Beauty Comes From Within: How I Found My Positive Self-Image

I used to stare in the mirror and hate what I saw.

I’d glare at myself from head to toe, poking and prodding at each section of my body that I thought needed improvement.

I’d formulate extreme plans in my head on how to change the parts of me that I couldn’t bear to look at. "Maybe if I only eat vegetables I can lose this extra weight," I’d mutter to myself. And perhaps if I can save up enough money, I can fix my nose.

I would limit my intake of food to try to lose an extra pound while I slipped into my size 0 jeans. I’d try makeup tactics to mute my features.

But, the truth was, the more I tried to “improve” myself, the more miserable I became.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible not to judge your body image as an impressionable teen in our society.

Though we are taking strides to change the ideals of a woman’s perfect image, we undeniably are faced daily with magazine covers, advertisements and articles of clothing that subconsciously remind us we are less than perfect.

My question now is who gives a damn?

I grew up in a family obsessed with body image and health. Each morning, they'd sit around babbling about who worked out harder, comparing their progress and sipping on freshly-made juices.

You do not understand the term “fit-fam” until you have sat at vegan breakfast with my parents and siblings post-CrossFit workout.

They dissect everything they eat to make sure it is vegan, gluten free, organic, low fat and high fiber, limiting the intake and being sure not to “overeat.”

I can hardly complain; I know many would love to be in my situation, living in a household that encourages health. My mother is a great vegan cook and helps many on their roads to wellness.

But, seeing it first-hand, I believe the goal my family has is not always about wellness, and often slips toward physical appearance. That simply drives me mad.

Growing up in this immediate environment made my journey to self-confidence a rocky one. Being scrutinized for “unhealthy” eating often led me to scrutinize myself.

It wasn’t until I moved out and went to college that I was able to break the pattern.

I realized that no matter how thin I was, I would only want to be thinner. No matter how much I deprived myself, I would only want to deprive myself more, and no amount of exercise would ever lead to confidence when I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

People who are trying to obtain unrealistic outward physical goals will never be happy. They will always want more.

I am casting no shade whatsoever on those who enjoy working out and bettering themselves. I, too, workout daily and try to improve myself.

But, the difference between me doing so now and doing so before is that I do it for health, as a hobby, and as a stress reliever.

I do not have unrealistic expectations. If my body ends up changing, great, that’s a bonus! If not, fine, that wasn’t my ultimate goal anyway.

I am confidently in a place of my life where my image in the mirror does not define who I am as a person. I am healthy, and that is all I care about.

How did I get here? There were a lot of things I had to let go of:

I had to let go of the idea that other people cared about how I looked and realize that striving for my definition of the perfect image was completely selfish.

When it comes down to it, you are your biggest critic and it is up to you to decide if you prefer confidence or a goal that will never satisfy you.

I had to realize that when I was putting my health on the line in order to look a way only I cared about, I had gone too far.

I realized there are so many better things in life to be than skinny. There is SO much more to life than the way I look.

There are foods to taste, places to see and things to try that I will never deprive myself of because I don’t want the added calories.

Whoever first said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” deserves to be force fed a mac 'n' cheese topped burger.

Then tell me that doesn’t taste better than skinny, girlfriend.

Confidence became part of me when I stopped comparing myself to other people. That is a nasty habit that needs to be blunted as soon as it begins. You are not anybody else.

You are you; you have wonderful qualities that make you who you are. The comparing game leads nowhere but self destruction.

Confidence also came with encouraging myself and other people to be their best selves.

Hating on skinny girls will not lose you any more pounds, and wrongfully calling someone anorexic will not make you feel any better about your size.

When you stop tearing others down to mask your insecurities, you will be better able to face them head on, which is what you need to do in order to eliminate them.

The most important part of gaining positive self-image for me was recognizing my positive qualities and doing things to emphasize them.

I am smart, driven, witty and a good friend. I think I have many great qualities, and I don’t feel that I should be ashamed to say so. Nobody should.

I am earning my masters degree, I enjoy volunteer work and I like to immerse myself in new cultures. Focusing on bettering myself in ways besides physical helps my self-image immensely.

These qualities and many others make me great, and they have absolutely nothing to do with the way I look. Being thin won’t get me a job or friends — my inner characteristics will.

If someone cannot see past your body image to get to know who you are, he or she is by no means worth your time.

Cut people out of your life who tear you down. If you are aiming for self-confidence, but have friends who constantly talk about their cellulite in the mirror, you will never get there.

Or simply, ask your friends to keep a “fat-talk-free” zone. Conversing about weight will do nothing but make you fixate on it.

Don’t talk about your physical insecurities because it only brings light to them and gives them power.

Instead, when you are feeling less than beautiful, take a step away from the mirror and positively affirm yourself of all the non-tangible reasons you are great.

Be healthy. I eat healthy, but don’t deprive myself of a good burger when I need it. Exercise.

It makes you feel great, but don’t do it simply to look a certain way.

I found running was more enjoyable for me when I did it to see how far I could get, not how many calories I could burn.

I found lifting was more rewarding when I saw myself getting stronger, not because I wanted a six-pack.

Abs are made in the kitchen, but so are sandwiches, and I'd prefer a six-pack of craft beer over six-pack abs any day. It's what makes me happy.

Gaining confidence in yourself is not easy. It takes practice and sometimes it takes quite a while.

I used to think that what the mirror would show me was what I needed to make me happy.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think I am beautiful not because of my image, but because I am happy with who I am.

I found that as soon as I loved who I was on the inside, I began to love the way I looked on the outside, too.

My heart hurts for the girls who think reaching the ideal image will make you happy.

To my sister: I love you, you are beautiful from the inside out, and I can’t wait until the day that you recognize that.

I am not perfect, and I want to better my inner self for the rest of my life.

I have simply recognized the beauty in knowing that the mirror will never provide me the happiness that having a positive self-image has.