other people to make you feel good about yourself.

What do you find beautiful about YOU?