Friday, July 15, 2011

On Weight and Self-Esteem

Between confident, beautiful but larger women who rock their curves, to countless weight loss gimmicks attempting to sell instant results and self-esteem, I think it's easy to say that the media is sending us a seriously mixed up message about body image and health.

I am all for loving your own body type -- be it naturally skinny or extra voluptuous -- and I love that there are successful celebrities of every body type, showing young girls that they can love themselves for exactly what they are. But what does concern me, is part of the consequences of "accepting yourself."

The round-faced 7 year old version of me. And yes, I'm drawing Ursula.

My weight has yo-yo-ed my entire life. As a little girl I was a pie-faced little thing, and at the age of 14 I was at a dress size 16. I felt very self-conscience about my very round shape, and I truly felt, at that age, that if I was skinny I would be happier and people would like me more. This idea, didn't come from the realization that a healthier lifestyle would grant me better mental and physical health, let alone give me better self-esteem -- I simply thought if my body were smaller I'd have a better life.

I know. So cute. That's me on the right. Don't ask what we were doing...I don't know, we were 14. Notice the sweatshirt on my shoulders. It was the middle of the summer, but I liked to cover my middle with sweaters so nobody could see my body.

It's difficult to say what to blame this notion on. Maybe it was a combination of many things -- my adolescent hormones, pressures from peers or pop culture, or maybe nobody talked to me about the importance of health.

Right before I turned 15, I increased my activity quite a bit and changed my eating habits. I went from frequently drinking soda, eating too much and the wrong things, to only drinking water and milk, and eating an appropriate amount of various foods. My first part of my freshmen year of high school, I wasn't active at all. At the end, I was in a rather intensive physical education class, joined the swim team, and was dancing once a week. Not only did I rapidly drop pant sizes from a 16 to 8, but I felt vibrantly alive.

After a triathlon we did in our P.E. class at the end of freshmen year. I'm on the far right.

Not that my self-esteem was horrible before, but knowing that I could run or swim distances I never could have before was...empowering. I learned that it wasn't about being skinny, it was about loving myself enough to take care of the body God had given me. It was empowering and liberating. I knew I could have the best of both worlds: love my body for what it was, while still pushing myself to be as healthy as I could. I finally understood that accepting my body didn't mean being okay with being unhealthy -- it meant fighting for my health.

It makes me sad to reflect on what may have happened if I hadn't pushed myself, if my mother hadn't supported my extracurricular activities, if my P.E. teacher hadn't encouraged me to always beat my last scores, or my swim coach hadn't always expected more from me. I may have pridefully boasted that I was proud of being overweight. And isn't that strange? To be proud of being unhealthy?

At 15, 18 and 21. I know, I know...that middle pose is ridiculous.

For the last few weeks, I've been excited for Monday nights to roll around so I could see the newest episode of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Unlike any other makeover or weight loss show I've seen, this show focuses on loving yourself and fighting for your health. The focus isn't about competing or being skinny, it's simply about living a better quality life by improving physical and mental health. It's about loving yourself enough to give yourself the best life. I love that the focus is on both accepting your body and being healthy.

And I must admit, I still struggle with my weight. I still yo-yo. But watching this show, reminds me how alive I felt when I took care of myself before, and that I can get there again. It reminds me that I'm worth so much more than the size of my pants.

Weight loss shouldn't be about skinniness, it should be about fighting for your health quite simply because you're worth it.



Sherms said...

I love it! I feel exactly the same way about my body and just recently I've come to realise that I need to stop telling myself mis-beliefs about my inability to loose weight for good. I want to feel good about myself and currently, with these extra pounds, I really don't. Inspirational blog post! xx

Laura said...

Visiting from 20sb. This is a great post, and I appreciate your honesty. And fun old photos.

Stephanie Iris said...

I totally agree. The worst part is that people make extreme weight loss goals for themselves that almost never work.

The focus is always on "being skinny" instead of living a better lifestyle that includes more activity, less McDonalds and more veggies.

People want the results without the drastic life change and unfortunately those two things must happen together.

Unknown said...

I think you're beautiful and I want to be in shape!! Not skinnier. No more fat. In shape! hard!

Amy said...

I think you look great and I admire your perspective! No matter what we look like we should all focus on a healthy lifestyle. :)

L!$@ said...

This is perfect!

Hannah said...

@Shermeen -- I spoke with an obesity specialist once who told me even obesity specialists don't know what causes people to struggle with weight. She said she thinks it's a combo. of environmental factors, nature, nurture, genetics, etc. Her point wasn't to be discouraging, but just to remind me (and others) that as long as you are eating right and exercising and your health is all around in good shouldn't worry so much about what the scale says! She was so fun to talk to...she was passionate about what she was saying -- so much so that she cried at the end of my interview with her! Anywho, my point is, keep on doing good things for your body and praise it for functioning how it should. I'll try the same thing, and hopefully...we'll be happier for it! :)

@Laura -- thank you! I always try to be honest because I know it may help someone else!

@MSP -- You are so right! I blame society for all the instant gratification we're always getting! And no doubt, being healthy is hard and it takes REAL effort...but I do know it's worth it in the end!

@Taylor -- Thank you so much! I didn't intend to get physical compliments from this post, but I'll take it when it's offered! Me too, me too! The days I really don't want to get my lazy bum off the couch I ask myself "What else would you be doing for the next hour if you weren't exercising?" The answer is usually something totally unnecessary i.e. watching TV or blogging. When I do that, I feel like I have no excuse but to move my body. And the best part is, when I do, I feel a million times better!

@Amy -- Thank you so much! I definitely agree -- a healthy lifestyle is the way to go! Speaking of which, I think that will be inspiration for a post in the near future!

@Lisa -- thank you :) I hope it brought you a little bit of encouragement in some way or another!

Casey said...

Thanks hannah! I needed this today:)

Katherine said...

Wow Hannah, this is the first time I've ever been to your blog but this post was emotional and heartfelt. I shed a tear because weight is such a sensitive topic for me. It is not about being skinny it is about feeling empowered to reach milestones you never have. You have a new follower and thank you for this post

Hannah said...

@Casey -- I'm glad. I feel like I need this EVERYDAY! :)

Hannah said...

@Mz Dede -- Thank you so much! I am so glad when my writing is able to uplift another. And you're totally's about that little voice inside you that gets louder and louder telling you that you CAN!

Yvonne said...

I absolutely loved this post and girl you are gorgeousss! Seriously :)

Being thin is overrated. We tend to want some of your boob and ass! I look like a guy from all angles LOL!

Charis said...

That was a touching read!
You're lovely :)

Hannah said...

@Yvonne -- thank you so much! Y'all are makin' me blush! A girl always wants what she doesn't have right?! I actually don't have much booty! That all went straight to the boobs, but I would gladly share if I could, haha!

@Charis -- thank you :)

Tasha said...

I LOVE this. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. Thanks for posting!

Hannah said...

@Tasha -- thank you! You're definitely FAR from alone! :)

Unknown said...

I love this post! So's not about pant size, but about taking care of the body God gave you! Get it, girl! :)
(and thanks for your comment!)

Hannah said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Betsy! I try to remind myself I wrote this all the time, haha!

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