Dear Friend,

I will never be a size two… in fact, I won’t get anywhere even CLOSE to a size two… and that (Despite what the media, general society, random people on the street, and the negative thoughts in the back of my mind happen to believe) is not just ok, it’s BEAUTIFUL. When I first started this Identity series I knew this topic would have to come up, because to talk about my identity and not talk about my relationship with my body felt incomplete… but I’m still not sure what to say. I have talked before about working to be comfortable in my own skin, about struggling to stay positive… but this ongoing process is so much more than that. Partially because to try and put into words the pain and self-hate I had in my life would be utterly impossible, but mostly because I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE.

The largest part of this identifier is that I am not alone. I wish I was. Because I’ve been there… I’ve tried on that beautiful dress in the largest size you can find in the store and not been able to zip it up… I’ve been called hateful names and heard mean jokes… I’ve had people take one look at me and assume they know things about my self-control and/or my interest in sports… I’ve heard people talk about “needing to go on a diet” and thought, “I wish I was their size”… I’ve been given unwanted dieting advice… I’ve been with people who were making rude jokes about “how fat” other people (who were smaller than me) were, and not said anything because I was afraid of hearing those words be turned towards me…I’ve had  experiences when my size caused physical pain in such a way that all I wanted to do was cry…I’ve not done things I wanted desperately to do, because I thought I was “too fat” or out of shape. I’ve been there, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

I wish there was some magic formula that I had to share with the world so that people could see how beautiful they are… how beautiful they are RIGHT NOW. Not how “pretty” they will be when they “lose a few pounds” or how gorgeous they look in that new outfit… But the beauty that hides in their laughter, in the joy they find in life’s simple gifts, in the way their eyes twinkle when they’re being silly, in their perseverance in making it through day after day while they deal with all of life’s struggles, in their loyalty to the people important to them, in the hard work they display everyday. Why can’t they see THAT beauty? Why do we only point out physical “stereotypical prettiness?” Why can’t we point out the beauty of those parts of us that make us unique and special? What if, instead of appreciating “prettiness” we started appreciating the beauty of our differences? How do we get there?

I’ve mentioned this before, but over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on confidence. Most of that had to do with my body image. Yes, my struggles with speaking up and holding a decent conversation were a large part of that too, but not feeling good about my body was probably the largest aspect of what was holding me back. If you knew me in highschool, than you know that I rocked jeans and my Eastern Washington University hoodie just about every day. My long hair hung where it could easily fall into my face, and I honestly was just hiding in plain sight. Now, I still like to wear my favorite hoodie from time to time, but you will often see a t-shirt and cardigan instead… but I think the jeans are here to stay (at least when I’m in jean-appropriate settings) because I truly appreciate jeans. At one point I bought a TON of brightly colored shirts to help me get over my wardrobe of black and dark blue. That only lasted about a year, because while I learned that I could wear those bright colors, I also realized that I don’t like them… I really would much rather wear what I think of as “dark, deep” colors. So blues, grays, and black is back into the wardrobe… and that’s just fine with me. Last year, over Easter Break, I chopped off my hair… I know you saw the before and after pictures in my New Year’s Eve Post. Short hair has benefits, things like only taking 5 minutes to go from dripping wet to fully styled, but in this case, the largest benefit I found was that I HAD to let people see me. I went from having my hair covering my face 95% of the time to 0% of the time in the space of 45 minutes… there was no hiding behind my personal curtain and security blanket, because it no longer existed. The hair thing is also lasting only about a year, because I like having long hair, but I learned that I like it short too. I also went over a year where I didn’t allow myself to wear a hoodie to class… So basically, I’ve spent the past three years doing somewhat random things that force me to let myself be seen in an attempt to feel more comfortable with it. I don’t know if that’s what has made the difference, but what’s to say?

Anyways, I’m not exactly sure where I was going with all of this, so let’s just summarize and be done with it. I am a beautiful young woman, who is proud of her curves. I haven’t always been this proud of my body, and there are still days when I feel anything but positive about my physical appearance. However, I think this struggle is an important part of my history and helps me connect to/empathize with others and will be something I continue to work on… perhaps forever (but hopefully it won’t take that long).

Lots of Love, Mandi Jo