Welcome back to Tantalizingly Tasteful! Today I want to talk about something a little bit out of the ordinary for me: body image and self-confidence. Being confident in yourself and your abilities is much easier said than done, but I think the process of getting there is something that needs to be discussed. I want to share my own personal story with you. This is something I’ve been working on for about a year now, and I’m honestly still a little hesitant, but I know that so many people go through the same kind of situation and I want to open up the discussion. So, here goes.
I’ve spent my whole life being overweight. I knew in kindergarten that I was different from the other girls in the class. When I walked, my shorts would ride up my thighs (what has affectionately been known as thwedgie in my family), I couldn’t run as fast on the soccer field, and I couldn’t easily be lifted up. But as a kindergartner, you don’t really understand that having a bit more body fat than the other girls in class is going to make you stand out in a bad way. I was also one of the only kids in class that wore glasses, and to five-year-old me, that made me “uncool.” I would play a game with my friends in which I would take my glasses off and say “cool Toni,” then put them back on and say “nerdy Toni.” How did I get the impression that a pair of glasses defined who I was?
In elementary school, I was the first of my friends to wear a bra, and it wasn’t because I was the first to hit puberty. And yet, I still didn’t really think anything was too wrong with me. It didn’t really hit me until fourth grade, when a “popular” girl I considered a friend nicknamed me Jell-O. I didn’t understand why she was calling me that, so I was thrilled to think that I had finally made it into the “cool girls” crowd. When I got home that night, I excitedly told my parents about my new nickname, only to have them explain to me that it wasn’t a very great nickname to have. I was incredibly hurt to think that the people that I considered friends saw me that way and, even worse, seemed to be out to make fun of me because of what I weighed. I think about that realization a lot.
Fast forward to middle school, when I just continued to gain weight and started growing facial hair due to polycystic ovarian syndrome. At that point, it had become more common knowledge to me that I was the heavier friend, and while my friends really didn’t have anything to say about my “physique,” it was quite evident that I was just different and sometimes had to be left out. I could never share clothes with my friends, I could never eat as much as my friends, I struggled to keep up with them in sports. I had girls pull my bra strap and laugh at me because my bra wasn’t supportive enough for my chest. One of my best friends pointed out to the entire gym class that I was growing a beard. I started to become ashamed of my body, a feeling that I would never wish on anyone. And instead of combating my issues with an improved diet and more exercise, I comforted myself the only way I knew how: food.
In high school, I tried to pretend that I was more comfortable with my body. I had accepted that I was just bigger than my friends, but my weight was still a source of contention with my family. My parents have always been super supportive, and when they worried about my weight, it was always for the sake of my health and not my appearance, but it was (and still is) a sore topic for me. My grandmother was notorious for not giving me a second serving of food to keep me from gaining weight. My parents often told me that certain clothes just weren’t meant for my body type. Even my five-year-old cousin told me I was fat. For me, realizing that even my family remarked that I was overweight was heartbreaking. I felt like no one saw me for my personality or interests, but only saw me as the girl who needed to lay off the pasta and hit the gym. This realization brought on a rough time of self-doubt, self-loathing, depression, and self-harm. When I finally got myself out of that slump, I decided I was going to take ownership of who I was and focus on bettering myself and getting healthy, not necessarily skinny. I told my parents that I needed them to support me despite what I looked like or what I decided to wear. I thought this inner transformation would be good for me in so many ways.
But then prom season hit, and two years in a row, no one asked me to be their date. And I couldn’t help but attribute it to the fact that nobody wanted to go with the fat girl. Of course, I was heartbroken, and debated not going to prom both years, but ultimately I went and had a great time. But the idea still remains in my head that no one wants to date me or be friends with me because of my weight.
I had a similar experience at the beginning of college. Before I moved in, I was considering joining a sorority, but at the actual club fair, I noticed that no sorority sisters even considered approaching me. Instead, they were approaching the teeny tiny skinny girls, the girls who were the “populars” that would have made fun of me in elementary and middle school. It was then that I realized that my body weight can sometimes prevent me from achieving everything I would’ve liked to, and it was then that I was inspired to write this post.
That was a year ago, during my very first semester of college. I had completely different friends, completely different interests, and a completely different outlook on life. Originally, this post was supposed to be a wake-up call to me and to anyone reading, a cautionary tale that would hopefully teach people that they should keep themselves from getting heavy so they can prevent themselves from getting hurt. Now, I see things very differently.
It’s taken me a long time, but I’m finally getting to the point that I’m realizing I love the person I am. There may be things I want to change and things that I regret doing, but I’ve learned over the years (and especially the last six months) that the only person I need approval, attention, and love from is myself. The only person who can help me is myself. It also helps that the friends I have now like me the way I am, so I’m not forcing myself to be something I’m not.
I wish I could detail how I got myself to this point, but honestly, I think it was just spurred by a sudden realization that if I can’t love myself for who I am, no one else will. I do have some recommendations, though, that I know have helped me feel happier and more confident and empowered.
- Read self-help books: Yes, this is corny, but after reading even a few pages of self-help books, I always feel refreshed and inspired. One of my favorites is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, even though I haven’t even finished it yet. I used to read it every night before bed during the spring semester of my freshman year, and it made me feel like I could take on the world just the way I am. Some more on my list of books to read are Yes Please by Amy Poehler and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.
- Work out: I’ve been talking about this up and down for the last six months, but working out has made me feel a million times better about myself. Every time I work out, I go into beast mode, and I feel like I can accomplish anything. Find an exercise routine you love and stick to it. Not only is it good for your body, but it’s also good for your soul.
- Listen to pump-up music: I literally have a playlist called “I DESERVE BETTER” that’s filled with songs that make me feel better and remind me that I am worth the work and worth being treated well. It’s filled with some of my favorite songs, like Hair and Shoutout to My Ex by Little Mix, Stronger by Britney Spears, and Down in the Dumps by Walk the Moon. I highly recommend putting together a playlist that makes you feel great about yourself and helps pick you back up when you start to fall.
- Get motivational wallpapers: Inspirational phone backgrounds and computer wallpapers are my guilty pleasure. I like to change them every month just to get something a little different. I always find it so inspiring to turn on my phone or laptop and get some sort of pick-me-up.
- Don’t take things so personally: I’ve always been a very sensitive person, and I always let people’s reactions to me affect the way I feel about myself and everything around me. Recently, I’ve come to the realization that you don’t always know what other people are going through, so you can’t hold things against them or let them get you down. Like I said, the only person’s validation that matters is yours, so don’t let yourself get down because of a stupid comment someone else said. When I dyed my hair purpley about a year ago, one of my best friends made a comment that if I lay down on the grass, it would look like Barney. His opinion meant a lot to me at the time, and I was upset about it for a while. Since then, I’ve realized that it’s my hair, not his, and if I like the way it looks, I don’t have to really consider his opinion.
- Do what you’re passionate about: Doing things that you love to do and are good at are great for a confidence boost. Plus, if you get involved with something you’re passionate about, you can find other people who are passionate about the same thing and you immediately have something to connect over. When I started writing for my school newspaper last semester (even though it was for class credit), I met so many awesome people who were also passionate about journalism. It was really inspiring and motivating for me to get pointers from them and just be surrounded by people who loved to interview people and write just as much as I do.
- Journal: One of the best ways to release negativity is to write it down. I find that every time I write down what’s bothering me, I can better recognize what the problem is and then find an appropriate way to deal with it. Also, I can write down all the positives in my life and reread them if I start feeling down. I also love picking pretty journals that inspire me to write and work hard, like this one from Barnes and Noble.
- Find support: The biggest thing that has helped me come to terms with the person that I am has been my religion. I was born and raised Greek Orthodox, but I didn’t really get into learning about my religion until I was 16 and went to Camp St. Paul for the first time. Since then, I’ve become more confident in myself and my abilities because I know that God made me the way I am and only sends me challenges that He knows I can handle. Now, I’m not trying to tell you to start going to church every single day or to convert right this second. All I’m saying is that everyone needs someone or something (healthy!) to bring you back when you start fall. For those of you who are not religious, I’d recommend finding something or someone that always has your back and best interests at heart. I have a handful of really close friends that constantly cheer me on and pick me up when I fall. I’d be nowhere without them. Even my parents are there for me whenever I need them, and I can tell them absolutely anything without them judging me or putting me down. The bottom line is that it feels amazing to know you have people who love and support you all the time and can pick you up if you start doubting yourself.
I hope this post gave you a bit of a look into my life and some inspiration and motivation to start loving yourself completely and entirely. Don’t forget to keep me in the loop as you embark on your journey!!
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