My birthday is in May, conveniently placed around final exams. Because of that, I don’t often get the chance to do many exciting things to celebrate – maybe catch a movie, grab a meal in the dining hall with some friends, but that’s about it. It’s not as bad as it sounds, actually. I enjoy those small moments and the little things that make birthdays special.
My 20th birthday was on a Saturday, and so I met some of my friends for lunch on campus. It was a beautiful day – the sun was out, the weather was warmer, everything I could’ve asked for. As we were leaving the dining hall to go back to our dorms, we went down a sidewalk that was lined with blossoming trees. One of my friends stopped and asked, “Maggie, can I take your picture in front of these?”
I take my photo once in a blue moon. I’m not really camera shy, I just prefer to be the one behind the lens rather than in front of it. But it was my birthday after all, and the trees really did look fantastic, so I walked over to them and smiled.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I look back at this photo and the good memories it holds for me, I realized that if I took a photo like this five years earlier, I would’ve hated it.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I, like nearly every other teenage girl at some point in her life, felt insecure about my appearance. A lot of us go through that in our middle school and high school years, and despite the fact that I was cyberschooled, I didn’t get a pass.
I’m going to be blunt in this post. Please don’t take that as self-deprecation or looking for pity. I just find it easiest to write this if I’m being completely honest.
So let’s be real – all through growing up, I was usually the bigger, taller, heavier person in my friend groups. The height I didn’t mind (I liked thinking I was tall, and then I got to college and realized I wasn’t very tall, I just had shorter friends). The other stuff did bother me. It was hard to be the only person in my circle of friends that couldn’t just grab something off the rack in Forever 21. I came to dislike shopping with my friends, because I was usually the one who left empty-handed. Sure, department stores would carry clothes in my size, but they were usually designed with a middle-aged woman in mind, not a fifteen-year-old girl.
There were other things that bugged me too. When I look back at it now, they’re so minor it’s almost laughable to me. At the time though, they were very real.
There was one day in high school when I wore a sleeveless shirt, and one of my friends snapped a photo of me from the side. They sent the picture to me later, and I absolutely hated it. I couldn’t stand the way my arm stuck out like a sore thumb. Even though I really loved the shirt I was wearing in the photo, I always hesitated before putting it on after that.
(On a side note, I had to search through Facebook to find this photo, and you know something? None of the people who commented on it mentioned the way my body looked.)
There was another time when one of my friends casually commented that she hated the way her legs looked. I thought she was being ridiculous, but then the thought crossed my mind: if she didn’t like the way her legs looked, then how should I feel about mine? I spent that entire summer wearing only jeans. Even in the middle of August, when it was hot and humid, I wore jeans and suffered through it. Fortunately, after that I came to my senses and realized that no matter how terrible I thought my legs looked, nothing was worth suffering through that kind of heat again.
In the picture that my friend took of me for my birthday, I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts. The only concern I had that day was that I might be a little bit cold (it was still just the beginning of May). If my 15-year-old self tried to wear something like that, I don’t think I could’ve done it.
My appearance really hasn’t changed much since I was a teenager. I’ve lost some weight (thank you, fourth floor classes) and I finally have clothes that I love myself in (@ Torrid please sponsor me). But it’s not like I drank some magic potion and my entire physical appearance was altered to make me slimmer, prettier, etc. That stuff doesn’t happen in real life.
What really changed was how I thought about things. I know getting over insecurities isn’t an easy thing to do, and that process isn’t the same for everyone. For me, I started to realize that there were things that I liked about myself. I’m smart, funny, dependable, and kind. A lot of what got me to that understanding was the people I surrounded myself with. My friends and family valued and affirmed those qualities in me, and because of them, I started to find it easier to accept myself.
I’m not saying that it’s simple. It took me years reach a point where I really liked myself, and I still have a hard time with it on occasion. But if I’m writing this post for the teenage me, then this is what I want to tell them: It is possible to become more comfortable in your own skin. It might be a slow process in small steps, but I hope that as you grow older, you will find people who love you and who show you how to love yourself too.