Once, when I was a teenager, I went on vacation with my family and there was a girl staying there who looked like a model from Seventeen magazine. She was tall and willowy and had hips and endless legs. She was also only 13. Looking back now, she was probably in for a very confusing adolescence in which she would eventually realize most people only wanted to be near her because of how she looked. But, at the time, all I saw was how much I wanted to be like her. One day her jeans got mixed in with our laundry by mistake. We returned them to her family, my dad joking out loud to her mom that there was no way I would be able to fit into them so we’d just give them back. My fears were confirmed: I was short, with thick stocky legs, maybe even fat. Everyone obviously thought so. The fact that her jeans were actually a size larger than mine was irrelevant. I was Gimli to her Arwen. I was a garden gnome.
I remember this episode like it was yesterday. Such a dumb thing and I carried it, and other dumb things, with me for decades. In college, I despaired over my lack of long tan legs with a sheen to them in the sun.
I wanted a space in my waistband because of the curve of my hips. I wanted a thigh gap. There has literally never been anyone on either side of my family who looked like that as far as I can tell, but I wanted to defy genetics and be a swan child that fell from the gods. I tried dieting and failed – over and over.
I flirted with an eating disorder but hated being hungry, so I flirted with self-hatred and all-you-can-eat fro yo. I gained the freshman 15 and lost it, three times.
I went to the gym religiously until I didn’t go at all. I graduated and made cheesecakes and ate a lot of them myself. I bought bigger clothes.
Tried everything except loving myself as I was. In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Seth Godin wrote, “The diamond cutter doesn’t imagine the diamond he wants; he sees the diamond that is possible.”
I We are all diamond cutters, and the diamonds we are liberating are ourselves.
Wasting time in comparison paves the way to self-loathing and defeat. If Instagram had existed in 2001, it would have contributed to my brokenness – but I did a pretty thorough job with magazines, MTV, and the way we all spoke about beauty. Fitness was something that happened to other people, while my role was to disappoint myself with inertia.
The thing no one tells you is, once you start to discover fitness, real fitness for the sake of movement and breathing and stress relief and not as a punishment for the cheesecake or a self-flagellation for your genetics, you don’t magically start loving everything about yourself.
You don’t see yourself clearly to begin with; it’s unrealistic to think you’ll see yourself clearly once you start to change. The magical part is that your looks actually don’t matter as much, because you can kick some serious ass.
You can actually love yourself and still get mad at your thighs, and that is perfectly OK. They’re forgiving thighs. They still love you.
Take a cue from them and forgive yourself: maybe you wish you’d found your badassery sooner, or you wish you could undo something that can’t be undone, but that’s not helpful.
You hit reset; you started. Be where you are and look ahead, not behind. See the diamond that’s possible. It won’t look like any other diamond, and that’s the most beautiful thing about it.