A journey towards self love
“I’ll start my diet on Monday” “I’ll lose the weight next year, I promise” “Once I lose this weight my life will be so much better”. I tell myself these small platitudes and for the briefest of moments, I truly believe them. I think I want to believe them because we’re so conditioned to believe that our worth is tied to our outward beauty.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve been a “bigger” girl. I grew up in a family that put an emphasis on food and how it brought people together. The first time I really became conscientious of my body was in elementary school at a camping trip. All my friends were swimming in the pool and suddenly I became acutely aware that my body looked a little different. Growing up as one of the only people of color in a small suburban town, I was always aware that my skin was several shades darker than everyone else, but now I noticed the other things too. My legs were bigger. My stomach was rounder. My arms were hairier. My cheeks were fuller. My abuelo had always lovingly called me “Jellybean” because I was his little round bundle of sugar, but instead of thinking my roundness was sweet – it began to disgust me. That summer, my childhood naivete died.
The first diet I started was in 7th grade. I switched to vegetarianism and started playing basketball because I wanted to reinvent myself. The pounds began to melt away and I felt powerful in my newly defined adolescence. When my face started to slim out, rather than be excited for me, my family was aghast. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?” “You’re getting too skinny.” “Mija, please eat something”. Soon, I gave up trying to lose weight and fell back into my old habits. I balanced the delicate precipice between full blown binge eating and restricting my food intake.
This was the eternal struggle – I was always too big or too small, I ate too much or too little, I was never perfect exactly as I was. Thus, began the now 30-year battle with identity tied to my weight. I make sure to perfectly curate the images of me that I post on social media – the best filters, the best angles, the most realistic looking lighting so It’s passable as me. Longer lashes. Longer nails. Blue contacts to cover up my deep brown eyes – my mother’s eyes. I always have to be prettier, have to be sexier, have to be more. Sometimes, I still feel like respect comes from my outward appearance, rather than what's inside.
Every time I stand in front of the mirror, I am the 8-year-old girl swimming hearing “you look big in that suit”. I am the 13 year-old-girl scrolling through social media chopping all my hair off or bleaching it to oblivion, just to look like everyone else. I am the 17 year-old-teenager being told “you’re really funny…” or “you have a great personality, but you’re not really my type”. I am the 30-year-old woman looking at my husband, the love of my life, and not believing it when he utters “you are the most gorgeous woman in the world”. Even typing this is bringing me to tears again.
Writing this is more therapeutic for me than anything, but I hope it resonates with someone. I want to write this because this year has been particularly hard when it comes to the way I see myself. Most girls dream of their ideal wedding, how everything looks, how many people are coming, what food you'll eat, what champagne you'll drink, and what song will be playing while you dance the night away under the stars with a partner who adores you. But nobody really sees the horror in the background for women who aren’t an “average size”. I had racing thoughts of “will there even be a dress that fits me?”, “why do I look like that”, “why can’t I look like her?”, and “If I buy the dress a size smaller, I’ll have to lose the weight”. What is always painted in movies as a beautiful, laughter-filled montage was horrific for me.
The wedding itself was such a blur that I don’t remember much, but I remember how happy I was. How handsome my husband and son looked, how stunning my daughters were in their dresses, how grateful I was to be surrounded by family and friends who were all crying and smiling with me. When I got my pictures back, all that happiness turned to dread. My photographer was, and is, amazing. A true artist. It’s not his fault that my viewpoint is so toxic and skewed. He even told me that he loved taking our pictures and editing them because our love for each other shone through each image beautifully, He said he could see the “candid laughter, the pure romance, and the joy” that my husband and I had experienced with our families.
But when I tell you my heart fell right out of my chest looking at those pictures. Every picture of my husband was flawless. My eldest daughter looked like a model. My best friend, my maid of honor, was radiant. My youngest, my flower girl, was ethereal. And there I was. All I saw was my double chin, my arms that were too flabby and wide, my cheeks that were too big, my smile that was too goofy.
I cried for an entire day. I poked at my food, trying not to eat, ignoring my growling stomach. I didn’t even want to get out of bed.
Why do we tie so much merit to our outward appearance? We must be these perfect, polished versions of ourselves – with the best clothes, the best gadgets, the best hair and makeup. One strand out of place, one stretch mark too visible, one crooked tooth or blemish, and we see ourselves as hideous. The higher the numbers on the scale climb, the lower our esteem gets. We start to feel like nobody will ever love us for who we truly are on the inside.
Everyone I shared the pictures with gushed about how glowing I was, how beautiful everything was, how happy we all looked. But how could I believe them? How could that be true, weren’t they seeing what I was seeing? In the back of my head, I heard those voices again. I even thought about paying someone to photoshop these pictures because the lie in my head was worth more than the truth that I refused to see. My childhood best friend reached out to me while I was floating in this dark headspace and said, “photos don’t show your talents, your empathy, accomplishments, traumas you’ve overcome and everything you accomplish day to day”.
I’ve struggled so long with image, that I don’t even see myself for who I truly am.
I am the first of my family to finish college and keep going. From a Bachelor of Science in Psychology to now finishing the final courses for my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. Eventually, I'll be the first to get my Doctorate as well.
I am the daughter of a woman who refused to give up – a warrior in name and action, who fights tooth and nail for her place in the world all while being poised and graceful.
I am the daughter of a man who craves knowledge – who never lets his background or his mistakes define his future.
I am the mother of four beautiful children. One angel, born sleeping. One feral, exquisitely intelligent toddler, and two beautiful stepchildren who are becoming young adults before my eyes.
I am the wife of the most considerate, handsome man in the world – a veteran with rough hands and a rougher past who looks at me and sees a bright, happy future.
I am the shoulder that my clients, my friends, my coworkers cry on. I am the voice of reason. I am the helping hand who volunteers to feed children in the summer, who gives gifts to the community at Christmas, who speaks up for those who feel quieted.
I am the scholar who loses sleep at night, reading countless books on counseling, techniques, research, and best practices so I can be better for those around me.
I am my resilience and strength, but I am also my weakness. I am the lessons I learn from the darkness and the tears.
I am the woman who speaks love and light into myself and my children so that when my girls are older, they speak love into themselves and their children, and so on. Generational curses end with us, but it also starts with us.
I am the blushing bride who looks at her pictures with a renewed sense of awe and admiration. Who cried her eyes out in happiness when she saw the glow that everyone else saw. I no longer see the imperfections, I see the vision and the happiness.
I am a Jellybean – bright, colorful, and full of sweetness.
I am not the insecure person who compares herself to every woman she sees. I don’t have to be the woman who looks in the mirror and cries. I don’t have to be the woman who is so terrified of being observed but not really being seen. I don’t have to be the woman who wears baggy clothes and puts filters on every picture of herself.
This challenge is about being "remarkably real", and I feel like a dose of reality is what I truly needed. I needed to remember that my cheeks are round because my smile consumes my entire face, infecting those around me. That there are lines at the corners of my eyes from laughing so hard I cried and gasped for breath. That my stretchmark covered body carried life, twice, and hopes to carry life again. That my tattooed hands and anxiously picked-at fingers that write love letters and powerful speeches are the same soft hands that lift my family when they’re down. That my dark, rich chocolate eyes are the eyes of my ancestors that see right from wrong. I am all these beautiful, perfect imperfections wrapped up in one body that has fought like hell to overcome.
So, to the woman who is struggling like me, to the teenager who hates herself because she doesn’t look like everyone else, and most importantly, to the young girl who is teased because of who she is, know that you are loved. You are worthy. And you are most definitely not alone. You are part of a sisterhood that is bonded across county lines and oceans and who’s love will change the world – as long as you start with loving yourself.
Strive to be a Jellybean too.
About the author
Miranda is an avid bookworm and free-time author who packs her days full of counseling work as an intern therapist, government work as a Parks & Recreation manager, and full time motherhood. She also recently married the love of her life.