I Am Beautiful

 Photo by  Ryan Moreno  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

“You’re beautiful no matter what they say.” – Beautiful by Christina Aguilera.

Skinny. Fat. Pretty. Ugly. 

The list goes on and I’m sure 99.9% of us have heard some variation of these words aimed at us our entire lives, either from someone in our lives or from a magazine in a check-out lane at the grocery store.

We’ve all seen that meme on Instagram, the one titled, “Being a woman is hard AF.” It goes something like; No boobs? Dang, grow some. / Boobs? Cover yourself. You’re so vulgar. Booty? Well, you better cover yourself cause you don’t wanna draw attention to that booty. / Short? You need to wear heels. Tall? Dang. You can’t be taller than your man. Also, never wear heels. / Skinny? Gotta gain weight cause no body likes a boney woman. / Chubby? Gotta lose weight cause nobody likes a fat woman. / You like makeup? Heck no. / No makeup? Please take care of yourself. Don’t be so lazy. 

It’s exhausting being a woman, and it’s no wonder why. We constantly have these standards set for us and it’s not just from magazines and TV and movies anymore, it’s coming from social media. It’s everywhere. 

Growing up, I always felt like I was being watched. Every time I ate something, I felt like there was someone watching me, judging me. Every time I went out to play with my cousins, someone was always watching and commenting on how I should go run a little more… get more exercise. I’d like to think that my issues with eating started a lot later than that when I was in my teens, but if I’m being honest, it started before the age of ten. At family barbeques, I constantly felt like someone was judging how much food was on my plate compared to my cousins’ plates. Even back then I would try to hide in a corner and quietly eat, and pray that no one saw me. 

As I got older, I started throwing my lunch in the trash so that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat it, and by the time high school rolled around, I was down to eating one meal a day, if that. That one meal was only because my parents made us eat dinner together every night.

I always felt so guilty after eating that one meal. Most days I forced myself to run to the bathroom afterward. 

I knew that because I was curvy I would never be a size 0, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t try. No matter how much I forced myself to get sick, or how little I ate, my jeans never went below a size 11/13. That was a hard pill to swallow. It didn’t matter that I was starving myself or taking two different PE classes a semester, the size on the tag never went down. Most people would look at me and think that I probably had a problem with over-eating, but the reality was I was starving myself. 

I remember my breaking point.

I lost my dad. I was living across the country attending my third year of University and received a call during finals week my dad had passed suddenly due to a heart attack. I was twenty-one. All of a sudden he was just gone. My dad and I had been planning a trip for my twenty-second birthday to visit family in South Africa that we hadn’t seen in several years. I made the decision to still take the trip and I spent my birthday the way we usually did when I was little – with a pool party and a barbeque – except this time it was different. That morning I received a gift from a grandparent, their first gift to me in ten years.

The gift was a book. That should have been great, right? I’ve always loved reading. Some would even call me a book nerd since I currently read about 100 books a year. But this book was different… it was a book on how to eat to lose weight.

So, not only was I battling my own messed up vision of how I looked and an eating disorder, and still mourning the loss of my father, but now I had a family member telling me – in a not so subtle way – that I wasn’t good enough. That the years of putting my body through hell wasn’t enough.  Now, I don’t think she meant it the way I took it, but at the time I was already struggling and my defenses went up whenever someone mentioned my weight or eating.

Everyone is their own worst critic, but I feel as women, we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else judges us. We’re constantly striving to have the flat stomach, to get rid of the stretch marks, to tone up the jiggly arms, to have the flawless skin.

Can I tell you something?
You. Are. Beautiful. 

The way you are right now. You are beautiful. You have a flat stomach? That’s great! You probably worked your ass off to get there. You have stretch marks? That’s awesome! Your body probably birthed beautiful babies! You have jiggly arms? Don’t we all?

My point is, we all have something we wish we could change. Nobody is perfect.

It took me a long time to realize that what I was putting my body through was so much worse than I ever thought. I was tired all the time. Like, all the time. I was denying my body the nutrition it needed, my strength was deteriorating, and my immune system was crap…all because I wanted so desperately to live up to the impossible standards put on me by the media.

Did you know that, according to Statistics Canada, almost 30% of girls in grades 9 and 10 are on a diet? 37% of grade 9 girls think they’re too fat and 40% of grade 10 girls think the same. Girls as young as five know what dieting and weight-loss is. In 2002, 1.5% of females aged 15-24 had developed an eating disorder. (National Eating Disorder Information Centre, 2014).

These numbers are staggering, but we can change them.

We can start telling our girls (and boys) how much they’re loved just as they are. That they don’t need to try and live up to the world’s standards of beauty. That life is about more than just diets, weight loss and spending hours upon hours in the gym, but that if they want to do that then that’s great too – as long as it’s healthy and they’re doing it for them. 

Last year, on April 30, I took the plunge and got a trainer. Mostly because I needed someone to keep me accountable with my eating. I know that this was the best decision I’ve ever made – even though I may complain about it from time to time, and I only complain because he’s always texting me making sure I’ve eaten my meals that day.

It’s the best decision I’ve ever made because I made it for me. It was me taking a positive step forward. I was starting to take my life back.

It was my first change towards a healthier me. I’m eating more and I work out because I want to get my strength back and because it gives me another way to get out my stress from the day. Before I made this change I would react to a bad day by taking it out on my body by refusing to eat, now I still take it out on my body, but it’s in the gym lifting weights. 

It’s a process, and I’m still healing, but I’m learning that I am beautiful, just the way I am.

I used to buy magazines and beat myself up inside about how I didn’t measure up to the models on the covers or on the inside pages; I had a belly, my thighs touch, my arms aren’t as toned etc, but I stopped years ago and now I barely glance at the covers while in line at the grocery store or pharmacy. I know that if I allow myself to buy those magazines, that it’ll be the start of another downward spiral. I began following people on social media, people who motivate me to be the best version of myself I can be, people who don’t care about society’s standards of beauty, people who do what they do because they love it. My husband also tells me I’m beautiful daily and that helps.

It’s not easy learning how to love myself again, it’s a difficult journey, but it’s worth it. I am worth it.

- Andrea Burke