Grace pool

Collegian columnist Grace Miller (right) and her friend Anna Carter (left) spend time at a public pool in York, Pennsylvania.

This past week, I startled myself.

I was looking in the mirror (as I’m known to do), inspecting the impurities of my skin and body when I said out loud, “I love you.”

I had been leaning over the bathroom counter, alone, elbows resting on the table so I could get up close to my reflection. I scanned for blackheads and whiteheads and other impurities. I tried not to think about the shape of my face. I remembered the recent TikTok challenge that also showed just how asymmetrical my face is. And suddenly, there it was. Spoken out of nowhere:

I love you.

My mind took a second to process what had escaped my lips, and when I realized what I said, I was almost embarrassed.

I was transported back to counseling offices where my therapists would ask me to name anything I like about myself. Would ask me to say out loud that I am beautiful, even if it was empty. I remember the burning shame and embarrassment that followed these moments, as I felt pushed against a wall. I couldn’t even make myself “lie” that I was pretty.

These conversations happened when I was 16, and they happened when I turned 20.

Thus, as body image is an ongoing issue I face, I was shocked to hear such kind words from my own mouth unprompted.

I’m tempted to call it a fluke, but I’d rather call it a win.

I went to a public pool a few days ago, and for the first time in recent years, I was not fixated on the shape of my body. Despite recent weight loss, I was prepared to wear my new one-piece with an apology. I was ready to be miserable, to compare myself to other pool goers.

Before leaving, I shared my anxieties with the friend, Anna, who invited me to the pool. She assured me she understood. We talked about weight loss and weight gain during quarantine, and she said something simple that has stuck with me. Despite gaining a bit of weight, she said, “My belly is happy, so I’m happy.”

I said it over and over in my head after I read it, and again now as I’m writing this. My belly is happy, so I’m happy. My belly is happy, so I’m happy.

She said it so effortlessly, like there was no doubt in her mind. Her love for herself was that simple. It wasn’t shame dressed up as a present or empty words hoping to eventually mean something. It was so easily genuine, that I considered applying the statement to myself.

To my surprise, it helped. Just today I drank a Chick-fil-A frosted coffee, and after feeling guilt, repeated this mantra to myself. I was soothed by the simplicity and undeniability of the statement. It left no room for argument. It was kind, and it was soft, but it was also final.

It felt good.

Just like it also felt good to verbally express love for myself days before.

Recovery (in this case, more specifically the journey to self acceptance) is not a linear process. Next week, “love” might feel like a foreign word to my body. But that’s okay, because this week, I’m allowing myself to enjoy it.

I hope one day to be friends with my body. I hope to recognize and fully appreciate the dedicated efforts it exerts to keep me alive.

I’ll leave you with another mantra that I’ve been feeling the past two weeks, that maybe sums this all up: I am tired of hurting.

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