March 16, 2017

this last month we recognized National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA) where people were supposed to recognize and bring awareness to this issue. the whole point was for each individual to share their story in dealing with self-esteem and body image. it's a powerful initiative, especially considering i have never met a young teen who hasn't dealt with body shame at least once in their life. i know that i have, and here's my story.

as a kid i was never overweight. i was always fairly healthy and active. my mom always cooked us healthy meals that involved fruits and vegetables. i was in dance, gymnastics, softball, soccer, and track as a little girl. i particularly loved dancing because i was always a natural when it came to performing. i remember i went to see the Nutcracker ballet during Christmas time with my family and i watched the sugar plum fairy dance on her toes across the stage. she wore this amazing sparkly tutu that i couldn't keep my eyes off of. i remember telling my mom "i want to be her someday." she told me "okay caitlin, you can do whatever you want, just work really hard and practice everyday."

the next week i went to my dance studio and told my ballet teacher i had seen the Nutcracker.

"i am going to be the sugar plum fairy someday," i told her. 

she giggled and told me "okay caitlin, i bet you can do it. but if you wanna be a ballerina, we better get rid of that cute little belly of yours." 

even as a child, i thought that was weird. but, i always remember being self conscious of my belly in all my costumes after that. i looked around at the other girls in my class. did they have bellies? no, i guess it really was just me.

i held onto my baby fat for a long time. i was never very tall and so my legs never grew very long. as i developed into my teenage years, i began to notice that i didn't have the long legs that were well suited for professional ballerinas. they weren't thin and long, and so i didn't think i stood a chance, so i gave up that dream. i continued to dance, but continually realized how my body differed from other girls, and i hated it. i remember hearing one girl at school make fun of me once i had left the room and she thought i couldn't hear. "thunder thighs" she said, "that caitlin girl has thunder thighs." i spent the rest of that school day crying in the bathroom stall.

my friends all got boyfriends, i didn't. my friends were sharing their first kiss stories, i was not. i didn't think i was pretty and i knew i wasn't skinny, so that must be why boys didn't like me. my body grew up faster than some of the other girls and i was shopping in the juniors section for jeans quicker than my friends. we would go shopping and they would be trying on XS shirts, i needed a M. the dressing room quickly became my own torture chamber. i would stare at myself in those mirrors and desperately cry to myself thinking "why can't my body just look a different way?" i was sure that being thin would make me happy.

i'm not exactly sure where i learned it, but somewhere down the road i quit eating. i would find myself going days without eating 3 full meals. i hated putting on spandex leo's for ballet class, and i would avoid going swimming because i knew that i would look like a whale in my swimming suit compared to my friends.
i participated in high school sports and i eventually kissed a boy (or two). people would tell me i was beautiful, but i didn't believe them. i was so convinced that beauty came from being thin, and thin was something i wasn't. i tried to lose weight, but nothing worked. my thought process became skewed and morphed so much, that i began seeing weight on my body that wasn't actually there. i kept a secret weight scale in my bathroom that i would stand on multiple times a day to see if anything had changed- if it hadn't i would cry. i didn't believe that i would ever look the way i wanted to. i didn't think i was beautiful, and that began to bleed into how i saw myself on the inside as well. all of me was ugly, and none of me was worthy of love.

my mom was not blind to my problems. she knew i was struggling with my self-esteem. she took me to see my doctor who had also begun to notice the weight fluctuation. he suggested a nutrition plan for me that involved a high amount of protein and vegetables, not to lose weight, but just to be sure that i was eating enough calories. i talked to someone who helped me understand that i was suffering from a minor eating disorder and distorted body image. i began to see my problems in front of my face for the first time in my life, and realized i didn't have to be so unhappy with who i was and what i looked like.

through the years, i have worked on healing. but trust me, it is extremely difficult to shift 10+ years of thinking overnight. i still struggle with it everyday, but i know that i am getting better. now, i have been taught and understand the importance of healthy exercise. i learned how to create a training program for myself at the gym. i can eat now without always obsessing over the amount of calories. i am confident in the body shape i have been given. it may not be like the girl next to me, but that doesn't mean it is any less worthy of love. i got involved in pageants where i had to face my worst fear- wearing a bathing suit in front of a crowd of people. i remember walking on stage for the first time in my suit and feeling terrified. what if nobody clapped? what if they laughed at me?

well surprise surprise, none of those happened. i walked, they clapped and cheered because they loved ME. they loved me as a person, regardless of my body shape, and were happy to support me. i received the award for highest score in physical fitness and swimwear that year.

as i was preparing to compete at the Miss Utah pageant, i decided i was going to do something i had yet been afraid to do- and that was to wear a full on bikini on stage. i had been working with a personal trainer and was beginning to feel a new kind of confidence that i wanted to be able to reflect on stage. i wanted to look at my fears straight in the face and walk on top of them. yet, as it came closer, people began to shame me for my choice. they called me "immodest" and "a bad example." they criticized me for wanting to flaunt my body in order to win something. yet, they really had no idea what i was doing did they? it's funny how quick we are to judge another. i decided to go forth and wear the swim suit that i had planned on, because I WANTED TO and because i was doing something for me. i did it, i owned it, and i had the time of my life doing it. it wasn't about flaunting my body, it was about facing my fears.

to this day, i struggle. there are some days where i swear the dysmorphia takes hold and i instantly think i have gained 10 pounds overnight. but, instead of crying, i now know how to take my brain and shift the thinking. "am i healthy? am i walking? is my body healthy enough to be a vessel that can help another today?" if i ask myself these questions, i am less keen to look inward and all of a sudden the world becomes a much bigger place full of people that i can meet and, possibly, help. i am okay with my body, and i work hard to stay strong. i appreciate the muscles i have because it reminds me of the scars, battles, and hurdles i have overcome in order to get to where i am. the size of my jeans isn't important, so long as i know i am giving my body the nutrition it deserves.

i think alicia says it best in this video. she is happy with who she is, and we can be too. it doesn't matter if we are a size 2, or 20 so long as we are taking care of ourselves- both physically and mentally. we were all created by the same Being who loves each of us individually. we have a work to do here on the earth, but we will never accomplish that work if we are too busy staring in a mirror or standing on a scale. beauty isn't defined by body shape, it's much deeper than that. i want to thank all of the people in my life who have helped me see beauty for what it really is. it is the light that is alive in each of us, and it's how we share that light with others. facing fears is beautiful. muscles are beautiful. thin is beautiful. curves are beautiful. smiles are beautiful. blonde hair, brunette, tall, short, what have you- bodies are beautiful because of the souls that live inside of them. feed that inner soul, make it sparkle, and you will be surprised at the impact you can leave on the world. kindness, compassion, courage, friendship, loyalty, intelligence, confidence... these are just a few things that are beautiful. do not let somebody else define what is beautiful to you. find it in yourself and boldly be it. then, you can walk around and help others see why they are beautiful too.

shine on,
glitter girl