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The Journey of Self-Love

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For a significant portion of my life, I struggled with obesity. I had been medically stamped “fat” by my pediatrician and classified as “the big one” by a classmate on the bus. I never thought my weight was something that could be “fixed” or “dealt with.” I felt imprisoned, waiting to grow up where I envisioned I would most definitely be, had to be, skinny. One day, I was going to wake up and be “cured.”

The reality at the time, however, was that I was condemned to clothes I never felt beautiful in, plagued by the question of “Why?” whenever I looked at my thinner, more athletic siblings, offered too much or too little attention. By this, I mean people were never quite sure if they should ignore me or just invite me into things to avoid hurting my feelings. In either case, anyhow, I suppose I never felt truly wanted.

Eventually, it became difficult to see past my own reflection. I became a scale that couldn’t handle going up more than two flights of stairs, an adult XL who hated her arms being exposed. I was my weight, and all the consequences that came along with it. When you’re overweight, all characteristics within yourself, the qualities that truly define you as a human being, can feel second-rate. “Do you know Shana? You know… she’s kind of heavy.”

First, I was fat, “the big one.” Then, after the proper identification, I was funny. A clutz. A lover of Harry Potter and, at the time, Twilight. I had an internet addiction. I sucked at video games. I played house. And just as everyone else, I completed the same homework assignments, sat in the same pews during mass, listened to Jesse
McCartney, and drew elaborate, skinny dreams for my future self. I was just a girl — larger than most — but, still a girl.

One day, I stumbled upon a video on YouTube. It was called “My 5-Minute Magic Routine #UnicornMoment Ep. 6.” The young woman in the video showcased her makeup routine. She transformed herself, and she discussed beauty and the idea of loving yourself. “I don’t know what it means to love myself,” she admitted. “So, I don’t know how to tell you how to love yourself. But I really want to figure it out.”

Since the summer of 2011, I’ve lost about 80 pounds. But after all the weight I shed (and I can admit I’ve come a long way), I’ve still never learned how to accept myself. I realized I have not been losing the weight for myself. I haven’t been losing it to extend my life, to “reduce my risk of heart disease,” to try and skirt away from the
diabetes that runs in my family. I’ve been attempting from the very beginning to get others to love me. To get people to finally give me a chance, to free myself of judgment. Never once did I consider the fact that I was as much a bully to myself as kids in the past were to me. I had made the term “skinny” synonymous with “happy.”

I was sitting on my bed when I realized all this, and the fear that overcame me – the fear that I may never be happy with myself – smothered me. I don’t think I was necessarily scared of becoming too skinny or developing an eating disorder (something I may have already had). I was more scared at the thought of being stuck in this horrible cycle. In the back of my mind, I had always been waiting for a “You’re-Just-The-Way-We-Want-You” surprise party. Sure, I got compliments about my progress. Lots of support. I simply feared hitting a point where I wouldn’t receive them. If I didn’t continue receiving those comments, the support, would that mean I was reverting back to my old self? Would it mean I was losing control? As someone who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is all about control.

Today, I am not happy with myself. I feel less pleased with myself even after coming to college and receiving attention and catcalls from strangers. I found that although my skin crawled at their looks, there was this dark piece of me that felt somewhat flattered. Desired. These people who don’t know me, the real Shana, could see something I still couldn’t. I just want so desperately to know what that is.

In this past year, I’ve fallen in love with a boy I met in college. He constantly reminds me how beautiful I am to him, even after witnessing me in all my many forms. I finally found someone who has seen sides of myself and wanted to stay. He looked at my pieces and saw me as a whole. Somehow, though, I flinch when he touches my stomach as he hugs me from behind because I can’t stand what he might be thinking if he notices my pudge. I have trouble keeping eye contact with him in case the right lighting hits and my mask is removed. Despite how happy and loved he makes me feel, I can’t help but get scared of not being enough. I can’t seem to see what he does, and I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty that maybe he thinks he’s wasting his breath because I still don’t understand. I don’t understand my worth to him, I don’t understand why after all he’s done for me to prove my mind is wrong, I can’t manage to believe it.

I’m revisiting this piece because after starting it two years ago, I don’t know how to love myself completely yet. I hope one day I will. I have many people telling me all the reasons as to why I should. There are some things I’m better at accepting, but it feels like this journey is still just as long. After all these years, I haven’t hit a point where I feel it’s been enough. I haven’t yet decided that I am the best form of myself. I’m terrified of making that decision; I am terrified of stopping. If I stop, I risk regression. I do not want, I cannot, become “the big one” again. Not physically, anyhow. That Shana is still, and will always be, a part of me. A ghost of myself —taunting me but never gaining control again. And all I want, really, is to not be afraid of her. I want to know how to love myself in spite of her. How do I take all that I’ve learned from people and truly start loving myself as deeply as I love others — and as others love me?

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: October 5, 2016
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