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Cherish What You Have

I've always struggled with the scale.


I am 5'6


It has been the bane of my existence since I was in middle school, about the time I discovered boys were more interesting than I'd previously given them credit for. This was the time of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, and midriff-baring was all the rage. My first crush dated a girl a year older than us. I gave up on him and started crushing on another boy, who also dated a girl in the grade above us. Both girls were skinny. I'm talking size 0-2, tall, graceful, and model-esque. I took a good long look in the mirror and for the first time in my life, I hated what I saw.


Let me backtrack a little. My mom, ever since I was a really young kid, had severe body image issues, and she may have openly stated her insecurities a few too many times around me. Oh, and I forgot to mention, my mother is, and has always been, absolutely gorgeous, and had no reason whatsoever to pick herself apart the way she did. She's my height (5'6" and 120 lbs) and has always taken fitness very seriously. She's 50 now and still places in bikini competitions against women 10 years her junior or more! But when it came to me, I had never before had any issues with how I looked. As a kid, I was always strong and felt healthy and that was all that mattered, regardless of how my mom looked at herself. It was never a big deal that I wasn't one of the "skinny" girls. That is, it wasn't a big deal until I hit middle school.


Rejection hit me hard. I didn't have rich parents like the rest of the kids at my school, so my clothes were already lacking in comparison. I also had bushy eyebrows and long, shapeless hair. My skin was pale and blotchy (thank you, puberty), and worst of all, I was big. I was not fat, as I played volleyball and basketball and could run a 6:30 mile, but I definitely wasn't skinny like the other girls. I hated myself and thought there was absolutely no way a girl like me could find a boyfriend, ever. When I finally did start dating my first boyfriend, he went behind my back and made out with (you guessed it) a skinny girl. I resorted to starving myself, and started going to the gym with my mom a lot. I also adopted a new style: tomboy. I wore shapeless baggy pants and t-shirts to hide the body I felt had betrayed me. 


I went to high school with the mentality that I was somehow not as good as all the other girls, conveniently forgetting my athletic prowess in the process. 8th grade year, at the awards banquet, I received the MVP award in volleyball and basketball, and I found out that year that I was pretty decent at throwing the shot put as well. But all I cared about was this ideal that I had seen in magazines and in the guys I talked to. The skinny girls always got the guys, and that's just how it worked. Athleticism meant nothing if you weren't slim. A guy even had the audacity to tell me I would be "hot" if I was "skinny". Ouch. Talk about rude. (Though now that I look at it, this guy was pretty scrawny himself, and I wasn't even attracted to him anyway, so I'm not sure why I even gave his opinion a second thought. But I digress.)


In high school, something strange happened, and it almost happened overnight. I joined the swim team in the fall and track in the spring, and somewhere in between, I grew out of my awkward phase. Suddenly I had curves, and with my demanding gym routine, my muscular body began to define itself. I started wearing girly things and got a tan like all the "cool" girls. But though I look back now and realize that I had grown pretty, at the time I still wanted to be skinny. I had this skewed mindset of what was beautiful, and I never really appreciated the body I had, which, looking back, was actually pretty nice. I'd love to look like that again, but at the time, I wanted something that was just unattainable. 


Some people just aren't meant to be skinny, but I wasn't content with that. I continued going to the gym a lot, and starved myself in a desperate attempt to lose more weight. It didn't help that one of my friends started doing the same thing and dropped to 120 lbs, while I remained a sturdy 140. I wondered why this method didn't work for me like it worked for her, and opted to try even harder. I took appetite suppressants and was constantly hungry. I was unhappy for most of my high school years as a result. (Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention, two other boys I dated cheated on me with skinny girls, doing nothing to help my already-negative body image). I thought for sure that something was wrong with me.


I wish I had known then what I know now. All my life, I've been considered "overweight" according to doctors and statistics. Never once was I measured for BMI, although when I joined the military after high school, my recruiter warned me not to gain any more weight, or I'd be disqualified from joining. I did pretty awesome on the fitness tests in Basic too, but apparently that wouldn't have mattered if I had gained 2 more lbs before I joined. Yep, even the military has strange standards when it comes to appearance vs ability (although they have refined things in the last few years). When I had a BMI test, my doctor told me I was 21% body fat, which is healthy for women. I realize now that I was never fat at a size 5-7. It's just that the scale has always been my enemy. And that's because of something I never figured out while I was young. Muscle is more dense than fat, and that's why someone my size could carry so much extra weight without it ever showing. Talk about a life-changing realization. So a muscular person weighs more than an average person who's the same pants size? Whoa! Suddenly, I was liberated from the self-loathing I had inflicted on myself for so many years. Suddenly, I learned to love myself.


I still struggle with body image issues from time to time (who doesn't?). But I realized that I have something a lot of girls wish they did: athleticism. I'm strong, and I always naturally have been, but I wasted way too much time wanting something that really didn't matter. So to all you muscular ladies out there: cherish what you have. And finally, throw out that damn scale, and don't let it define your version of beauty.

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