My face is rounder this semester.
I’ve always had a round face. Growing up, my parents told me that it meant that I would have good luck, but I just thought I had a big head. Sarah took a photo of me today while we were sitting in the sweetest coffee shop, and I noticed immediately how much rounder my face looked. A year ago I probably would have cried with a realization like that – hell, even a few months ago I may have.
I never thought I would be the kind to struggle with my weight. My genes have made me lucky enough to be naturally relatively thin, and I never went through any significant weight loss period in my early teens.
I can’t pin down the exact moment I started being truly unhappy with my body. I know it was sometime around the end of sophomore year, which had been surprisingly tough and taxing. A good deal of my life and comfort zone shifted dramatically and I struggled to accept the changes and adapt to new environments. I desperately sought control. Whenever my depression returns, the first thing to go is my feeling of control over my life. I think it was at that point that I shifted any anxieties and questions of my self-worth onto my body.
I may have not been able to control all of the circumstances of my life, but I could control how I looked. I became obsessed – I’ve blogged about this before, so I’ll summarize it here. Over the course of two months during the summer after sophomore year, I dropped 10 pounds and was at 114. For someone my age and height, I was considered underweight. I ran miles a day and carefully watched what I ate, and never ate more than I could burn off that same day.
I thought I was beautiful that way. My mother thought otherwise.
I’ll never forget it. It was hour two in a fitting room, trying to find a business skirt that would fit without alterations. My mother was exasperated as every size 0 we found fell from my hips. “This is not okay,” she told me, “this is just not okay.” From that day, she watched me closer at meals, encouraged me to substitute runs for trips to the yoga studio, and quietly but willingly took me out to buy a new set of pants and jeans as most of the ones I owned were too loose. During the last few weeks of summer, I slowly started gaining back the weight I had lost, and was back up to a healthy 120 by October. I went to therapy every week to supplement consistent eating habits, and avoided distance running like the plague.
Today, I sent her that picture of me with a rounder face, and she responded with “It’s ok, you look healthy.” Today, I am healthy, and my jeans may be a little tighter since arriving in Dublin, but I’m okay with it. There are still days when I sink back and wish I was still underweight, but for the most part I have taken strides.
Last week I ran a half-marathon pretty much cold. It was my third, and arguably one of the coolest things I have ever done. For so long, I had abused running, and it felt amazing to do long-distance again (despite the rolling hills at mile 10. Those were brutal). It had been a while since I ran to run, instead of running to be thin. I finished the race because I was healthy, and I am proud of that.
Healthy looks different for everyone.
For me, healthy looks like kindness and patience. It looks like more energy and less hurt. Being in Dublin for the past semester has helped me become healthier. It may be the copious amount of delicious food in Europe (seriously, how can I pass it up?), or the fact that life is less demanding so I am less demanding on myself. Whatever it is, I am grateful for it.
I still have a ways to go, but I am okay with that. Right now, today, I am healthy, and that’s all I need.
I think that now more than ever – in the age of social media, glossy lifestyle blogs, and fitness idols – we need to remind ourselves and each other of the importance of being healthy and how ‘healthy’ is different for everyone. I think a critical moment for me was setting standards against only myself. I may not be as thin or fit as the girl on Instagram, but compared to where I was a year ago, I am stronger and more resilient. Healthy and beautiful should only be defined by your standards, and not by anyone else’s.
The light in me honors the light in you,