Trying Self-Acceptance On For Size
Words by Corey Wheeland
My daughter, Zoey, sits on a bench beside me, moving her legs back and forth to the beat of the song she quietly sings. In the mirror before me, I see her kicking feet, and I am grateful her movement has momentarily pulled my attention toward her reflection and away from my own.
But soon my gaze shifts back to my body to the task at hand, and I’m wishing I was somewhere else. The light in the fitting room is completely unforgiving, casting shadows in places I don’t want to see.
I look at the shirt I’ve just put on, at the way it gaps on my chest and how its length doesn’t quite cover what I want it to cover. I look at the jeans I’ve just pulled up and struggled to button, the way they pull across my hips and stretch tight over my thighs.
And then I look at my face, at the way my brow is furrowed and how the frown I’m wearing tugs down the corners of my lips. I feel something deep inside me shift, and I audibly sigh.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Zoey asks, looking up.
Her young, sweet face reminds me of her fragility, of the responsibility I have to model a positive body image, so I stop my answer before it escapes my lips. But the words are still there, trepidly perched on the edge of my tongue, clouding my vision with their toxic negativity:
I look terrible.
. . . . . . . . . .
There was a brief moment in my life, not long ago, when I loved my body.
I call it brief because it lasted six months. Out of the 456 months I’ve been alive, six months is only a blip, a mere 0.01% of my existence -- a painful, pitiful, frighteningly low percentage.
During that time, I would hop out of bed in the morning and stand in front of my mirror, reveling in my slim waist, skinny legs, raised clavicles, and the tiny, butterfly bones that gently protruded from my shoulders.
But, for the most part, those six months weren’t very happy ones. They were spent counting calories, falling asleep hungry, and tap-dancing on top of a scale hoping the handful of numbers met my approval instead of procuring my disgust. They were spent being tired, sick, and hungry.
And when that new body love eventually morphed into an all-consuming self-hatred, one worse than ever before, I finally realized that maybe the scale really wasn’t my enemy.
The real enemy was me.
. . . . . . . . . .
So here I am, years later in this fitting room, the remnants from that painful period of my past surfacing as I simply try to find some new clothes. Though I’m back to a so-called “healthy” weight -- a weight many would love to achieve -- I sometimes still struggle, especially in moments like these.
For a girl who was never satisfied with anything less than a perfect ‘A’ in school, it sure has taken me a long time to realize that having a 0.01% happiness record on my body’s report card maybe isn’t acceptable.
Not only do I need to flip that percentage, I need to flip my perspective, too: because what stares back at me in that mirror isn’t just me anymore.
There she is, tucked in the corner of the dressing room, watching me. For the rest of my daughter’s life, she will be there, just out of the corner of my eye, looking up to me. If I teach Zoey anything, I want it to be that we should strive to love ourselves 99.99% of the time, not the other way around.
And this lesson needs to start with me.
I change back into my own clothes and tuck the ill-fitting ones under my arm. As I grab Zoey’s hand, I swallow those bad words and thoughts and replace them with a much better answer.
“Those clothes were terrible,” I tell her.
“Totally,” Zoey nods in agreement as the takes them from me. “You can find better ones for sure.”
She leaves me standing there and walks down the fitting room hallway. The woman collecting the clothes takes them from Zoey, and looks up, trying to get my attention.
“Did they not work?” she calls down my way.
Before I can speak, Zoey voice fills the space between us.
“They just weren’t a good fit.”
. . . . . . . . . .
Walking out of the store, I can’t help but think of the other things that aren’t a good fit. They are the lies I’ve been telling for way too long, lies that have painted the way I think about myself. They are the lies that so many of us tell ourselves day after day, month after month, year after year after year:
That we aren’t good enough or small enough or thin enough.
That our bodies aren’t made for certain clothes.
That our lives should be spent trying to achieve a size or weight, and that if either of those things happen, it will guarantee our happiness.
And, the biggest lie of all, that happiness can only be found externally.
The truth of the matter is that happiness doesn’t start in a fitting room with a shirt or a pair of jeans. It doesn’t start on a scale in the morning or by picking your way through a salad when your stomach is begging for a burger. It doesn’t start with collarbones or tiny waists or six months of starving yourself.
If happiness starts within us, then it stays within us.
Zoey and I walk past a handful of racks, all boasting brightly colored clothes, ones that seem to beg me to try them on. I feel their pull, but I also feel happy I’m walking away, focusing my attention to the most important thing.
I look down at Zoey and she tilts her gaze toward mine and, as our sightlines connect, I decide it’s time to start trying something else on for size, for both her sake and my own.
Because self-acceptance is one thing that will always be a perfect fit.
Click to Read Next: Ageless is the New Gray
About the Author:
Corey Wheeland is a writer, graphic designer, and single mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. She is the author of the book Blessed, Beautiful Now, a collection of heartfelt essays documenting her post-divorce search to find her authentic self. She is also the creator of The Nostalgia Diaries blog, which encourages readers to celebrate the past to create better days today by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming.