Why I Still Struggle With Accepting My Body

Co-authored by Carly Alaimo, content manager at Avelist

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I was 11 years old when I first noticed my cellulite. It appeared to me one morning while I was sitting on the edge of my bed. I was hanging my head between my legs, letting the blood rush to my face out of boredom, when I noticed the subtle ripples up the backs of my thighs. At first, I thought the bumps were a series of unexplained scars or a rash. I was definitely dying. I ran crying to my mother, who grabbed a part of her thigh and pinched, showing me she suffered from the same affliction. I stared ahead in horror. "It's cellulite and you're going to have it forever," she said. "There is nothing you can do about it. We're Italian." I didn't know what she meant, but I knew I was cursed and officially despised my legs and should hide them from everyone. And this is where it all began, I guess.

My body image issues started with cellulite and broadened with age. In the 7th grade, it wasn't just the genetic fat deposits on my legs that made me feel insecure, it was the shape of my thighs and also my fresh perm that made me look like an indoor hanging fern instead of Kat Stratford, which was the goal. I noticed my legs were different looking; less-defined, wigglier, and hairier than the girls that played soccer or danced. The quick fix for this was learning to shave my legs in the sink and then covering them with JNCOS or my mom's old jeans, which if you can imagine, made me very popular. I didn't regularly exercise and did little to educate myself about body acceptance or my own physical and mental health. Because I read magazines in the grocery store while my mom was shopping, I learned exercising would make me feel better and ultimately, I'd look a little better (I never did it... still don't), but I also learned that there was an "ideal" body that I should be striving for, and my 12-year-old body wasn't that body and I should definitely be stressing out about it.

I became obsessed with my perceived physical flaws and grew to hate myself. I thought about my body more than I thought about anything else. I regularly told myself I was "fat" "worthless" and "ugly." I filled my diaries with lists and plans and sketches of how I wanted to fix my body, look different, and get skinnier.

These negative thoughts became negative thinking patterns (a routine that sometimes still consumes a large part of my life, becoming, ironically, the only habit I ever really stuck with). Also, talking about self-esteem and body positivity wasn't really on-trend back in the early 2000s, and I wasn't exposed to useful, genuine stories about these issues until much later on, nor did I even know that what I felt or what I was telling myself was abnormal. Based on what I'd read and heard from other women, I just assumed having these thoughts about my appearance were part of being a woman.

These mental habits stuck with me all the way through middle school, high school, and through college. If you were my friend, family, or boyfriend from the ages of 12-24, you probably heard me talk about how "fat" I was or how terrible I looked almost every day. It's amazing that I still have friends at all. The negative self-talk began to affect my relationships, in short, people were sick of hearing it, probably for several reasons: 1) I wasn't overweight at all (the fact I can type that is shocking) 2) The constant negativity was exhausting to be around 3) I wasn't doing anything to make myself feel better.

I became depressed, the core of it stemming from my intense body dysmorphia. There were days and weeks when I wouldn't leave my apartment. I was angry and jealous of everyone all of the time. I started missing parties and holidays. My work suffered. Luckily, I never had an eating disorder, but my depression was painful and damaging. As strange as it sounds, I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, I would forget how to walk naturally because I was so worried about how my clothes were fitting. And of course, my very real social media addiction didn't help either. I was losing myself.

If I'm being honest, I wasn't ready to change my ways when I started seeing a therapist. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to talk to someone, and I only did it for our relationship. I met with a psychology student named Amanda for 50 minutes, every Wednesday for a year, and it was hard and funny and yeah, it helped a little. Amanda figured out pretty fast that my depression was caused by my body image issues, and exposed me to practicing mindfulness, "the intentional, accepting and nonjudgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment." Amanda would give me homework assignments, like writing down every negative thought I had and then turning them into positive thoughts, which I hated doing because it felt unnatural, like I was lying to myself about my true feelings. Once, she had me rearrange dollhouse furniture and figurines in a sandbox as a new way to talk about accepting my body (WTF).

In the beginning, I thought I was too smart for therapy, that Amanda's games and assignments were for gullible people whose mental issues were not as deep as my own. But over time, I learned I was so wrong. I wasn't open to a lot of things in therapy, but I did take away one major lesson: I was doing this to myself and these thoughts were habits I needed to break, like biting my nails or rolling my eyes at people. I left therapy after a year, feeling better, and more confident. I eventually fell back into my old habits, but this time around, I had the tools manage my feelings.

Now, I'm 27, and I scroll through Instagram every day and obsess over other womens' bodies, wishing I looked like them. That's the truth. It's a bad habit and I'm working to change it because it doesn't serve me in any way. And just knowing that this is a habit and these negative thoughts are not actual "truths" is so helpful. I exercise occasionally, but I don't have a set routine; it's something I feel guilty about and want to change, but I try not to beat myself up about it. My body has changed over the past few years, I'm a little fuller in my hips, my face is rounder, trimming down comes with more effort than it used to, but I'm not letting it bother me like before. My personal relationships are great, I'm doing alright professionally, I live in a great city, I'm getting married soon. Things are not bad. It's a new feeling, this one I'm feeling, and I'm pretty sure it's something close to peace, but not quite. I still struggle with accepting my body, but not in the same way I used to. For the first time, I think, I have some perspective, and it's a gift I've given myself. And I don't care about my cellulite anymore at all, in case you're wondering.