in which i purchase a swimsuit and recall my own journey to a healthier self-image.
2011 March 6 § 3 Comments
I bought a new swimsuit today, a black Calvin Klein one-piece that I saw at Costco while on the lookout for toilet paper, plastic wrap, and food to keep my tummy satisfied during tenth week and finals week of the quarter. The only sizes left were 10s, 12s, and 14s – which I knew I wouldn’t fit – so I grabbed the only 6 left, hoping it wouldn’t be too small.
When I got home, I tried it on and looked at myself in the mirror.
It was the first time in a very long while that I liked how I looked in a swimsuit. I’ve refrained from buying one-pieces in the past because most of the inexpensive ones tend to be cut higher on the legs and hips than I thought I was comfortable with. I wasn’t even that comfortable with two-pieces, because they either revealed too much (both the top and the bottom), or didn’t cover my belly pudge. And no matter what kind of swimsuit I tried on, I felt like my thighs were huge.
I’ve never really liked my legs.
In my worst moments, I’ve likened them to malleable tree stumps that are too vein-y, have too much flesh, and are too muscular to be beautiful. When I sat cross-legged, they crease in such a way as to make it painfully obvious – at least, to me – that I’m “fat” and “need” to become thinner. When I shopped for jeans, most places had legs that were too tight for a comfortable fit – and when I could find jeans that didn’t have skinny-person legs, the hips were way too wide. When I tried on dresses for dances and homecoming, my legs looked ‘wrong’.
It was attempting to shop at the Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe and other similar stores that convinced me that I didn’t have a perfect body. In retrospect, I cared too much about “fitting in” or being under Size Z – but as a high school student, my conceptions of beauty and popularity were influenced and molded by the likes of Seventeen or Teen Vogue, which didn’t do much to promote the idea of universal beauty or healthy beauty, or of beauty as being more than “one size only: skinny and thin”.
And my mother, being the typical traditional Chinese mother, was always telling me that I was fat and should stop eating. It also didn’t help that every time I visited my relatives, the older folks (including my various aunts and uncles) would mention how I’d gotten fatter since the last time they saw me.
Obviously, my notions of beauty no longer subscribe to thinness or weight, and certainly not fitting into a certain size or being able to wear a certain style of clothing. Several things happened that made me embark on a journey to a healthier self-image that I still continue to travel today.
Sports and physical activity. Playing sports and doing JROTC, I was extremely proud of my powerful legs and firm calves – it was a testament of my athletic ability and my hard work staying fit, of being able to chase down tennis balls and badminton birdies, of being able to run a faster-than-eight-minute-mile, of being able to tread water for longer than anybody else in my class. Having muscled legs, toned legs, was a wonderful thing when I was an athlete.
Changing perceptions about how to achieve personal happiness. A slow change that occurred over the course of several years, I began feeling unsatisfied with the “happiness” that I gained when I lost weight on the scale. The decreasing numbers would give me a moment of achievement, but it was never enough. I didn’t feel happy with the amount of food I put into my body (which wasn’t enough), and I skipped meals under the assumption that it would make me thinner and thus, happier.
Predictably, the happiness never lasted. When I was trying to “lose weight” and “lose fat”, I was changing for the sake of others; my reasons were shallow and negatively motivating, especially when I looked at my body in comparison to others. I felt ugly when I tried on dresses next to my friends, and saw my thicker arms and thicker legs and muscled calves; to me, not looking like the mannequin made me imperfect.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that my personal happiness hinged being happy with myself, and being confident in who I was now, and not some idealized image influenced by popular media and societal pressure.
I can’t pinpoint where it started, nor would I be able to give anyone else struggling with the problems I had a few years ago a starting point – but I do know that it involved a lot of change in how I held myself and portrayed myself to others. I stopped downplaying my skills and my achievements – I made a conscious effort to really think about how unique my accomplishments were. I wasn’t “okay with computers,” I was well-acquainted with the basics and great at troubleshooting; I wasn’t “not that great at Super Smash Brothers,” I could “kick your ass eight times out of ten.” Even if it was just video games or something more meaningful like being a great writer and a fast learner, learning how to think positively about myself – and telling others that I was proud of myself! – started making a huge difference in how I started to think about myself.
Because once I stopped telling myself that I wasn’t that great. and I stopped myself that I sucked at everything and wasn’t any good at anything, I stopped viewing myself through a lens of imperfections and flaws.
Finding clothes that fit me, rather than trying to fit into clothes that didn’t. The problem was shopping at places that didn’t make clothing for my kind of body. I hate to put a great deal of emphasis on clothing, but finding clothes that were made for my body shape, that accentuated my positives and downplayed what I didn’t like, really played a big part in becoming more confident in my beauty, and seeing myself more than in terms of not fitting into a pair of jeans or looking bad in a halter top.
I did eventually find a store that made their jeans for short people with legs. EXPRESS and American Eagle both have my patronage whenever I need some more denim. :)
Equating beauty with health and confidence. Around this time, I began realizing how carelessly I had been treating my body. I willfully ate very little, and I didn’t keep a healthy schedule of rest and sleep. Combine the two with an active and sometimes very stressful lifestyle, and it was a recipe of terrible imbalance, which affected my moods and my concentration.
In the interests of efficiency (and due to the worry I was causing some of my closest friends), I realized that I really had two choices: continue the way I was, and maybe ending up in the hospital’s emergency room someday if I became sick enough or unhealthy enough to collapse; or, change my lifestyle not just for me, but for the people who truly cared about my well-being.
It’s been a slow process. But as I slowly began to eat healthier and more regularly, and at least made an honest effort to have a minimum of five or six hours of sleep every night, I began to see positive changes like being more awake during the day, feeling more alert overall, being much more energetic, and working more efficiently.
Confidence made me view myself differently; health made my body feel significantly better. Perhaps it was when these two changes squished together and melded together in my life, that I began seeing my image in a mirror and not seeing someone who was flawed, but seeing someone who was beautiful because I was imperfect.
My legs weren’t fat, they were the lingering legacy of three years of varsity tennis and two years of varsity badminton; of running and sweating during hot summer days as I trained to get in shape for the season; of being the most physically fit girl in my high school’s JROTC cadets. Each part of my body was the sum of my experiences, a journey and a story that is worth so much more than a number on a scale, or fitting into clothes made for tall skinny people.
So being able to try on a swimsuit, look in the mirror, and having the first thought in my head be “Wow… I look amazing!” really made me realize how far I’ve come since the me of before.
It’s a journey I’m so happy to have made.