I Finally Chose To Put My Body First And Here's How I Did It

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woman looking in the mirror

By Emily Bernstein

I grew up playing volleyball — constantly surrounded by tall, skinny, beautiful women. I never thought I fit in with them because I’m short and was never skinny like them.

It didn’t even matter that I played just as well as they did. And it would be a lie to say that college does great things for people’s self-esteem.

Throughout high school and freshman year of college, I tried eating well, turned to fad diets, and exercised more. Nothing seemed to work.

I could never hold myself accountable — I always cheated on my diets and sometimes did as little as possible during my workouts. I was never content, but still, I suffered.

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I have always been the "big girl," and I have always known it. My friends never commented on it, but I know I was and I have been extremely aware of it for as long as I can remember.

I could never share my friends’ clothes after a sleepover, or prom. They were always "smalls," when I was a "large."

I have always hated my body, constantly trying to stuff myself into a smaller space so people wouldn’t notice me. I avoided looking in mirrors in department stores, and I was always embarrassed to shop with my friends. I would only wear neutral colors so I wouldn’t stand out in a crowd.

Not feeling confident in your body is a crippling, terrifying thing, and there's no way around it.

At the beginning of this year, I wrote the words: Let’s all try to love ourselves a little better this year. And I cringe to say that I never thought I’d be able to actually follow those words. But I at least wanted the chance.

But now, it’s official — I’ve lost 20 pounds and gained a lot of muscle. I’m not (that) ashamed to admit it. No, it’s not for a boy. No, it’s not because society pressured me to. It’s just because I always wanted to do it, and this year, I stuck with that desire.

I’m not at my goal, but it’s a start. And starting is always the hardest part.

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On my winter break, I decided this was going to be the year: the year I stuck to a diet. The year I lost the weight. The year I chose myself over everything else.

I spent a lot of time researching diets I could do on my own time, that would make me eat well and build up my willpower. I researched diets that would help me make good habits, and continue to live with them.

I settled on Weight Watchers, a plan where I can eat what I want to eat, when I want to eat it, and all I have to do is stay honest with myself. Here’s how it works: you’re not supposed to starve yourself — and that’s basically it. You eat what you want, and the program helps you learn portion control.

At the same time I started this, I began to go to Pure Barre. This is a workout that targets every muscle in a 60-minute, low-impact workout. Within five days, my posture had improved, and I felt stronger already.

This is all to say, I have begun to love my body for the first time in my life. I made this choice on my own and I held myself accountable for once. I made the choice to feel good about myself and, this time, it actually stuck.

I no longer look away from mirrors in stores and I have started to believe people’s compliments. I feel strong and I feel healthy. I eat better, and I exercise more. I’ve created good habits, and have forced myself to continue doing them. Now, it’s nearly second nature.

This is not to say I am 100% confident and I strut my stuff. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to feel that way. For now, though, I can just keep doing what I’m doing: feeling good and taking good care of my body.

And maybe, just maybe, I can try to love myself a little better.

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Emily Bernstein is a writer whose work focuses on mental health, pop culture, love, and family. Her writing has been featured in Nature, The New Yorker, Interview Magazine, Healio, Five O'Clock, among others. Follow her on Twitter for more.

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.