This probably sounds like the same ol’ song and dance for many of us out there, but growing up, I struggled with the way my body looked.
When I was a young girl growing into my preteen years, I rejected feminine clothes. My hair was oftentimes a tangled mess thrown up in a ponytail, I wore tomboy clothes, and never wanted to address my growing curves.
As I went through puberty my breasts grew, and I started getting more defined curves. The guy friends were also starting to notice my body, too, as I was maturing at a faster rate than my friends were.
By the time I started high school, I was dressing to show off my curves, I was boy crazy, and I had zero confidence in who I had become.
My body had changed so quickly in such a short amount of time, I had no peripherals on who really liked me as a person, and who just wanted to have a piece of my body. At my leanest state, I was 5’10”, weighing 154 pounds, and my measurements were 36″, 30″, 36″. I was inches away from “the perfect shape” (that 36″ 24″ 36″ bod). But I was so lost in worrying about my physical appearance. It was like a full-time job in and of itself.
My junior year I quit playing basketball and started working three jobs. I was a trainer, a carhop at Sonic, and worked for my grandmother’s medical billing company. On top of working, I was taking college courses during my junior and senior year so I could graduate with my basics out of the way. I made time to do yoga and workouts in my room, and I was really proud of how well I was doing with yoga exercises. I had NEVER been that flexible before. I leveled back out at around 170, and had toned significantly.
My senior year I started looking at other aspects of my physical appearance. I started spending hundreds of dollars a month on my hair, makeup, nails, and tanning (before all the cancer studies came out — yikes). Looking back, my heart breaks that I was spending so much money to keep myself fully pampered, including brand-name clothes. But I still felt like I wasn’t enough. I was a size 6/8, wearing a C-cup in high school, while other girls were a size 2/4, and had smaller frames and figures.
At this point, I was so wrapped up in how I looked that I was never addressing the issue deep down: I didn’t feel like I was enough, so I needed to heighten this unrealistic standard of myself. After high school, I think I felt a sense of relief. I realize now that for so long I was trying to impress people who frankly never really knew me and were not very kind. But I didn’t stop using people as my excuse to stay constantly obsessed with my body. I had a scholarship to a college none of my other classmates were going to, so for me it was a new opportunity to impress A LOT more people.
My freshman year all I cared about was making mediocre grades (for me that would’ve been a b average) and meeting “the one” (insert the eye rolls of how silly that whole idea was). I’m sure, no, I know, that I drove my dorm roommates crazy with my whole process of looking perfect. I was inconsiderate of them and never really shared my true self. Thinking back on that time I wonder how different things would’ve been had I actually just been myself.
I started going to church in Denton, and that was the first time the walls I had spent the last 7 years building were starting to crack. I didn’t understand how Jesus could love me *exactly* as I was, regardless of what I looked like or how I felt about myself. So, I changed my approach, and just added *a pinch* of Jesus into my life, for good measure. I was still so lost, y’all. I had no moral compass in what I was doing with my body, and in retrospect I realize how much I hated myself.
Fast-forward to now. Jesus has revealed so much about my heart and how that transcends in the way I see myself physically. And let me tell you, Beloved, it is good.
I weigh 240 pounds. And here’s what I’ve really gained in this whole journey.
- I love myself now more than I did at my leanest.
- Physical appearance does NOT last. Your body is going to go through some kind of change in your life, whether that be weight gain, weight loss, pregnancy, injuries, surgeries, and so on. Loving who I am RIGHT NOW is so important to who you will become. And loving Erika at 240 lbs is just as important as loving her at 170 lbs. Regardless of my size, I love myself. I love me for me.
- I don’t feel obligated to impress ANYONE
- I love my curves. I love all the imperfections of my body. But, more importantly, I love the woman I have become. I am embracing my weirdness, my quirks, and am choosing the joy in who I have become, despite my physical appearance. Because I’m embracing me for me, more people are more likely to embrace me for me, too.
- I am more comfortable in my skin now than I ever have bee
- I have cellulite, stretchmarks, fat rolls, etc. And guess what? I feel good. I’m not going to rob myself of joy because of where I am physically. For so many years I worried about what others thought of my body, or even bashing myself after hearing candid comments from family members like “No matter how small you get, you always seem to have a potbelly.” Yeah, I don’t have to live with that guilt. Because my body isn’t about making other people comfortable, it’s about how I feel. I live in this skin 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. I’d rather be comfortable in my curves than squirming and worrying about body standards someone else wants to set for me.
- This body can change
- I believe that I have found something in this weight gain. Myself. Erika Michelle. I have found who she is, what people actually like about her, the people who actually want to invest time in who she is, and not what they want her to be or what they want her to look like. Y’all, it’s truly freeing.
I write all this to say that I’m trying to get back to the girl that was so worried about what people thought and tell her that she has freedom in Christ, and freedom in who she is. I’m ready for another change, and one where I will have the physical ability to just do more activities. Like all people, at some point we find ourselves struggling to do things, and for me, some of it attributes to weight gain. So, I’ve decided I can get back, and LOVE myself throughout the entire process. Isn’t that SO freeing?! Like I don’t have to wait to love myself or my body. I can love me RIGHT NOW. And I know that pain will be waiting for me, but I know I will gain when I lose. Because I’m bringing something back with me that I didn’t have before. Joy.