How Exercise Helped Me Feel Comfortable in My Skin
I’ve never felt at home in my skin. Though I always loved my brain, my wit, my poetry, and my sarcasm, I flinched away from mirrors because they reminded me that, even though I wanted to, I couldn’t love all of myself. I knew I was supposed to embrace my thighs and my stomach flab, but I just couldn’t. Until recently, I felt like my body was trying to hurt me. I assumed that if I thrived, it would always be in spite of my physical presence. But I was wrong.
The spiral of disaster started when I was 10. Fifth grade was the first time I’d ever put much thought into my body, and it was in an effort to distract myself from feelings that were harder to sort through. I experienced an onslaught of bullying that year, and even though the bullies I encountered never mentioned my weight, the message they spread was clear: No one likes you. No one ever could. Because I liked my inner self so much, I seemed to subconsciously look for targets elsewhere. “Maybe,” I thought, “they hate me because I’m not as pretty as them.” To cope, I started eating my favorite snacks in excess, fully embracing the meaning of comfort food.
As the number on the scale crept up, I didn’t understand that I was also feeding my self-hatred with the food I consumed. Words from others ruined my self-esteem, but I’d always liked my brain, my ideas, my identity. My stomach rolls, and the handfuls after handfuls of pretzel sticks I shoved in my mouth, gave more ammunition, in my mind, for why no one liked me.
Every morning, my khaki uniform skirt that refused to button reminded me how much I hated myself. Even though I felt terrible, physically and mentally, I refused to do anything about it. I despised the way I ran out of breath walking up the stairs, and I beat myself up over how I used to hike up mountains with ease. But all I could do was eat more bread to feed the monster in my mind. I decided that my body was too far out of my control to get better.
I went through the next few years feeling worthless, though the worst of it didn’t hit until high school. Despite technically being an average weight, my self-perception had become so terribly distorted that all I could see were flaws—even some that didn’t even exist. I doubted that anyone could find me pretty; my craving for friendship even caused me to blindly trust an older boy who never seemed to mind my body. At the time, I didn’t know how plainly my vulnerability was scrawled across my forehead.
It was only in the aftermath of this destructive relationship, five years after the first dangerous thought, that I decided to take control of my body and tame my destructive mind. I started running so that I could feel my heart thrumming in my chest and know it was still there. I took up yoga because the straining of my muscles began to feel like power, not pain.
After two months of physical change, my mind followed. My body stopped feeling like a weapon for others to hurt me; it became a tool I could use, just like my brain. I accepted my skin and muscles as things I could love about myself, too. And, now that I’m healthy, I’ve learned that to really be happy, I have to invest in myself and let go of the past that weighed me down.
By Lauren Brice, 15