That word feels weird on my tongue

Confidence. What a loaded word, huh? We come into the world being totally unaware. Innocent, untouched by media, pop culture, the sharp tongues of people around us — we are totally, blissfully clueless to how difficult it is to just. be. happy with ourselves.

“Why the fuck not me? Should be your motto” — Mindy Kaling

I guess it started in first grade when a girl in my math class told me I looked mousey. I remember my cheeks flushing hot, my little fists bunching up and one shooting out, knocking her in the face. One of the only times I’ve ever hit someone and it was over my looks. I was small. Mousey? sure. But in that moment I felt something new: insecurity. How do I fix myself so I look like everyone else and I’m not singled out again? How do I blend in? I don’t want to go against the grain, I want to be just another grain in the heap.

What a waste of myself. But that mentality took up residency in the back of my brain for years and years and years. Insecurity wore a skirt suit, her perfect hair coifed on top of her head, judgement riddling her brow for thousands of hours across hundreds of days. Through middle school, she whispered in my ears and in high school she began to find her “voice.” You know. The one that tells you you need to be smaller; thinner arms, thinner legs, get a thigh gap, have perfect hair, have boobs but also a flat stomach. Be perfect. Oh you’re not? You’re not as good as the other girls walking around your high school — look at them, the jocks, the cool kids, they’ve got it all together. Seriously, this attempt? Not even close.

She came into her own in college though. Insecurity introduced me to cardio. Restrictive eating. Binge eating. more cardio. She ate that shit up. When I got to college I wanted to be tiny. The less space I took up, the prettier, hotter, more desirable and likable I was. I repeated this until I thoroughly believed it. I kept my shameful habits to myself for quite awhile, hiding pizza boxes after a bad binge and telling my friends I just “really liked running” when I’d spend two hours on a treadmill. At the time I never thought I was small enough, but the pictures show a different story. There’s no other way to fix an eating disorder than to mentally go under construction. A deep clean that pressure washes all the cobwebs and negative comments and self doubt right out of the crevices of your mind.

I’m still pressure washing. But after two years of truly silently battling in college and pretending I didn’t have a problem to becoming aware and being ashamed, I became my own work in progress. I started reading tons of positive literature. I started studying psychology and our emotional ties to food. I started seeking to understand my own struggles to get a better handle on my own weaknesses. I realized insecurity fed off of three things: self doubt, lack of body love and a void of positive inspiration.

All of those things had to come from within myself. From me, for me. If I wanted to get better, I had to strangle insecurity in her god awful skirt suit and never look back. It took not worrying about what people think as much, although I still do on a watered-down scale, but it does not drive me. It took acknowledging my strengths and the things about me that are beautiful, unique and amazing. It took knowing those flaws that make me who I am, accepting them and viewing them as greatness.

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love”

When I moved across the country, I began to workout — the first time I touched a weight outside of my high school P.E. class was three years ago. I had no idea what I was doing. My stomach was churning the first time I walked into a corporate gym. I was insecure and overly self aware of my inability to lift heavy weights. I was scared of them. Those ten pound dumbbells may as well have been wrapped in Vipers. The machines were beyond intimidating to me. How do I know how to use it properly? If I use it wrong everyone will know and make fun of me. I can’t do this. But I did.

When I decided to train for fitness competitions I began to gain confidence. The leaner I got, the stronger I felt, the more confident I became. By the time my first show came around I was beaming. I’d never felt better. I was also extremely dieted down and not eating enough. I became hooked on the feeling of being stage lean and each post-show experience felt harder than the last. My real life body was foreign and ugly to me. How could I go from 110 pounds of striated muscle and smooth, tight skin to a normal, cellulite-d, 130 pound person? How could I accept not looking svelte and model-like all the time? I wasn’t as beautiful or sexy out of prep. In my mind, no one would find me attractive as my normal self anymore.

The fucking skirt suit was back in a disguise. Instead of restricting and binging I was now obsessive over the scale, my body fat and the way I looked in the mirror. In March after my show I forced myself to stop. I stopped competing for my own sake. I told myself I needed to love every phase I went through. I needed to accept and appreciate my body at every stage no matter what I happened to look like. I decided to go to Crossfit and throw myself into lifting and training like an athlete. I needed to move. I needed to feel like I was confident, strong and un-fucking-stoppable.

“Confidence is 10% hard work and 90% delusion” — Tina Fey

I’m five months in to training this way and some days I love the way I feel and look. I love the changes I’ve made and am beyond proud. Other days I wish I could erase the muscle, the cellulite, the thick thighs and wide back that fits into literally ZERO shirts or dresses. Sometimes I want to cover my body in many layers and hide it from the world, other days I am confident and could care less who sees the body I’ve been working so hard for. After doing shows I will always wear the most critical of lenses when examining my own body, but I am trying to soften that lens on a daily basis. I hope to eventually turn them into rose colored glasses that see nothing but love for every inch they see.

I’m getting to the point where I love the skin I’m in. Where the days I pick it apart are few and far between. Where I can list off far more things I love about it and that it does for me than the things I wish I could change. I’m getting there. I’m miles beyond where I was four years ago when I wanted to disappear because now all I want to do is take up space. I want to make room for more of me, you and everyone else so that we can inspire and create a community where every woman feels empowered and beautiful. I’m getting there, but man isn’t confidence a hard word to swish around in your mouth?

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