It's all about perspective.
I've struggled with my weight since I was about 12. One day, our maintenance man came over to fix a leak; I answered the door in a t-shirt and shorts, and the first thing he says to me is, "Wow Samantha, you're gettin' pretty fat there!"
Another time at a family reunion, a distant relative pulled a tray of cookies away from me when I tried to grab one, patted my stomach (I swear to GOD), and said, "You used to be a little string bean! You look just as cute as you did, except now you've gotten much fatter!"
It began taking a toll on my self-esteem—I starved myself for about 2 days before I almost passed out.
Was I surprised someone could say something hurtful like that? Not really. Kids bullied me all throughout elementary, middle and high school about my weight. I wasn't obese, maybe just a little overweight/pudgy for my age.
In middle school, especially, random people from my school instant messaged me telling me I was fat, making fun of my hairy arms (thanks, Italian genes!), and pointing out how stubby my legs were. I remember crying myself to sleep some nights asking a higher deity to PLEASE, CHANGE THE WAY I LOOK.
High school is a popularity contest and if you aren't pretty or intelligent, you're vulnerable to cruel words, particularly if you're meek and quiet like I was. And it's even harder when you're the "fat friend" amongst your girlfriends who constantly had boyfriends (while I couldn't catch their attention to save my life).
Because people always pointed out my weight throughout my life, I started believing there was something wrong with me on the inside, too. I was conditioned to think I was ugly on the outside, and the ugliness seeped through my skin, dripping onto my inner self.
There's no way anyone could love me, right? People bringing me down because of my weight started to feel normal.
I realize now that this definitely wasn't normal.
It wasn't until I went to college that everything turned around. Not only did people not give a sh*t about what others looked like, but they also didn't care what others thought. Nobody pointed out my weight; they were all too concerned with their own sh*t to notice.
I adopted this same kind of thinking and gained a voice. First, it was an internal voice in my head reminding me of my worth as a person; my weight was irrelevant to my character. Soon, the voice grew outward, motivating me to defend, stand up for, and express myself to the people who brought me down for most of my life.
I remember one day standing naked in the mirror in my tiny dorm room, saying, "I have two arms, two legs, two feet, and the rest of my limbs. There is NOTHING wrong with me." The wall I had up since the first time someone called me fat came crumbling down. That's when I began to heal and truly love myself.
I regularly went to the gym at school and grew my confidence up from a seedling that sprouted when I moved away from my toxic hometown. I walked a lot and ate well. Being a hungry college student worked in my favor.
I ended up making lifelong friends who accepted me for who I was inside.
I flirted/made out with boys, danced at the bars on the weekends, and started to actually LIKE my body.
It wasn't until this past summer that I wore a bikini for the first time since I was little. I'd been working out hard and maintaining a pretty awesome tan, so naturally, I wanted to show it all off. And you know what?
I felt amazing. I loved the way I looked!
I knew I still had some work to do on my tummy area but I didn't give a sh*t what other people thought, and the fact that I was comfortable wearing a skimpy bikini made me feel great. People really didn't care either way, I noticed.
Liking the way my body looked wasn't an overnight process. It took years to feel comfortable in my own skin. I struggled every day to accept myself and it wasn't easy or fun. I realized that loving your naked body begins with accepting who you are on the inside—and then the rest will follow. You should ask, "What makes ME feel good?" not "What makes OTHER people feel good?"
I'm not a model.
I'm not a size 0.
I'm not perfect.
I know this because I'm not anything I don't want to be or what others tell me I should be.
Remember, if you walk and talk with confidence, nothing that anyone says can bring you down. Once you start believing that you are beautiful inside and out, I promise you'll start feeling amazing.
This article was originally published at Truth Soup Samm. Reprinted with permission from the author.