October 6, 2009

on the body image monster...

[photo via Keri Smith - one of my favorite artists.]

I've recently been doing a lot of thinking about accepting myself, despite the things that I feel aren't "good enough". For the most part, I've never been able to really accept myself without also thinking, "Well, this is good, but it could be better." I've never been able to allow myself to fully accept a flaw or anything less than (my idea of) perfection. Or what I think others consider as perfect.

Which leads to a lot of anxiety, let me tell you this.

Part of me wants to blame my slightly perfectionist tendencies, or the fact that I grew up with only sisters (which tends to breed a bit of competition), or the terrible pressures of our culture, or the fact that maybe I've read a few too many beauty magazines. But who really knows? I'm sure there are a million little things that led up to me being the way I am today. But, honestly, I just want to be able to find contentment in who I am, what I'm doing, and the girl I see in the mirror every day.

In the last few years, I feel like I've made great strides in basic self-acceptance - being content and learning to love the person I am, despite my quirks, inconsistencies and the mistakes I've made. Also, I'm doing quite well when it comes to giving myself enough credit for the things I've done in live - my accomplishments, talents and goals I've reached. Those things haven't ever really plagued me like the physical stuff. I've always known that I'm a good person, and that I am capable of great things but truly loving the girl in the mirror?

I guess that's a different story. I'm not exactly sure why. (Especially because I have ridiculously encouraging parents, sisters, friends and, most of all, my husband.) Maybe I'll never really know.

However, this morning, it all came to a head.

To be completely honest, I'm very good at putting on the happy face. I may not be the best actress, but I'm sometimes entirely too good at hiding what I may be feeling at any given moment. The thing is, I've been really trying to force myself to have a positive attitude about my body when I'm not feeling so keen about it. I keep thinking, If I say the words enough, then I'll start to believe them. I've been looking in the mirror and telling myself how great I look, praising the things I love, trying to accept those I don't. I've been back to the gym, running a couple miles a few times a week. I've been making good food choices, but trying not to curse myself for eating an entire bag of popcorn in one sitting (on a rare, glorious occasion). I really felt like I was making some sort of progress, you know?

And still, after all that progress, I end up bawling my eyes out this morning. A pathetic, wilting girl in the shower, after a comment I'd received from my husband morning - one that wasn't meant to be hurtful, but really struck me at the exact wrong moment. When I was feeling most vulnerable, and was trying to look my insecurity in the eyes and truly fight any negative feelings head-on.

I feel kind of defeated right now, to be honest.

It's odd, because for the most part, I really love my body. I do have days where I feel like a total goddess. I have good days and bad days, like anyone else, I guess. But no matter what, I can't shake that voice that makes me want to lose weight. The voice that makes hold short of completely loving myself. And knowing that I can't silence that voice really wears me down sometimes. I feel ungrateful, ridiculous, self-obsessed and silly.

In fact, I feel kind of silly writing about this, not knowing who exactly is going to be reading it. It does feel good to put it all down in writing right now, though. These feelings come and go, and maybe right now I'm just feeling especially vulnerable. I don't even know why, but it's there. Ridiculously there.

This is not a cry for compliments, or anything like that. Don't get me wrong!

The thing is, I've been trying with all my heart to get over these feelings. Especially in the last couple years. I so desperately want to embrace everything I am, and be one of those women who can confidently say, "Yes, I have imperfections. Yes, I could lose more weight, eat better, go to the gym more often. Yes, I've gone up a few sizes in the last five years. But all that is okay. It doesn't matter. What I look like doesn't define who I am."

I want, more than anything, to be able to say those things in complete and utter honesty - and some days I feel like I can. But lately, I worry that I'll never truly get over these feelings of wanting to pick myself apart. Sure, I can say the words, and try to convince myself that I'm over it, but what if it's all a front? I worry that if I can't get a handle on this while I'm in my twenties - the years I most likely am in the best shape I'll ever be - then what does my future look like?

And thus continues the work-in-progress that is Kerri. I'm sure tomorrow things will look a little brighter.

42 comments :

  1. I'm right there with you on this. I think you captured the essence of it. Perhaps it will be a constant challenge and I will never get to the day where I truly accept my imperfections as what makes me unique, but I'm not there yet!

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  2. You are freaking gorgeous. You have no idea how jealous I am of you. But I hear ya on this. I too hear those same words I just said to you and sometimes it sounds like just words, because of that voice in the back of your mind. I spent 5 years hating myself. HATING MYSELF. I was obsessed with my body and comparing it to others. I went without eating sometimes, but mostly ate and ate and ate. I was obsessed. And that was the part that sucked the most. I couldn't escape it. My breaking point came from talking about it and I spent 2 years working on myself to feel better. Overall I do now, but I still slip back all the time. (esp after my heartbreak in Jan). Just stick with those positive thoughts! And realize that everyday is a new day. And put down those "beauty" magazines. ;)

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  3. I went to visit my parents' house this weekend, and seeing myself in the mirrors I looked into when I was obsessing about my weight as a teenager always makes me nervous. But I had the thought for the first time "I'm 20 pounds heavier than I was when I was depriving myself of food and obsessing. This is what I was afraid of, and it's nothing that was worthy of that kind of sadness and fear."

    We're all in this together. I think we'll all get to a better place.

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  4. Hey dear.
    I just want you to know, you aren't alone in this. I posted something similar here: http://abzdragon3.blogspot.com/2009/08/love-thy-body.html
    I wish I could give you some kind of awesome, life-altering advice... but in the end you have to take the steps toward loving yourself on your own, in your own way. Positive thoughts! :)

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  5. every single word you wrote here, i completely empathize with, and feel the exact same way.

    i always think about something you wrote a while ago about how you hope you aren't going to struggle with this forever, which kind of put it into perspective for me, about how much i want to get over my body image issues. but definitely easier said than done.

    i admire you so much! lovely post as always!!

    xoxoxoxo

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  6. I know that voice. It's the voice in my head that constantly compares my body with my best friend's. It's the voice that doesn't care that my friend is 5'11" and naturally thin (lucky!), and will always be naturally skinnier than me...the voice that refuses to acknowledge that it doesn't matter how in shape I am, I will never look like my friend.

    And most days? I ignore that voice. I tell it to shut the heck up. But I have also accepted the fact that that voice will unfortunately always be there.

    The best we can do is make sure that nagging voice remains the little voice - not the loud overwhelming one. =)

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  7. This is such a difficult one, and I've struggled with it for a long time. For me, getting myself 'in shape' mentally was a big deal, anorexia has had a strangle hold on a few women in my family at different times of their lives and I really didn't want to go down that road.

    For me, checking out sites like stockholm street style and lookbook really helped. Here are all these people- with normal bodies and weird bodies, and funny faces and beautiful faces - and they all own their style and are so jaw dropping! It made me realized that instead of focusing on my flaws in a negative way I could focus on them in a creative way.

    I have no boobs (thanks mom! lol), so I stopped wearing my padded bras in favour of normal ones & wore deep V-neck sweaters with tanks. Instead of hiding things that bugged me, I played with them. I cut my super long feminine hair & went out looking for something more blunt, awkward, geometric & childish looking- and suddenly everything kind of.... gelled! lol I see girls with really short legs on these sites rolling their pants, or bigger girls in all ruffles- emphasizing what makes them different. After a little while of playing with these ideas, the things that were changing about my body became challenges to work with instead of enemies.

    It's hard to push that voice down- but it's important to know that no one else is thinking these things of you. You really are beautiful- and when people say so, it's because your heart shines through. And everything you do seems to emphasize that already, miss.

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  9. Does it make you any better that I do think that every woman has those feelings?

    The ones that say that they don't are just putting up a front!

    P.S. You're gorgeous.

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  10. As I said when I saw you, changing one's perspective is the most difficult thing to change, is it not? *sigh*

    If you could see you through my eyes here is what you would see:
    The most genuine, delightful, sincere, beautiful soul whose goodness is infectious and refreshing. And, perhaps it is because I am bias due to these facts, but that soul is contained in the most gorgeous woman whom I am thankful is to call friend.

    Not that that changes the perspective, but, you know, it's true. =)

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  11. This is something that everyone I know is dealing with right now. We're all in our twenties and all trying to not think this way about ourselves, yet love ourselves... I've been told that it gets better in your thirties... You are not alone in feeling this way!!
    Write on a mirror, with lipstick, "you are beautiful!". It helps.

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  12. Oh, love love love. Please consider yourself hugged. I get it. I sooooo get it.

    I am constantly comparing myself, which is bad. Oh, so very bad.

    I'm not a tiny, dainty girl, nor have I ever been. This plagues me. I'm only 5'4", but were we to put wrists side by side? Oy vey. I cringe at the thought. Even when I was a seriously skinny kid, I weighed more than everyone, and I'm talking by like 15-20 lbs.

    All my life I've been told, "You're Norwegian/big-boned" and "Muscle weighs more than fat". Blah Blah Blah! None of that matters in my messed up head.

    That dreaded number on the scales, the fact that I am by no stretch of the imagination thin, and the fact that no matter how much I work out, I lose a few pounds, only to end up GAINING almost all of it back...in muscle :( drives me to tears quite regularly.

    I have a husband that loves and adores me and the way I look. I buy clothes, and think I look cute. Yet I can't seem to like this shell of mine.

    I know a lot of it has to do with emotional and sexual abuse I went through as a child, but I really hope to overcome all that some day, so I can like what I see in the mirror.

    You are really beautiful on the exterior, and from what I see here, you are even more beautiful within. I sincerely hope that makes you feel better when you look in the mirror tomorrow. xo

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  13. I feel like that everyday, I've been battling my weight as long as I can remember too. Pressure here is crazy, some normal women in europe or in us can be considered totally overweight in Asia. In the past there were times I took it too far. Too restricting myself and ended up fainting a bunch of times. Now I try getting better, I do have more confidence and I try to live actively and eat moderately but I'm insecure and breaking down at my not so best days too. Don't worry, you're not alone. And everything you want takes little steps, I'm sure losing weight process will happen to you.

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  14. I've always had this problem too. Bad days, that's really all I can pin it on. Because like you said, there are good days too. But they never really seem to matter when a low point hits. Not to get too psychological on you (it's my major), but I really believe that we all have tiny bits of the things that we label as disorders within us. We just call them mood swings and push them aside. That's how we deal. It's not a bas thing, in my eyes. I think that we all need days where we just bundle up in the dark and don't come out. It's a human thing. I probably do it more often than some, but hey, we are all different! I hope tomorrow is a better day for you.

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  15. I seriously doubt that there is a woman is the whole world who doesn't feel like this occasionally. If it's not a weight issue, it's an aging issue, or a stretch mark issue, or something. Don't worry. You are stronger than you know. :)

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  16. I hear you on this topic so much. It's such a hard thing to turn off, but we always feel we can do better. The past year I've gained 2 sizes, boo, so I'm trying to get myself back in check. I went bath suit shopping and scored a 6 that felt a bit too big, but I'd rather that than look too snug in a 4... anywoo, the women who owned the shop asked if I wanted to look around, and they eyed me up and down, and said, "so you're an 8?" Ugh, I almost broke down, considering how hard I worked to get to a 6! And then I spent the day taking it out on the K-man. I felt awful for doing that, but so annoyed at her comment and couldn't shake it off. Some days it just gets the best of you. Keep on keeping on.

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  17. sorry, I realize my comment should have omitted the sizes, because my point isn't to complain about the number, just the fact that when you work hard to get down, and someone calls you out.

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  18. Love your blog! Feel you on this body image dilemma! Especiallywhen shallow women like calisara (comment above) make noise at being a size 8 its women like her that make regular women feel horrible about their bodies.

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  19. Like all the lovely women who have commented above, reading your blog makes me feel like I'm not alone in my thoughts and the way I feel about myself. Thanks for that! I don't think the self-doubt ever really goes away and I know the feeling of mental and emotional exhaustion you get from constantly trying to keep up that positive voice inside. It's enough to want to tear your hair out!

    I get through by telling myself that one day, I'll get to the point where I can tell my mind to believe EXACTLY what I WANT it to. In the meantime, I'm just trying to look for small improvements in my outlook and behaviour - like a marked decline in the number of times I give my SO a hard time because I'm feeling unpretty and subsequently jealous of some random female in his vicinity. It's a long road but I take solace in the fact that I'm actually TRYING to look for a healthy outlet for these emotions. You should be proud of yourself for doing the same! Hugs:)

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  20. what is sad is that i don't know anyone who doesn't feel like this from day to day...

    i know you've commented on my pictures and told me how amazing i look, but i still suffer from low low low self esteem. :p

    it sucks!

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  21. Hot Yoga -- it's the answer to ALL of your questions. I struggle too, and let me tell you if you haven't tried it you NEED to. It's an anti-anxiety, extra focus, self-loving form of exercise that I swear by.

    Sure I still have my hang-ups, but this has been the answer to all (or at least some) of my body image problems and moments.

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  22. you know how much i absolutely adore you, right? and you know that everyone that reads this thinks you're crazy pants for having any doubts about how you look, what you can accomplish or already have accomplished.

    everyone has their insecurities, doubts and little things they don't like about themselves, this only makes us HUMAN.

    you're perfect just the way you are miss wishcake. even if you don't believe it right now, there are an army of people out there that agree with me.

    chin up pretty. xoxo

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  23. I have three amazingly gorgeous sisters, who all weigh 20 lbs less than I do and are 3 cup sizes larger than me...I am usually ok with everything, but there are nights when I stand in front of the mirror and silently yell at myself, "Why can't I be more devoted to exercising? Why can't I look like my sisters?" I don't have any answers yet, but I will say that kind hubbies make a world of difference. I am so happy you have Jay. Make him give you a giant huge from me!

    xoxc

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  24. i can relate to every single word you wrote. it's a long hard battle and i too feel like i'll never get those voices out. lovely way of writing about it!

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  25. I think every woman has the same voice it's very very sad that we all do, because beauty isn't just about what's on the outside. The world would be a pretty boring place if we were all looked the same!

    P.S. Popcorn is a healthy snack, much better then potato chips :)

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  26. I've played basketball my entire life and never had to worry about my weight or anything, until the last year or so. I did worry about it while I was playing mind you, obsessing over the fact that I don't have a lovely, girlish figure.

    And now, I'm like, "WHAT WAS I THINKING!? I was PERFECT."

    It's my goal to eat healthy and workout. And sure I'd like to lose a few pounds. But at the end of the day, like you said, it's about loving exactly who you are at the moment. Flaws and all.

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  27. I had a revelation a few weekends ago. You see, growing up I really didn't have too horrible of a body image. I was never thin, but I was always active in sports, so I just felt great. There were times when I was called fat in elementary school, but I was surprisingly strong about it (even when I look back on it now I'm just in awe of my little ten year old self).

    Anyway so that weekend revelation: my MIL is immensely obsessed with weight. She and her mother were the first instances that I've really felt judged about my own weight. And recently we're all sitting at dinner, and she is going ON and ON and ON about body shapers and how they do nothing for fat women because all it does is push the fat around. Mind that one of the guests at dinner was a heavier woman. My jaw was literally on the floor; everything she was saying was so rude and derogatory. And then.. she said "And the lady at the mall had the NERVE to try to sell me a shaper. Excuse me I'm 110 pounds I don't NEED one of those!" THERE. Her obsession with hers and others' weight.. totally based on her own insecurity! I mean it was just so blatant!

    So now any time I feel that someone around me is judging me because of my weight, I can know that it's based on their own insecurity, and that in itself has really helped me with mine. I've realized that yes we'd all love to have a movie star's body, but we don't. I don't want to be like my MIL. I want to be healthy, yes. But I don't want to be so insecure that even at a healthy weight I make myself and others uncomfortable. Life is too short to be worrying about things like that.

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  28. it is hard to be completely happy with yourself, and even when you know you should just accept who you are you can't help but trying to improve yourself - but the point is just that, to say 'improve' seems to suggest there's something wrong which there isn't, just something that isn't as perfect as we would like. self-acceptance is something i think will come with old age when you can look back and smile on how silly we used to all be when really there was nothing ever to worry about. well that's the way i see it at least x

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  29. I'm feeling down today too.... we all get that way - your fave pants are too tight, you can't do your makeup right, your hair drives you crazy - but it's just a day, and it will pass. I hope.

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  30. It's weird to hear that coming from you because I think you're gorgeous. I always thought if I lost weight & got skinny I'd feel amazing and be able to feel like that also, but alas I think it's just a continual process through life.

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  31. You're not alone.
    I have days were I beat myself up about my brain being too busy for it's own god.

    Hows the paradox of perfection: that imperfection is perfect. You can't have one without the other, yet they are opposites.

    So is perfection impossibly flawed, and to a degree impossible to define? A moving target?

    It's about the journey isn't it?

    Or sometimes do we just naturally have a 'down in the dumps' day, that we have the right to blame on hormones or the weather...

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  32. I love you.
    I think we all need to hear that more, especially when we're feeling vulnerable. So know that I love you.

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  33. Us girls. Why do we do this to ourselves?!? I think we are all in the same boat as you, and for no reason. We are all perfect as we are with our "imperfections". Now for us all to just know it!

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  34. oh sweetie -
    i know this voice all too well and i am in my 30's and in many ways i am in much better shape now than i was in my 20's. the wisdom of experience, poise of dedicated yoga practice, alignment of my body while exercising (i run with grace now vs the pounding i know i use to do) and the better choices of what i eat and how i treat my skin. all these things make for a better me and a prettier me. do i feel older in my appearance and wish i could look younger? sometimes but it doesn't overwhelm my thoughts the way it use to. i will say however that i totally get the negative gremlin speaking in my ear when i happen to not be my whole self - that voice gets louder on those days and points out something about my physicality that can break my spirit or quite frankly when my clothes don't fit the same way and i realize the next day it's because i got my monthly girl. nevertheless, that voice is still there from time to time but i manage it differently. i also wanted to share cause it sounds like we may have a few things in common here - that sometimes i hear that gremlin come out more when i am trying to make the effort - when i am going to the gym more consistently and eating better. i have realized then that i am really feeling impatient for a result to kick in or i have to face that although i have been going to the gym more i may have also had a few too many nights out with some vino or less sleeping - all things that show my life not to be in balance. this leads me to my last thought and that is graceful balance. when i am there or even seeking to be there we, i have had the most mortal satisfaction of seeing what i am capable of as it relates to self/spirit care. you don't see any flaws in that state..it just isn't possible. keep going sweetie. one foot in front of the other and if the tears come, let it come up and roll off and keep going. you are a beautiful soul and this is all part of the journey. bravo to you for sharing!

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  35. Woah, I just had a really bad moment in a changeroom today, with ultra-honest lighting..... and I realised I may have been using my small mirror way too much at home. I was in shock at this shop,and I felt so bad for myself. so bad that I went home and ate a whole pile of bruscetta. I was trying to be healthy but overdid it a bit I think.
    .... I find it hard to accept my body. Even after having a baby it's hard, esp when I've gone up a dress size and things wobble that never wobbled before....
    I don't know if it will ever feel ok. I think it's yet another daily struggle of living in our lovely and yet image-driven society.
    x

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  36. Aw... Well, like other people have said, everyone has these thoughts. From what I've read in (silly) magazines, even the super models do. Personally I seem to get in a funk about my looks every few months, for no real apparent reasons. (Similarly to you, I posted about it once on my blog: http://kristanhoffman.com/2008/06/23/confession-of-a-weak-moment/ )

    One thing I used to do, that I felt was really fun and helped me, was to photograph myself. I tried to stage these shots as if I were a model. The pictures were never meant to be seen except by me (so various degrees of nudity may have been involved ;P) because the point was to showcase myself in the most positive light (figuratively and literally). To use my own body to make something beautiful.

    Just a thought.

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  37. I think you've got the right idea with the daily affirmations! I have always been thin, but more like awkward rather than hollywood hot thin.
    I think body image is something that all young girls and women go through. It's hard not to in our society.
    I started "daily affirmations" in high school. I felt so dumb at first, like Stweart Smolly ("I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me").
    It's crazy how once you convince yourself you're "perfect/ happy with your body" everyone else seems to follow suit.
    Find something uniquely you that you "hate", and start there. For example I started with my "boobs are so small I can't fit into a training bra" and turned it into a positive, because at least they're real.(where I live, EVERYONE ages 16-80 have implants)

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  38. you. are. awesome. write it on the mirror. it's the truth.

    also, sometimes i think about that whole "God created me in His own image" thing and why would he create something that wasn't good enough? right?

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  39. awww. tomorrow WILL be brighter for sure!

    i'm sorry you're having a crappy day, but i commend you on being so brave to be so honest about it on your blog.

    i totally hear every word you wrote, and i truely believe just keep telling yourself you're beautiful every day and eventually that pays off. it worked for me once really well... took a while, maybe a year lol but it worked... and then self doubt crept up on me a few years later and now here i am. trying to figure out who i am and how i look.

    i'm glad you have so many people our here in blogland supporting you. if you ask me, i think you are ridiculously gorgeous!

    hope your days gets better :)

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  40. Sometimes, I'll receive a comment from my husband that'll strike the wrong chord (even if he doesn't mean it to). I think that, while we seek approval from everyone, we seek it most from our husbands; it's hard when we hear a comment that just doesn't sit right, epescially when we're not in the right mood.

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  41. first of all, here's that hug (even though I'm a bit late in the commenting here)

    second of all, and I hope this doesn't sound bad, but in some ways it is so comforting to know that a girl like YOU--meaning seriously 100% gorgeous in every way (and I do mean EVERY way)-- can still have these issues. Please don't take that wrong... I'm not GLAD you have these issues and I'd whisk them away from you in a second if I could, but in some way it just helps to know that truly everyone does.

    Me, I've got a tummy pooch and stretch marks that will probably never go away (thanks to those three darling daughters of mine, hehe), teeth that are quite imperfect, and skin that apparently thinks I'm still 14 since I break out all the time. Add to that the extra weight I just can't seem to lose and a permament skin condition, and there are days when I'm seriously tempted to cry when I look in the mirror. But, the funny thing is that somehow, all these body things that are out of my control (such as stretch marks) have somehow helped me to be mostly OK with how I look. Because I can't control these things, so what is the point of beating myself up about it? I know I'm not one of those "naturally" beautiful girls, and that I will never ever look like I might want to... but this is ME. It's the body and the face that God gave me, and I know the people I love think I'm beautiful even when I know I'm not. And that thought always gives me comfort and makes me happy.

    thanks for sharing, as always... I hope you'll truly reach that place of acceptance that you're striving for. In the meanwhile, we're all right there with you. :)

    (I kind of can't believe I just wrote about my stretch marks in a blog comment. That's honesty for ya. hehe)

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  42. You have no idea how much i needed to read that post. I wish i could overcome those thoughts and fears too

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