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In college, I felt the way I looked at my body change.

I had one of those amazing all-you-can-eat meal plans that let me eat every entree, as many desserts as I wanted, ice cream, and a waffle bar. Although I tried to eat from the salad bar, I just wasn’t as active as I used to be. Eating whatever I wanted had never been a problem before. I noticed my clothes becoming too tight to wear, and rolls appearing around my chin and my belly. I found myself saying, “I shouldn’t eat that, it will make me fat” and “I look horrible in this dress, I am so fat”.

It affected my relationships. I became bitter toward my thin friends that continued to be able to down a whole pizza without thinking twice. I shot people down every time they tried to tell me I was beautiful. I just didn’t believe it anymore. I would look at pictures of me in high school when I was thin and think, “Gosh, I used to be so pretty.” I wouldn’t cut my hair when my friends did, because I just knew that having short hair would make me look even rounder than I already felt. I was afraid to eat, but too stressed to stop.

Now, I do not mean to compare these fears to any type of eating disorder or anything like that. What others face is so real and terrifying. But what I am saying is that this obsession of what I looked like became part of my everyday.

And then I went to Argentina for a year and a half. With no car, I started walking miles and miles a day. Although the food was delicious and I ate my body weight in bread everyday, I started to get really sick from a bacteria I picked up from the water. I couldn’t keep anything down, and for months, I just lost more and more weight. To be honest, at first, it was exciting. I could eat as much as I wanted, and I would still lose weight. I watched as my “fat clothes” became bigger and bigger on me, until I couldn’t wear many of them. One day I noticed my face had slimmed down so much, I could see my prominent cheekbones again. I was ecstatic to look good, even though I felt too sick to eat anything.

However, when I came home from Argentina, it finally dawned on me just how sick I was. My skin had almost a gray tint to it. Even from all of the walking and exercising I had done for more than a year, my calves were terrifyingly thin. I began to feel self-conscious about the way my friends and family talked about me, and how my mother worried about me. How they would call me “a skeleton”. And that’s when I realized that even though I was thin, I just didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel healthy. Being skinny like this was not healthy.

I began focusing on eating healthy things and exercising appropriately. Even by eating less than I did in Argentina, I started to gain weight. My arms and legs, belly and chin started to all fill out again. But my hair looked shiny again, and my skin got its healthy, pink color back. My body is very different than the high school girl I was, and that is a good thing.

And, this year even though I was still terrified to do it… I chopped off my hair. And you know what?

It doesn’t make me look fat.

The thing is, we strive so much for that classic stick-thin, no-thigh-gap, supermodel body. But how we feel is so much more important. As a nursing student, I am amazed every day–not by what our bodies look like, but by what they can DO! Yesterday, I hiked up a mountain to see the view of the entire valley. Today I am going swing dancing with my husband. My hair is growing. My scars are healing. My body takes what I eat and decides exactly how much insulin it needs to process the carbs. My heart is beating. I am breathing.

I am alive.

Although I kinda hate the double chins and I’m still self conscious about the way I look in a swimsuit, I think it is time we give ourselves permission to enjoy the amazing things that our bodies can do. It’s okay to say, “I look HOT today!” and feel good about the parts you love about your body. It’s also okay to lose a few pounds or to change up your diet. But do it to be healthy, because you love your body. Because you love what it can do!

-Makayla

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