I have never been super thin and I have never been overweight. I have always been right there in the middle, the curvy short girl with naturally wide hips, a decently endowed top half, and seriously solid legs. I would have fit all of the ideal beauty standards in the 1940’s and 50’s, I would have loved my hourglass figure, and relished in the puffy skirts and high waist lines of the day. However, I live in the era of photoshopped artificial beauty and the impossibly thin body shape. I also have an autoimmune condition that hasn’t been overly kind to my body.
I gained my mature shape pretty early in life and became self conscious around other girls as a result, however struggling with digestive issues really added to my perception of my weight through high school. Each day I would wake up with a flat tummy and go to bed looking 5-6 months pregnant. Low rise jeans were my worst nightmare, so I spent all of high school rocking dresses with leggings or jeans with empire waist tops that hid my belly, but by the end of the day the waist line of my jeans would be cutting into my skin and I would feel disgusting.
I was active and in shape as a teenager, I rode horses for many years, took dance classes and lifted weights at home, but I couldn’t understand why my belly never seemed to look any “better”. By the time I made it through college and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis the decade or more of fluctuating weight and abdominal distention had taken their toll on my skin and muscles and I felt like the resulting stretch marks and lines were ugly and noticeable to everyone. Every piece of clothing I wore revolved around hiding my belly and minimizing my self consciousness.
After achieving remission for the first time and following the paleo diet for about a year I began to feel more comfortable in my skin for the first time. I was still struggling with a little bit of bloating here and there but all in all I was in love with the fact that my stomach stayed flat(ish) through most of the day. One of my crowing body image achievements, in fact, was wearing a form fitting non-empire waist dress when I got married. I loved that dress and the way I looked in it and never once did I obsess over how my tummy looked.
Fast forward another year or so and I was sick again with the weight fluctuations and abdominal distention back in full swing. I couldn’t afford to buy all new pants and I couldn’t fit into the ones I had so for a few months I wore belly bands designed for newly pregnant women to disguise the fact that my pants wouldn’t button. Obviously, I was physically miserable, but emotionally I had never felt more unattractive and bad about myself in my life. Pair that with going on an off of steroids which caused me to gain weight and look puffy and finally after almost six months I made a decision that I still stand by today, to only buy clothes that I was comfortable and felt good in. I traded in my uncomfortable low rise buttoned jeans for beautiful maxi skirts and dresses and eventually even found an amazing and stylish pair of jeans that accommodated my fickle belly. This was one of the best decisions I ever made in regards to my body image because feeling comfortable and beautiful regardless of being sick or well always makes a big difference in my morale. Plus, I found that people automatically tend to associate wearing skirts and dresses with being put together so I started getting a lot more compliments about my outfits which was a wonderful boost to my spirits as well.
Finally, when I went on AIP and began addressing the underlying issues behind my disease I finally discovered that the best thing I could do for my body image was to be healthy and physically comfortable in my own skin. I no longer get crazy bloated even when I don’t feel great because my food is actually being digested and the bacteria in my gut are balanced and working for me rather than against me. I can eat without fear of how I will look in an hour and I don’t feel gross by the end of the night. In fact, I hardly ever weigh myself anymore because the number hasn’t changed in months and I am ok with that. I won’t lie to you, I still have cellulite on my thighs that I don’t love, I still have some faint stretch marks on my belly and hips from years of ulcerative colitis induced weight changes, and I still wish my abs were just a little more muscular, but in the end, what I learned was that having a positive body image is a lot less about what you actually look like and a lot more about how you feel in your own skin.