Strong, Not Skinny: Making Self-Love a Lifestyle

Today’s society has forced women to change their ideas of what is beautiful in order to maintain social acceptance. Women are constantly subjected to ridicule and comparison by the media, resulting in the creation of unrealistic and self-destructive expectations. Our younger generations are completely saturated in media exposure, most of which is specifically directed toward adolescent girls. Behind men’s magazines, images of sexually objectified women are most likely to appear in teen magazines that are majorly viewed by teenage girls (“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders”, NEDA). Women are able to compare themselves to other women who are deemed more attractive or successful with the click of a button. Our thoughts and feelings about our insecurities created by this comparison are suppressed, and we are expected to act as if we don’t have any anxieties about what the world thinks of us. These expectations often turn into serious insecurities in women of all ages, and can play out in many different ways among them.

For me, and many others, food became my enemy and cutting it out completely seemed to be the only way I could get the results I wanted. By my junior year of high school, my life turned into one crash-diet after another, and eventually my body lost the fight. For a period of time, anything short of liquids made me miserably sick, and no doctor could explain why, creating within me a mental and emotional exhaustion along with the physical pain. It wasn’t until I started to treat my body correctly by exercising and eating properly that my body started to feel right again, leading me to feel more confident in my own skin, and learn to genuinely love the person I am inside and out. My fitness journey has been a hard road, and is often misunderstood and criticized. Through this essay I hope to reveal the true meaning behind my lifestyle and shed light on the struggles faced by women every day. The coloring of the photos presented will be muted and bleak so the images may be less stimulating to the senses, and may be deeper understood by the emotions of the reader. These photos are ordered in a progression of the evolution of constructive ideas, thoughts, and self-love. This sequence is meant to portray difficulty and pain, along with healing and triumph. Many people misinterpret my lifestyle of health and fitness as superficial and fleeting, but it is because of my fitness journey that I have finally broken out of the bondage created by false expectations, gained the confidence to genuinely love myself and others, and have discovered what true beauty feels like. I don’t want to be skinny; I want to be strong.

Eating disorders have become a seemingly common stigma in Western cultures within recent years. One in 100 American women suffer from anorexia. Three in 100 suffer from bulimia and binge eating cycles. Many eating disorders are not categorized by either of these popularly known illnesses, but are still considered unhealthy and destructive to the mind and body. As many as 10% of college women suffer from an eating disorder of some degree (“How Many People Have Eating Disorders”). This photo is meant to put the reader into the perspective of the women who sit in this position every day, fighting this battle alone, and unsure of how to recover. Like many, I struggled with finding words that could make sense to someone else of how I was feeling, so instead I said nothing, in fear of being accused or labeled.
Many women step on the scale, see the number, and let it define them. It is endorsed by the media that it is impossible to be truly happy with your life if the number on the scale doesn’t meet unrealistic standards, as the average weight of an American woman is 166 lbs. (“The Average American Women…”, Ingraham). This leads many women to turn to unhealthy habits and thought processes that could damage their overall well-being such as self-harm or eating disorders. Instead of letting a meaningless number tell us how we show up in society, we should start embracing the qualities that truly express the beauty of our individual personalities. Women must believe that inner beauty is just as, if not more, important than outer beauty.
This photo is a showcase of a real female body. The angle of the photo is meant to bring attention to aspects of the body in which most people would consider “flaws”. Your lumps, bumps, scars, freckles, stretch marks, and all the different colors of your skin are what make you unique and special. We must learn to not belittle them, but to embrace them and use them to build each other up and relate to one another. Amy Bloom once said, “You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful”. The moment we learn to love and accept our own, and each other’s, bodies is when we will finally feel truly beautiful.
Practicing a healthy lifestyle that suits both your mental and physical needs consists of great balance. A concept I find practical for my life is 80% discipline, 20% indulgence. This idea does not just apply to diet, but also in exercise, appearance, social life, school, money, work, and many other aspects of our lives that we often strive and struggle to be the best at. Your best is all you can expect from yourself, and if your best means eating a piece of cake at lunch or watching an episode of your favorite show before you start your homework, that’s ok. These habits and indulgences don’t make you bad at what you’re doing; they make you human.
The world of fitness has been dominantly viewed as a man’s world. Often times, I am one of the only girls in the weight-lifting section at the gym. A common stereotype that segregates the gym environment is that women should do cardio to lose weight, and men should lift weights to be muscular, and leaves little room for interchangeability. By empowering women to be strong both physically and emotionally, we are not just upholding ideals of equality, but also planting roots to feelings of confidence and self-respect.
Though I have experienced many victories and accomplishments throughout my fitness journey, sometimes the only thing that gets me through a work out is knowing that when I’m done I can stop and the pain will be over. There is physical strain and mental frustration that comes with training your body to be stronger, but what makes this pain so endurable is that it’s temporary. I have learned to love this temporary pain because it has taken the place of the lingering emotional pain I felt that was created by my poor self-image. (“Royalty Free Stock Photo: Kettlebell Workout”)
Body shaming is a concept that all women face regardless of their body shape or size. If you are overweight you’re looked down upon, if you’re too skinny people wonder if there is something wrong, if you’re muscular you’re seen as masculine, and the list could go on and on. Body shaming can come from not only peers or strangers, but also from the negative thoughts and feelings implemented by your own conscious. True beauty comes from not feeling ashamed of your body and embracing it just how it is regardless of what the world says. Despite discouragement of becoming “too masculine” by my family and peers, I have never felt more beautiful than I do with a flexed arm.
This photo presents the verse from the Bible Nehemiah 8:10 which says, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength”. For me, and many others, the struggle of loving yourself is a war that could never be won without the hope of a love much greater than any this world could provide. My faith and health journey have been very closely connected; when I was at my lowest the only thing that kept me from giving up was that I knew I had strength if I kept faith.
We can better understand how to love others when we learn how to love ourselves. We all come in different shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds but are all facing the same struggles together. Any girl will understand the pressures and anxieties of how they look, and we must stand together and lift each other up in order to break the chains of unrealistic and demeaning expectations. The girls in this picture are holding hands, showing love for each other, and standing united in their struggles.

These pictures portray the story of many; fitness may not be a factor for each of them, but the concept of brokenness evolving into a proclamation of strength is relatable experience for many girls. For the majority of my life I felt ashamed and alone in my insecurities, but today stand knowing that I am not. I do still struggle with maintaining this mentality, but I am now able to revert my thoughts back to my successes and progression, and feel confident and proud. The views of our body is a war that we will have to fight within ourselves for the rest of our lives, and watch play out in the lives of our dear friends, family members, and daughters. There will always be someone who is skinnier, prettier, more successful, or more loved than you may think you are, but the difference is made when you can look at her and still love yourself. We each have unique characteristics and gifts that make us incomparable to anyone else, and we must learn to embrace and be proud of those qualities. Through this essay, I hope you have learned that you can create your own definition of beauty and that only you have the power to live it out. I hope light was shed on my lifestyle choices and that it may be apparent that my health and fitness is not just skin deep, but is a reflection of how far I have come from a life of being lost. l hope most of all that you know how much stronger women are together, and that we must encourage and uplift one another. You have the power to change the social acceptance of false expectations and shaming, and it can start with loving yourself just the way you are.

“Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

“Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers .” Eating Disorder Information and Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

“Royalty Free Stock Photo: Kettlebell Workout”,

Ingraham, Christopher. “The Average American Women Now Weights as Much as the Average 1960s Man.” The Washington Post. N.p., 12 June 2015. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.

Troyer, Jen. “15 Reasons to Accept (and Love!) Exactly Who You Are.” Pardon Our Interruption. N.p., 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.