Dear 23 year old Suzi,
Right now, you weigh around 140 pounds. You are 5’9, lean, with a tiny waist, skinny arms, hips that have just started expanding over the last few years, and long legs. You have a bigger butt than you did when you were young, and this bothers you. A doctor recently told you that you have “birthing hips” and that made you feel huge. You are constantly looking at your butt in the mirror, doing what tinkerbell does in Peter Pan to check how wide your hips have become, and scrubbing ground coffee on the backs of your legs to get rid of the cellulite you started developing in high school.
You wear pants that are one size too big because you think they fit you better, and despite the fact that they slip down your hips constantly you insist they are the correct size. When people refer to you as “small”, “skinny”, or “thin”, you think, “those people have no idea”. You have an internal monologue that constantly reminds you that you might look one way but are in fact another. You think you are deceiving everyone with a seemingly svelte figure that in actuality has started developing jiggle in certain places. You never wear shorts because you obsess over the fact that your thighs are much larger than your calves, resulting in what you refer to as an “upside down triangle”.
In the summer you wear bikinis to the pool, but you suck in your belly so hard while walking in them that it becomes uncomfortable. You buy pretty lingerie because you love it, but you never feel confident enough to wear it, even at home with your new husband.
My dear 23 year old Suzi,
At nearly 33 I still understand what it is like to dissect various body parts, analyzing if they are getting larger or smaller on a daily basis. It’s exhausting. I don’t want to worry you, but after having two babies and getting into your thirties, your body has changed significantly. Your jiggles are more jiggly, your hips are more birthing-like than ever, and that cellulite you were so obsessed with? It’s back and in greater numbers.
Here is the good news:
You, at 23, have something that is called body dysmorphia. Basically you cannot see your body clearly because you have created an idea that it is monstrously huge and no amount of compliment or praise can change that narrative. Why is this good news? Because in ten years time, you will have a clarity about this disorder that, if time travel were possible, could erase years of negative self talk and replace it with a healthy understanding of what you actually look like and what your body is capable of doing.
You will not look like a Victoria’s Secret model at 33. You will not have a flat stomach, nor will you have skinny thighs. Guess what, though? You will be okay with that. You will be at your highest non-pregnancy weight and desperately wanting to lose 20 pounds, and sure, you will want to look a certain way because you will still be a human female who has an idea of what kind of body she wants, but you will be stronger than you’ve ever been. You will be able to run, maybe slowly, but you will be able to run longer than you can now at 23, and you will be proud of that. You will be able to do exercises that challenge your muscles in ways that you had never done before, and you will notice how each movement starts to become easier.
You at 23, you are beautiful. But you do not want to hear that. You do, but you won’t be able to believe it. Nor will you believe that you are a total babe. At 33, you will believe it. And not because others tell you, though compliments are now easier to accept, but you will believe that you are attractive because you will see something new in yourself that comes from no one else.
Will you still nit pick things about yourself? Of course, everyone does. But you won’t let it consume your daily thoughts and will instead use it as motivation to get healthier. Do you want to know how you are able to do this?
Because at 23, you thought you were ugly. You thought you were overweight. You thought you were undeserving of love. And that broke you for way too long. Now, at 33, you love yourself too much to let that happen.
Take care of yourself, beautiful girl. Do not beat yourself up for being human. Because this body you are so cruel to will grow two beautiful babies and help you do things that you never thought you could do. Be kind to yourself, because you are worth being kind to.