Updated: Jan 15
I was in fifth grade when I first realized I was developing something on my chest. I'm not talking about a tumor or abnormal growth, although for me, it was a bit abnormal.
My boobs were starting to grow. And I was starting puberty. One of the weirdest, most awkward, and yet exciting times in a young person's life. I was starting to develop my adult body. And I could not wait to see what it looked like. So many possibilities. Which body would I get?
If I was looking through a magazine, it would have been easy to pick. I would have pointed at a picture of Cindy Crawford and said "I would like to be my own version of that please." Because that was pretty much perfection in my mind. That's what girls dreamed of looking like. And what the boys dreamed of looking at.
Because that seemed to be what mattered.
But that's not how life works. Instead, you get to wait to see the results that you are lucky, or not lucky enough to get. It's kind of like being given a wrapped present. Instead of opening it at once, you only get to rip a little piece of wrapping paper off at a time, giving you a hint of what might be inside.
Except with your body, it's the outside that seemed to matter. I was already insecure enough on the inside, comparing myself to every other girl I saw. I didn't like that part of me.
So I waited. And I hoped that my body would be the body that the world and I wanted.
To be beautiful to everyone.
Because then I would be loved and accepted. Or at least that's what I thought.
That whole thing about not judging a book by its cover is a good theory, but at that age, the cover was all that seemed to matter.
It seems so shallow now, but how much has it changed?
When I was 15, I remember looking at myself in the mirror.
I remember thinking "Is that it? Is that what I get?"
And then again, when I was 16.
"Maybe I will keep growing. Maybe puberty ends around the age of 18?"
And then again at 17.
"I think this is it. I don't think you are going to be blessed with a C cup. Your bra size says 36 almost B- You aren't even a freakin full B cup Sarah! Ugh!!!"
I went from describing myself in first person, to looking at myself from another person's point of view. The ego was ready to take on its own identity.
And the body image hating continued on and on.
I was an athlete in high school. Running Track was my favorite sport. I loved running the sprints.
I was good. But in my eyes, I wasn't amazing. I was good enough to make it to the state meet in the open 400m two years in a row and even placed 8th and 9th at state those years. I also ran on two relays that placed 2nd, and 3rd at state. Some people may have thought that was amazing. But to me, it wasn't good enough. I knew others were better and faster than I was. And I would go down the list of every possible reason why I wasn't as good, and it usually came back to my body image. It was depressing.
In my eyes, every other sprinter was built for running. But not me. I was 5 ft 7, had thicker thighs, an "athletic" waist between 27 to 28 inches, and was said, by a couple of boys on the track team, to have a big butt. Which did not help my already skewed image of myself. I weighed between 135-143 lbs. I know, because I weighed myself obsessively every morning after my shower, before I had eaten and before I got dressed. That was the time of day that I would weigh the least amount. So that is the weight I chose to go with.
I would watch the other girls run, and ache inside as I told myself that I would be faster if my legs were thinner. If I had a longer stride. If my waist was just 24 or 25 inches rather than 27 to 28 inches. My small boobs were probably a blessing, being that I was a runner.
But I would still take a C cup over a fast time any day.
Because that seemed to be what mattered.
After high school, and one year of college, I got married. I was 19. And life continued to change for me. My body image changed too. Now it wasn't just the voices in my head that I had to listen to. It was the ideas of my husband, and what he wanted. He could tell me how great I looked, but if his head ever looked towards a hot girl in a bikini, and I saw it, a little part of me would die inside.
And the voices would start screaming: Why couldn't I have looked like that? Why couldn't I have been so hot that he never would have even wanted to look at another girl?
That was how my mind continued to interpret things. I told myself that I just needed to get thinner. I had 5 children by the time I was 29 years old and managed to get back down to 130 lbs after every birth. I was obsessed with being 130. I had to prove to myself that I could do it. That I was different than all of those other women I had heard growing up, saying "I was thin until I had kids..." I wanted to prove that I could be thin AND have kids.
Because that seemed to be what mattered.
And still, I was not enough. Not for my husband. And not for me.
I got my first gray hair when I was 17. I swore that I would never be someone who dyed my hair. I would grow old naturally. But early graying is genetic in my family line. I started dying my roots when I was 21 years old. The grays came in so quickly, that I had to dye my hair every two weeks to keep the grays from showing. Otherwise, it would look like a skunk stripe right down the middle of my head. So I dyed my hair. And it went from being this beautiful, auburn, chestnut brown color in high school to being darker and darker until it was pretty much black. For years.
When I was 35 years old, I finally decided that my scalp couldn't take the chemical burns any longer. I had actual sores on my head. I decided to change it all and go platinum blonde. It took a few treatments, over a matter of months, and a lot of patience, for my hair to finally calm down and become something I would start loving. It even went through a blue ombre phase.
I learned that there is a reason for the warnings on the hair dye boxes. Do not use Henna products on your hair when there are chemical dyes still in it. They don't mix well. And even though it was kind of cool to have some blue hair, it was not me. So I cut my hair even shorter.
That was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Now, I go in and get platinum highlights once a year. If even that. Just to freshen it up a bit. But most of my hair is my natural color. And I. LOVE. IT. It's so much easier than trying so hard to be something I am not. But why is it so hard to just let ourselves grow older? Especially as women?
Why does it feel so hard to allow ourselves to just be who we are?
Oh, I know. It's because those pictures of the Cindy Crawfords of the world are perfectly preserved for all time. And there are always younger versions coming to age too. Everywhere we look. Even when we google the older supermodels, many of them are still just as gorgeous. Whether that is health, nutrition, amazing plastic surgery, good lighting, make-up, photoshop, or just being lucky, I don't know.
So I sit here, continuing to compare myself to others. And I even compare my current body to the younger, more fit version of myself. Even with my insecurities back then, my body was still younger and more fit than it is now that I am 42.
This is how many of my mornings have gone. I walk into my closet to get dressed and the chaotic voices immediately start saying:
"That shirt is too tight. It will show your rolls. You can't wear that. Gross."
"Those pants are too tight. They will cause the rolls."
"Sarah, what is wrong with you?"
"That dress used to fit. You fat slob. You can't hide in that dress."
And then one day, something hit me.
I was writing an email to a client who struggled with body image. And I wanted to help her. I suggested some body-loving affirmations, and as I typed them out, I started to cry. How can I help guide someone to learn how to love their body when I have such a hard time
loving my own?
I love my body. It takes care of me. It has been housing my spirit for 40+ years and we have been through so much together. It is doing the best it can do, to continue to take care of me. So I choose to take care of it too. Thank you so much body. Thank you for loving me no matter what. Thank you for being here with me, and going through life with me. You are my dearest and nearest friend and know me better than anyone else does. Let's do this together.
It felt so good to write those words. I stopped and read them aloud. What a different perspective!
I then went on to share with my client, what some of my voices say to me. And that I am coming to a point in my life where I am finally starting to accept who I am, on the outside. It helps to have a husband (my 2nd husband) who loves me the way I am! But I also have been working on seeing myself through a lens of love. And I prefer how I feel when I see myself in this way.
I coach track and cross country. I do it because I still love to run. And I do it because I have a passion for helping kids find their love for it as well.
When I first started coaching, deciding what I was going to wear each day became a stress of its own. I couldn't wear shorts too short, because my thighs are a bit of what my 8th grade PE Teacher referred to as "cottage cheese thighs". She told us in PE, that if we did lunges every day, we wouldn't get those cottage cheese thighs when we were older.
I failed her. I didn't do my lunges.
So I had to hide them.
Then one day, I put on a pair of running shorts. They were shorter than I would have liked, but as I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought to myself :
"Who freakin' cares Sarah!?! These kids see you every day. This is how they see you. Cottage cheese thighs and all. Own it. You are 42. Own who you are. Being confident with your body will make more of an impact on those young girls who are struggling with their bodies than seeing a grown woman who doesn't like herself. Be an example. Shine. Run. Love yourself. Be strong in your soul. And make a difference."
And so I did.
I'm not perfect. I am 20 lbs heavier than I have ever been in my life, other than when I was pregnant. And even typing that here makes me cringe just a bit. I eat mostly healthy, with an occasional sugar binge. I drink a lot of water. I get sleep. I meditate. I do deep stretching and some yoga. I read. And I strengthen my soul. My body is growing older every day. And it has done such a good job taking care of me so far.
I look at it differently now. I thank it for helping me.
I still have issues with choosing what I will wear each day, but it is getting better.
It takes practice breaking habits and quieting voices that have been with me since I was a fifth- grader. When so many of my insecurities began.
And you know, I am finally figuring out what really matters. And that's what is on the inside!
That's where the soul lives. That's where we learn, and live our life from.
From the inside out.
It's not just a good theory. It is the most beautiful truth. And if we could truly see how amazing we are from the inside out, we would never waste another moment criticizing ourselves or anyone else ever again.
I'm not there yet. But that is my goal. So I practice doing better each day.
The next time you start to hear those voices telling you every reason that you are not good enough, just ask them to stop. Gently and lovingly, or loud and to the point.
And then give your body some love. Because that precious body of yours has been with you longer than anyone else has. That precious body of yours is your partner, not your enemy. Love your body. It loves you.