Everyone finds it hard to love themselves. From the minute that we are born, society throws it’s propaganda in our faces. Maybe some of the influences are obvious, but many of them are subtle. So subtle that we don’t even realize that we are ingesting the nonsense. In every different culture and country, we are showed standards. These standards are supposed to resemble success, happiness, acceptance, and most of all, perfection. Meeting these standards has become such a crucial part of human nature, that acceptance, let alone loving who we are is unheard of.
Today, I want to tell my story of navigating this societal jungle.
My name is Jordyn and I am almost 22 years old. The first time that I can remember feeling unhappy about the way I looked was when I was seven years old. I grew up with intense anxiety and was more aware of these standards than an “average” person. I was cognizant of the fact that I was growing larger breasts and hips than my friends. It made me feel shameful about myself. I felt ugly from a relatively young age, yet it saddens me to learn that in this day, that is a common thing. The pressure that society puts on people is enormous. Especially if you are trying not to conform to it. I have always hated fashion fads and didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else. Today, when I look back, I can see it was a way for me to resist society’s ideals.
People who have a low self esteem like I used to, are much more likely to have a lower sense of self-confidence. I can attest to this. Imagine my surprise when I became chronically ill. I have two conditions in particular that severely messed with the way my body looked. The first condition, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), made me gain around 30 pounds in the span of a month, without any fault of my own. The other condition, Primary Lymphedema, gave me all over body swelling, specifically in the abdomen. It was rough. I went from being a relatively proportionately looking individual, to one with a huge belly and huge breasts. In those years, I hated it. The thought that was constantly in the back of my mind was, “Oh gosh, I’m fat!!!” I was unable to understand that my body does not define who I am inside.
I wore things to hide my stomach, whether or not I thought they were pretty. My body was constantly changing sizes due to those conditions and I felt that I didn’t have an identity. I was just a blob. There came a time in my years of suffering that I noticed a change in the way that I looked at myself. Instead of seeing the weight gain I had, I saw myself as hundreds of pounds heavier. None of this was helped by the fact that doctors said I needed to lose weight and it would cure my chronic illnesses. It was validation to me that I was the person I saw in the mirror. I began to check my tummy in the mirror at least twenty times a day. I got into the routine of pulling up my shirt to see how it looked, yet I always saw the monster staring back at me.
What I didn’t know, was that I had actually developed Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Body Dysmorphia is defined as, “a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable. But you may feel so ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations” (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). This definition is so true! For years, I hyper focused on how I looked to the point that I didn’t do anything else. It was so degrading and especially hard when chronic illnesses are thrown into the mix.
I can tell you though, that I don’t suffer from this condition today. As my illnesses continued to get worse, I had less and less energy. Very soon, it got to the point that I was bedbound. I stayed in this state for over a year. My body didn’t change, but my way of thinking did. I started to write articles for The Mighty about my conditions. The way that the stories were accepted by this community of like minded people was astounding. There were others writing in to relate to my article and they shared it everywhere. It not only gave me an outlet, but a group of people who understood me. I even went on to start my own blog to create a place of support for others dealing with similar things.
What happened though, is that this community started to show me who I was. They didn’t show me the monster that my brain liked to, but instead, they showed me love. The support, kindness, care, and love that I received and still am getting from this community helped me to love myself. It also showed me that there were so many others out there dealing with body-image issues. The power that I feel when I interact with these people is like no other. We get each other and are completely willing to support one another at the drop of a hat. These beautiful people taught me what love is.
My message today to you all, is that you are not alone. It is so easy for our minds to isolate us when we are isolated ourselves. Reach out to others going through similar things, whether it be in person or online. The biggest way to cut through the cycle of negative thinking, is to support other people. You will get so much love in return. Being body positive is a complicated thing to do in today’s society. However, the bigger the amount of support behind you, all the more people will be there to catch you when you fall. As for me today, I love myself, inside and out. The only one who can create a standard for me, is well, me, and I say that I am more than good enough!
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