I stood in the bathroom at a Chick-fil-A, hearing the slander coming at me from every angle: “Gosh, your butt looks big today! Maybe you shouldn’t have eaten those fries.” I shrugged and shifted my weight awkwardly just before another insult came upon me.
"Make sure you run an extra four miles today so your stomach doesn’t jiggle in your tight dress this weekend."
I felt my throat close as tears started to pool in my eyes and my stomach growled, obviously not satisfied with the four waffle fries that constituted the entirety of my lunch: “Go ahead, cry. But that won’t make the fat go away.”
At the final insult, I pinched an inch of skin around each hipbone and stared into the mirror at a crying, emotionally crippled 19-year-old girl. No one stood around me as I wiped my tears with a piece of tissue paper.
I was in college. Classes were in buildings located minutes from the shore, which meant extracurricular activities often met by the ocean. Plus, more than half the school’s population was made up of beach-blonde beauties, uniformed in two-piece bikinis.
Sophomore year, multiple back injuries forced me to rescind my team member status on the varsity track and field team, therefore removing me from the constant workouts that kept me in tip-top shape.
It was at this point in time that I became an instant victim of body shaming. I lost muscle tone, gained an extra two pounds and started feeling floppier than my sandals in the sand. Everyone must have noticed… I knew I no longer looked like an athlete.
To ignore the nasty comments I often heard about my new physique, I put in headphones and ran. Some days, I only made it two miles around campus. Others, after eating a burger for lunch instead of a dry spinach salad, I would make my runs last as long as two to three hours.
I couldn’t let myself get “fat,” as people would notice and then, the judgments would REALLY start rolling in. But, no matter the volume on my iPod, I could still hear opinions coming in clear after I finished an hour on my feet: “You know, you could probably run a little faster if you just lost a few pounds.”
By my senior year, I gained two more pounds and felt like my body was still getting fatter instead of fitter. I signed up for races to stay motivated and eventually finished my first triathlon. I also completed numerous half marathons.
Most days, I ate healthily and tracked calories in my food journal, careful not to go over my self-imposed measly 1,200-calorie limit. Some days were crushed by chocolate cravings or one too many drinks out with the girls. The days following the not-so-successful weigh-ins were rough.
I reprimanded myself for my dessert choices to the point of tears. I would make up for it by only eating 400 calories in one day, followed by a four-mile run to deplete the day of fuel completely.
The next day was worthless, as I felt weaker than a piece of paper in a hail storm, so I would chow down on whatever food I could find… and the vicious cycle continued.
The body shaming grew worse up through graduation, where I made sure to avoid the crowd's judgmental eyes by relieving my stomach of any food just before I walked across the stage.
After college, I moved away from the beach, but couldn’t escape the bullies that still looked me up and down and voiced their concerns about my physique. I trained for a marathon, running 18 or 19 miles in one day, a few times a week. At the end of the runs, I force fed myself an apple or a tablespoon of peanut butter.
I was so tired and hungry, but I didn’t want to erase the calories I just shed. For a while, the victimizing subsided to barely audible whispers, and I was happy, for once, with how I looked.
But, after the marathon was over and my training became slack due to lack of race-day motivation, I started hearing the comments accumulating again, louder than ever before.
I wanted more than anything to be able to eat a piece of chocolate or enjoy the cookies my mom sent me in a care package without hearing, “Are you sure you want to add that to your waistline?” More often than not, the treats made their way into my trash bin instead of my tummy.
One January day, there was a blanket of snow that covered my Southern city and left the streets vacant and peaceful. I woke up and found comfort in this beautiful snowy morning with a cup of coffee with cream and chocolate pancakes.
Immediately after I ate, I knew I needed to run. I laced up my sneakers and headed outside into the gorgeous scene; I ran two miles to a very silent path between snow-covered pines.
Out of nowhere, I was bombarded with the most violent attack on my body I had ever experienced: “Faster! Burn off that chocolate! Your arms will look flabby in your sweater if you don’t run an extra six miles today!” The voices grew louder and louder.
The comments grew meaner and meaner. This continued until I finally had to stop running and catch my breath between sobs. I looked around me and only saw beautiful grey clouds hovering over the white ground that I neglected to see before.
I looked down and saw my soaking wet sneakers atop a glittering path of snow and gravel. No one was here to yell at me — except for myself.
I finally realized that my worst body shamer was the voice inside my head. All those years I thought the people around me were judging my appearance; in reality, it was just a delusional game I played with myself. I stiffled my last tear before yelling at my bully to finally “SHUT UP.”
The walk back to my apartment consisted of positive thoughts about my body in defense of the four years of constant negativity. I reminded myself of the miles I had conquered and how much more impressive those numbers were than the number of calories I consumed.
My graduation with honors, my memories from nights out in college and my fluency in three different languages are all more important and impressive than my reflection in the mirror. A tiny insecurity about how I looked on the outside masked the strong, accomplished woman I am on the inside.
Too many people, myself included, fall victim to the worst body shamers around: themselves. It is up to you to stand up and prove that you are more than just a number on the scale.
Silence the bullies in your mind and change your idea of perfection from what you look like to what you wish to accomplish. Ultimately, strive for happiness. Audrey Hepburn said it best:
Happy girls are the prettiest girls.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It