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I wanted to love the woman in the mirror, so I had to stop dieting

I recently gave up hating my body. I stopped calling myself “fat ass.” For far too long, I was my own worst critic. I said things to myself that I wouldn’t say to anyone else, but I am done with that now and am learning to love my body just the way it is.

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I bought a bikini and skinny strappy dresses because my arms are beautiful and my breasts do in fact draw in many smiles. I started following role models like model Ashley Graham and yogi Dana Falsetti who are empowering us as women to embrace our bodies and have challenged the world as to what is beautiful.

I’ve always struggled with my body. When I was very young I was told I had “knobby knees” that looked like sticks with shoes and a thin boney face that made my teeth look odd, like a rabbit. When puberty hit, I started to put on weight, and my new moniker was “Thunder Thighs.” It didn’t matter if I was tiny or not — my body didn’t seem to please anyone.

As a teen, I lost a lot of weight dancing in my garage. I started to feel good about my looks. I would turn off the lights and turn on the music and just dance. Sometimes I’d be in there for hours just trying to work out my feelings. Then people started to ask me if I was on drugs or if I had an eating disorder. Guys would tell me I looked like a 12-year-old boy with no boobs.

I put weight back on. As an adult, two of my close friends came to me and had a “Fat Intervention” and told me how beautiful I could be if I could just learn to keep my “cake hole” shut. They suggested various drugs they had used to achieve their tiny bodies and offered to be my babysitters if I tried to eat too much.

There was no winning.

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I gave birth to three amazing, healthy, fabulous human beings. My belly gave safe harbor to these growing babies in trade for stretch marks and extra pounds. I traded my size 5 for a new size 12 after my last pregnancy. I struggled with how my body changed and how much harder it was after turning 35 years old to take off that weight.

On top of that, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and each new drug caused a whirlwind of side effects. Some left me exhausted, some left me so sick I could barely walk, others left me crying. The weight was excused by my medical team as they tried to tackle the larger picture that was my overall health.

I was fighting for my life and losing the battle with my weight. It wasn’t fair.

A few years ago, my mother-in-law handed me a coupon for Weight Watchers and said that I might need to use it. I was hurt and embarrassed, and the moment came back to me with every bite I took. After three healthy babies, a longtime chronic illness and a lifetime of battling something that didn’t seem to want to be fixed, I realized that I needed to come to peace with myself over my weight.

The reality of being heavy is that we know, we all know, how we look. We know we can’t walk into the mall and find clothes in our size. We know that we have to search through the backs of the racks in hopes that we can find something that won’t be cut so tight, ride up when we walk or make our bodies look like balloons stuffed into bags. We know we are bigger than what society says we should be.

However, this is the body I was given. We have all come to this party of life from many different directions and reasons, and just because we have more to our physical bodies does not mean we are any less beautiful, strong, powerful or worth loving.

Recently I went to a large family event wearing a sleeveless, curve-hugging dress. “You look amazing,” several people told me. “Have you lost weight?” Apparently I had to have lost weight to look beautiful. The truth was, I had gained 15 pounds — and gave up crying about it. I looked beautiful because I wasn’t sad that morning as I looked in the mirror. I was proud of the life I’ve been lucky enough to have.

I believe self-love is better than a lower number on a scale. At the end of the night, when I stand in front of the mirror, I want to love the woman looking back at me. When I’m fighting against myself, I can’t do that. Love who you are and be happy.

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