Welcome back to another installation of our Meet The Team Thursdays segment. It’s the first one for the new year and we are so excited to be carrying on this segment into 2018. As you may know, an important part – or even an inherent requirement – of being a NAM ambassador is having a very special, complicated, intricate and poignant story to tell. A story that involves places, people but most importantly oneself. We hope the stories of this months’ ambassadors; Jenny (@jenny_leeeee), Hannah (@lavidahannah), Faith (@faymeredith) and Evyenia (@evyeniaroza) help you gain a better understanding of what it means to not only LOVE your body, but be IN LOVE with your body. So without further ado, here we go!
1. Talk us through your journey of self-love. Were there any stand-out moments? What were they and why?
Jenny: My self-love journey is never-ending. No one is perfect, especially not myself, and that includes the matter of loving oneself. Each day is work. I remember being on my first diet when i was nine years old. No nine year old should be made to feel like they have to be skinnier to be deemed worthy of anything. For years, I struggled with body dysmorphic disorder. Always thinking I was fat. Losing weight and still not being satisfied with my appearance, and there wasn’t any compliment in the world that was going to change my mind. It was something I had to realize myself. I had to re-train my brain and thought process- and that’s still ongoing today. My biggest breakthrough in self-love also came when I started to see other body-positive women on my social media feeds. I felt like my entire life I had been fed certain messages about how my body was supposed to look from media outlets and now I was seeing women who looked like me, who struggled like me. I didn’t feel alone anymore and I think that really helped me gain perspective on myself.
Hannah: Last spring, I took a trip to Hawaii and enjoyed it to the absolute fullest. I lived in a bikini all week and wore crop tops without shame. I rode that wave throughout the summer and felt truly okay with my body in a way I never have before. Conversely, last week I sat in a puddle of snow pants that we’re too small feeling absolutely defeated. I feel like the moments that stand out tested me in a way I either worked through or forced me to address my feelings and expectations around my body journey toward self love.
Faith: It’s crazy to think that my recovery is only celebrating it’s 2nd birthday this year! My journey to self-love all started a few years ago when I received several mental health diagnoses. “Dealing” with those diagnoses wasn’t simply about treating them (with medications and therapy etc.). It was also about accepting having them in the first place, accepting the ups and downs they came with. I needed to acknowledge them, something that I refused to do for a long time. You see, self-deprecating self-talk is like a long line of dominos. Once I found one thing about myself that I deemed completely unacceptable, more and more were sure to follow. It started with mental health diagnoses and then it spiraled outwards, all the way down to the tips of my toes. Soon, my physical attributes became undesirable as well. Before I knew it, I hardly had anything nice to say about myself at all. My view of myself, mind and body, was completely distorted. I was truly miserable in my own skin. So, I started self-sabotaging.
I remember this moment of sitting on my bed 2 years ago and having lost so much in my life (the death of my father, the death of a relationship etc.). I was just so unbelievably sad and I remember finally noticing that I was actually bullying myself. I realized that I was actually sitting there and justifying why I deserved to feel so much pain. The justifications stemmed back to why I wasn’t ‘normal’, what my body looked like, and, as a result, the things I had taught myself to believe about my worth. I was like “oh my goodness…I am actually tearing myself apart”. It was in that moment that I realized that I needed to be in my own corner. I remember getting up off of the bed and It was like I finally (literally) stood up to myself for myself. Enough was enough. I remember deciding that day that I was going to find a way to build a relationship with myself, the only person I was guaranteed to be in a relationship with for the rest of my life. Recovery, for me, started in that moment. Self-love, for me, started in that moment. The rest is history.
Evyenia: My self-love journey came out of necessity. I recently gained a lot of weight as a result of emotional trauma, mental illness, and medication side effects. I was also making my way out of an abusive relationship. So learning self-love was essential to my own survival. For the first time in my life I started to learn to love myself on the inside as well as the outside. I can’t say there was a stand-out moment. It’s been a journey of a lot of ups and downs. I try to keep my mind focused on the future and the ways in which I can progress my self-love ands self-acceptance.
2. If there was one thing you could express to all the people currently coping with an eating disorder, what would you say?
Jenny: Definitely that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You aren’t. More people than we realize are going through the exact same thing we are. There are varying levels and degrees, but they all matter and can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health. It’s going to be a process and is something we may live with in some way or another for the rest of our lives, but being aware of the problem is the first step for anything. There isn’t a specified time frame for recovering from an eating disorder. You may feel like you’re the only one going through something such as an eating disorder, but you aren’t.
Hannah: You have to accept where you are right at this moment and not compare current you to where you “should” be. You might mess up, but having a day where you “failed” does not make you a failure. When I find myself slipping into old habits I try to look back and think, “Why am I doing this? Is there a reason I’m doing things this way? What did I tell myself during that?” Be honest with yourself because you can’t grow into the person you want to be if you are lying to your best friend: You.
Faith: It. Is. Hard. It is so hard to acknowledge that It is not our bodies that are the culprit but our minds. I think I just want you to know that your struggles and your feelings are so valid. Nobody should ever diminish them. However, at the risk of sounding like a cheesy after-school special, happiness and self-esteem come from loving ourselves for who we truly are – and that is only possible through admitting that there is something that is keeping us from that and then taking action to combat it. Wherever you are in your process just know that there are always people who are ready to take those next steps with you even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Evyenia: I deal with a binge eating disorder that is driven by emotions. One of my biggest achievements in fighting it has been removing my emotional attachment to food. It helped me feel like the power was back in my hands (as opposed to the food holding all the power over me).
3. Putting yourself out there on social media is no easy feat. What gave you the inspiration to build such a strong presence on platforms such as Instagram?
Jenny: My inspiration truly started long ago with myself and what I was putting out there on the internet. I started my first fashion and lifestyle blog in 2009. It centered around my love for fashion and beauty products, but also losing weight. I think its great to share fitness and health improvements, but for me back then it was solely about sharing how much weight I was losing and what size clothing I was. At the time I was a size 12 and didn’t really “market” my blog as plus size fashion. I wanted to be “regular/normal” size. I wanted to be smaller….I let that blog go. My desire to blog about those things diminished and it was the best thing that could have happened, because I started back to social media (specifically Instagram) heavily in 2016. I had a different frame of mind. I still loved fashion and wanted to showcase that- and I do, but while also being proud of the body I currently have! It’s hard to please everyone, so you shouldn’t be bothered with that. I told myself that I was gong to post what I wanted, while being happy with who I was. My inspiration started with where I first began with social media and now branches out from the other women I see posting. Their stories inspire me. The women who look to me for inspiration, inspire me.
Hannah: I started talking about my struggles and journey before I found the body positive community. I didn’t see that many people who looked like me talking about being a woman with cellulite or rolls or struggling with disordered eating. Partly, that’s because I wasn’t looking for plus-size or body positive activists. I was still very much buying into diet and beauty culture before I finally just said, “enough is enough”. Right before I started photo blogging, I was particularly inspired by Hunter McGrady’s feature during the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I vividly remember seeing her photo and welling up with tears because her body was so beautiful but I could see myself in her cellulite and softness. Normally I would see a photo like that and feel so self-conscious and punitive. Instead, I felt inspired and empowered.
Faith: I was tired of hiding. It’s that simple. After years of dodging who I was, I was ready to just be me and was ready to meet the world as my most authentic self. I figured there would be some discomfort and maybe even some backlash. However, all in all, It has been so empowering to not have to filter myself and package myself for mass consumption. I’m not everyone’s favorite flavor but at least I’m mine.
Evyenia: I’m actually a writer. I’m in a master’s program where I am writing a memoir about my mental illness. So the drive behind my social media presence is the need to build a platform for my writing and activism.
4. When you’re dealing with thoughts that aren’t body-positive, what do you do?
Jenny: The biggest thing I have learned to embrace is that EVERYONE has days like this on some level. Personally, more often than not, I have to simply give it time. I have to give my brain time to process my feelings and why I’m feeling the way I feel. It involves lots of self-awareness and self-talks. Lots of embracing the feeling of “not being good enough” because otherwise all I’m doing is ignoring these negative feelings and they’ll only just come back. No one will ever be perfect in how they view themselves and its best that we stop thinking it’ll all just be perfect one day. Some of my strategies for my off-days include: Lots of unplugged time from social media. When social media is great, its fantastic. When its bad, it can be hindering to our lives. At least to mine. So, not viewing or reading things online that might bring me down or feel less-than helps. Reading self-help books or reading in general is also something I do to work through a negative self-image. The transitioning my mind to more important things in life helps me put things into perspective.
Hannah: I have two strategies depending on where I’m at that day. Sometimes, I feel good enough to just say, “No this part of my body is beautiful because it is mine.” If I’m struggling to fit into my clothes or feeling bloated, I have to remind myself that clothing is just an object. What I put on my body doesn’t have to be an definition of me, but instead can be an expression of me. There are days I’m not so capable of rationally looking at my body. On days where I’ve subconsciously paved the way for nasty thoughts, I usually let myself just have a little breakdown. I’ve cried in dressing rooms, in my car, on the street, everywhere. But I don’t stop just at having a breakdown. I go back after and ask myself why I was upset and what’s really behind the tears. Am I upset because these pants don’t fit? Or am I upset because these pants SHOULD fit because x says they’re supposed to? I’ve learned more from the days I’m not so body positive than the days where I feel strong enough to just squash the world’s (and my) expectations for my body.
Faith: I panic like anybody else. I freak out about the invasive thoughts but then I remember that I’ve had bad days before and I’ve survived every one of those. Suddenly, I’m able to breathe a little easier. Then, I think of what coping skills and activities bring me joy. It could be Netflix. It could be a Zumba class. Whatever it is, I make sure to throw myself into to it because the negative feelings will pass. They always do.
Evyenia: Remember the scene in The Matrix when Neo bends over backwards to dodge bullets? I picture that in my mind. I am Neo and the bullets are negative thoughts and I’m the badass who is dodging those bullets.
5. What is one change you’ve made in your life that has greatly helped you on your journey to body-positivity?
Jenny: The biggest change is that I personally don’t engage in weight loss talk. Once I realized my self-image issues stemmed from never feeling like I was doing enough to change my body, or I wasn’t perfect in my weight loss goals, I decided to stop it at the source. No matter the reason I work out and eat healthy, whether that IS to lose weight or simply feel better physically, it wasn’t anyone’s business. And it wasn’t something I was going to obsess about any longer.
Hannah: Being more forgiving and gentle with myself helps me keep grinding towards self love. I’m still hypercritical of myself, but I try to check it as often as possible. Just being able to forgive myself for the way I think and treat my body makes it easier to remind my soul that imperfection is not failure. I’m so attuned to pushing myself critically that taking a second just to be nice to myself details that nasty voice inside a bit.
Faith: I stopped lying. I stopped lying to myself and I stopped lying to others. I don’t say I’m fine when I’m not. I’m never presenting a different reality than my actual reality. In doing so, I don’t make it difficult for myself to know when I’m struggling and when I’m not. There is no blurred line. I’m able to more effectively take care of myself as a result of this. It’s magic. Nah. It’s self-care.
Evyenia: The greatest change I’ve made is to not value myself by the size of my body.
6. Do you have a body-positive mantra? And if not, what would your mantra be?
Jenny: Yes! It would be “Don’t let your mind bully your body”. Our thoughts are our reality. We can re-train our brains to be healthier. To think healthier. Sometimes that requires help and support and we should seek that help!
Hannah: A really great therapist told me “If you talked to another person the way you talk to yourself, would you really say such awful things?” It’s so easy to hurt ourselves and this perspective really triggered a change in how I talked to myself. The nagging, punitive voice inside me was pretty evil and I would never talk to another person that way in a million years. I had to stop that voice from talking and causing me so much pain.
It’s always a great reminder that our worth is not defined by others but by ourselves. It’s also always nice to remind ourselves to never let ourselves feel left out or like an outsider in our own bones.
Evyenia: “Your worth is not determined by the size of your body.” “There is more to life than the constant pursuit of a flat stomach.”
And there you have it beauties. Honest, beautiful and sometimes painful renditions of what it means to be a non-airbrushed girl in a very airbrushed world. We hope some of these stories, lessons and mantras will help you on your plight to loving yourself a little more every day, not only because you should but because you deserve to!
As always, if you have any specific questions you would like to ask our next set of ambassadors, send us an email or drop us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
Until next time, thanks for joining us on another round of Meet the Team Thursdays!
We love you guys long time.
Team NAM xx