As a woman, I feel like there is always a ton of pressure to look perfect, fit in the smallest size clothes, and be the most attractive version of myself…at all times. Let’s be honest: that’s just not realistic, AND it’s a serious mental game to deal with day-in and day-out. I’m exhausted.
Years ago, I struggled with this a lot – and my boyfriend at the time didn’t make it any easier. In fact, he constantly had me aware that he didn’t think I was my best self physically. It was harsh, but I was in deep and couldn’t see it, at the time, that this was an unhealthy relationship. He would offer suggestions on how I “could lose weight and look better”. What’s worse? It got me thinking that I needed to, or else I’d be a failure at being woman.
After an extremely unpleasant break-up, his words would (and do, sometimes) still haunt me. For the next few years following, I struggled with my weight and appearance. I always thought I still needed to change something – that I was never where I needed to be. What was my goal? I didn’t have one – just that I wasn’t good enough. For him. For me. For anyone.
I took a few unhealthy approaches to losing weight, and every day was a constant battle between my mind and my body. Those dark days will always stick with me – they were the times where I was at my lowest confidence mentally and physically. I was an unhappy and unhealthy mess.
It wasn’t until I decided to run the 2012 Boston Marathon, did I realize how much energy and strength I was lacking. Yes, I could exercise, but it was pretty limited. Once training went underway, my goals became greater: I wanted to finish this 26.2-mile race with strength and pride more than I wanted to live up to the unrealistic expectations of an ex-boyfriend I no longer kept in touch with. His opinions did not define me – my running did. And, eventually, my own opinions did, too.
Most days, I appreciate the way I look, and feel confident in that. Sometimes, though, I still have those terrible thoughts creep into my head on bad days. In fact, as I’m underway in my next marathon’s training program, I recently had a mental breakdown about my appearance and body image. When talking to my roommate/friend about this, she gave me some tough love:
My appearance does not define me. I’m smart; I’m kind; I’m selfless.
And, you know what? She’s totally right. I’m giving my body hell for looking a certain way, when it’s getting me through one of the strongest and most rigorous physical programs that exist: an 18-week marathon training plan.
I’m hoping that by sharing this, I can encourage others to recognize this, too. We are all beautiful the way we are. We’re smart, and we’re amazing. We need to love ourselves the way we are, because we deserve that. And, we’re not defined by others’ opinions on us. We need to remind ourselves of this when we doubt surfaces.
There may still be days when I get down on myself – when my dark days creep back up and haunt me. But I’m making a more conscious effort to recognize that I deserve better than letting those hurtful and painful thoughts enter into my mind and tear me down.
Because I am strong, smart, and the best version of myself. And you are, too.
By Jessica Coleman