Since last weekend I have received 17 comments across my website and other social media platforms commenting on the way that I look. Everything from: “You’re a fat pig” to, “You have a big nose”, and my personal favourite: “You’re not skinny enough to to be a vegan”.
All comments made anonymously, of course, with no purpose other than to wound me. Normally I don’t get militant about these things; idiots are idiots. And sure, 17 is nothing compared to the thousands of hate comments other people are bombarded with every day. However, I know firsthand how comments like these can put a person less confident than me down, and it is shameful.
When I first started my website, I knew there could be repercussions involved with putting myself out there. Especially when discussing health and fitness, and even more so with a vegan diet, that tends to get a shrewd of “hate” from mainstream media. But I also knew I had tough skin and that other people’s opinions of me didn’t matter.
At least that’s the lie I tried to convince myself into believing.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
Well I’ll tell you in 20 years a stick nor a stone has ever done me any harm, but the thoughtless words of others have cut through my tough skin countless times.
I feel inclined to discuss my struggle with positive body imagine and explain my journey to the self confident person I am today. Not because I feel like I need to explain myself to these assholes, but because I realize that if these comments are being thrown at me, they’re probably being thrown at a lot of other young women too. And while I do maintain an image on social media of being a confident, a “take no shit from anyone” kinda person, that’s not necessarily always the case.
I was always a healthy kid. I played every sport you can name and when I was pretty young, I finally found my true calling; hockey. I loved every minute of playing. The sound of skates cutting through fresh ice, the feel of the chilly rink air hitting you face first as you were on a rush, even the smell of three game old hockey equipment was something I loved. And I loved training for my sport.
I worked out every day with only one goal in mind; to be better than my opponents. I trained to be faster, stronger, and more agile than the other girls I played against. I embraced my big quads and broad shoulders because they were what put me ahead of the competition. They helped me deke around girls who were too slow to keep up, win battles in the corners against girls who weren’t as strong as me, and shoot pucks past goaltenders who didn’t even have a chance to blink before the puck hit the back of the net.
So when my hockey career was abruptly cut short due to a cheap hit that caused me a severe concussion, you can only imagine the emotional turmoil it had on me. After 12 years of nothing but hockey, the only thing I knew was gone. And on top of that, my concussion was so severe I couldn’t skate, train, or participate in any physical activity for months after the hit. I wasn’t even allowed to go to school for a period of time because reading and laptop screens caused me such bad head pain and dizziness. My sensitivity to light was so extreme and is still something I suffer with today.
So, I was essentially a vegetable with too much time to think and too much time to eat. I like to tell myself I was “depressed” and that’s why I ate so much Ben and Jerry’s over the period of my recovery, but even after my concussion symptoms started to fade, I kept on eating. The problem was, I was consuming the same amount of food I was when I was training as an elite athlete; only I wasn’t training anymore. And eventually that caught up with me. I gained 40 pounds after my concussion, something I didn’t handle very well at all. Suddenly I was disgusted by my big quads, embarrassed of my broad shoulders, and ashamed of the muffin top I have developed.
When I was finally able to go to school and participate in life again, I was lost. I found myself facing an enormous identity crisis because I literally had no idea who I was without hockey. I also had no idea what to do with my spare time. I was so used to training and being on the ice almost every day, coming home to do nothing felt odd. So, essentially I ate, I did my homework, I watched trashy TV, and I ate some more. Until eventually I was so disgusted with the lazy, couch potato I had become.
I decided since I couldn’t be a hockey player anymore, I’d need to be a normal, pretty, skinny girl.
I fought what seemed like a never ending battle with myself. Every morning I would stand in front of the mirror, staring back at a body that God carefully crafted, picking apart every single part of it. I was disgusted with the way that I looked and felt, but looking back now, I’m more disgusted with the person I became during that time. I would bail on outings with friends because I didn’t want to eat because I “couldn’t afford the calories” and when I did go out I would punish myself afterwards by doing excessive amounts of cardio to purge the calories. At one point I was surviving solely off of oatmeal and Starbucks lattes. Convincing myself a small bowl of oats contained enough fiber to satiate me for hours and abusing coffee as a laxative. I tried out various Slim-Fast drinks and other artificial sugar induced products that promise to make me skinny.
I never once thought about my health. I never considered the long term damage I was inflicting on my metabolism, I was never concerned with meeting my basic nutrient needs. Long term health and well being wasn’t so much as a thought in my mind. I was concerned only with the way I looked. I went from an elite athlete, focused on using food as fuel and training as a means to improve my play, to a miserable teenage girl seeing food as the devil and copious amounts of exercise as a means to “get skinny”. Perhaps the most shameful part of my behavior during this time was the self pity I embraced.
I allowed myself to feel sorry for myself. I embraced pity from others; I welcomed and encouraged it. I ate it up like a low carb, sugar free chocolate eclair.
I convinced myself that I should feel sorry for myself. That none of this was my fault, that if that girl hadn’t taken a cheap shot and hit me from behind I would still be playing and I would still be healthy and happy. I was angry for a very long time, because I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me. I never tried to fix it, never tried to make better of the situation, never owned up to my role in my own unhappiness. I blamed everyone else and wallowed in self-pity and self-loathing for years. Even when I did lose a few pounds, it was never enough. I was never satisfied.
And finally I realized, it would never be enough. Self-satisfaction and confidence doesn’t come from a number on a scale, how visible your collarbones are, or whether or not your thighs touch.
Self-confidence is also not something you “find”. I hate hearing mentors and women telling young girls they need to find confidence within themselves.
Self-confidence is not something they are suddenly going to stumble upon after years of trained self loathing. Self-confidence is created. It is built, by strong, willful women who fight everyday to ignore the voices in her head telling her she is not good enough. Self-confidence is created by someone who gets up every day and fights for health and happiness, not a bigger ass and a smaller waist. Self-confidence is created by women who empower other women, not by people who leave hurtful comments anonymously on the Internet.
I know this because I have had to create the self-confidence I have today. More than once, because sometimes I let it get away from me. Sometimes my walls of high self-esteem come crumbling down and I find myself feeling like that miserable 17-year-old girl who hated herself again. Because it’s easy. It is easy to hate your body and listen to the shit people throw at you about how you’re not good enough. It’s easy to convince yourself that you really aren’t good enough.
What’s hard is convincing yourself that you are enough. What’s hard is looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing that its not your best self, and still saying, “It’s okay.” What’s hard is accepting the flaws and leaning to love them. What’s hard is building the walls back up.
At my heaviest weight I was 190 pounds. This was a year after my concussion, when I was a miserable, depressed couch potato blaming the world for my problems. It took almost two more years of self loathing, yoyo dieting, restricting, and compulsive exercising before I smartened up.
I decided I didn’t want to feel that way anymore, so I started working towards being better. And a year later I hit my lowest weight of 145 pounds. I was happier and healthier than ever, and it wasn’t because I was 145 pounds. It was because I had learned to love my body again. Because I had learned to embrace my big quads and utilize them to hit squat PR’s in the gym. Because I had learned to own my broad shoulders and use them to paddle me out into the ocean when surfing in Hawaii.
And no, I’m still not super lean. As you internet trolls have pointed out, I’ve gained some weight. The “freshman 15” hit me hard, or rather the freshman 20. From school stress, eating out too much, not going to the gym enough, and just not making my health a priority. The last time I weighed myself was just before Christmas and I was 165 pounds. I haven’t weighed myself since, because frankly I don’t care. Since the new year I have been busting my ass in the gym and have been proud of my accomplishments thus far, which seems to be what is offending some people.
I won’t apologize for being proud of my body. I spent way too many years hating it, being embarrassed by it, being ashamed of it. I am not about to apologize for finally loving it and being proud of it because some pathetic, anonymous person doesn’t think I should be.
And if my self-confidence offends you I encourage you to ignore me, my self-love, and kindly go fuck yourself.