I remember the first time someone told me I had “curves.” I was in eighth grade hanging out with my three best friends after an afternoon of shopping. We were all trying on the clothes we’d bought, and while showing off my new jeans my friend said “Shelly, you’ve got curves!” I remember immediately assuming it was a bad thing. “Is that…good?” I asked hesitantly. “Yes! I wish I had curves! I have no hips and no butt, my body basically looks like a boy’s still! You’re so lucky!” I was genuinely baffled by this. I thought my friend’s body was perfect. I wished I looked like her. To me, she was perfect. But evidently, to her, I was perfect.
In high school I started to accept, and even like, my curves. But I started to worry I wasn’t “proportionate” enough. I had big hips and a big butt and a tiny waist like J Lo and Kim Kardashian, but they had big boobs and mine were small. I remember reading magazines giving advice on “dressing for your body type” and I didn’t feel I fit into any of the categories they provided. The “petite” girls were shorter and skinnier than me. The “athletic” girls were taller and more toned. Even “curvy”, a word I had grown to accept for myself, didn’t quite fit. Those girls were bigger than me. Was there something wrong with my body? I just wanted to fit into a “body type”, to feel like I belonged, to feel like my body was accepted by society. The problem with that was a magazine could never tell me I’m beautiful. Society is never going to give me the validation I craved. And even if it could, it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t see it for myself.
When I got to college I started seeking validation from a different source: guys. I started dating and getting more attention from boys and I figured, “If all these guys are interested in me and wanting to date me, my body must look pretty good!” But then when I would experience any sort of rejection, I’d wonder if things would be different if my boobs were bigger or my legs longer or my hips narrower. Just like seeking validation from magazines, seeking validation from others wasn’t really working for me either.
Over the past couple of years I’ve gained a little bit of weight. When I see pictures of myself from college, I find myself thinking “Wow I was so skinny back then! I look so much older and bigger now. Why didn’t I appreciate what I had back then?!” I’ve spent so much time wishing I could look the same as I did when I was in college, even though I’m approaching 27 and I’m a completely different person than I was back then. I’m not the same on the inside, so why should I expect to look the same on the outside? It wasn’t until recently that I started to finally have a new perspective on my body. I started trying to appreciate it and love it for exactly what it is in this moment.
I don’t need my friends to tell me I should love my curves. I don’t need a magazine to tell me what kind of clothes I should wear. I don’t need some guy to tell me I have a hot body. None of that matters if I don’t love my body. If I don’t see it for what it is, which is more than an aesthetic object. My body is my own. My body allows me to pick up and hold and run and play with children all day. My body allows me to do yoga and go on walks and hikes and dance at weddings until my feet are sore. My body is beautiful for so much more than what it looks like. It may have taken me this long to realize it, and it may still be a struggle every day, but I am finally learning to love my body.