I was always very thin growing up. A gangly teenager with arms that seemed a bit too long, and pants that never fit right. I never felt self-conscious about being "too skinny." People commented on my weight all the time, but "skinny" is a compliment, right?
Whether it was meant as a compliment or not, that's how I chose to take it. I always wore tight clothes that highlighted my lanky, boyish figure - not really knowing how else to dress for it. Although I was shy, nerdy, and a bit self-conscious in highschool, my body was one thing I was confident about.
That all changed in 11th grade when I joined a club sailing team. My sister and I were racing a laser II - a small, two-person race boat. Collectively, we were 40lbs too light for the minimum weight requirement for our boat. Needless to say, we had a hard time keeping it upright. We spent the whole summer that year training every weekday and racing all over the province on the weekends. Our coach trained us hard, and we gained a good five pounds each of muscle over the summer - not bad for couple of tiny teenagers.
By the time September rolled around, my arms were stronger, my legs were sturdier, but most notably, I had abs
. Not those neat little lines on either side of my stomach like I would see in magazines, but a full-on six-pack. I hated it. I felt masculine. My shirts got a little looser.
Over the winter, I would watch them - waiting for them to shrink back to wherever they came from. But they didn't. Was I skiing too often? Should I start eating more junk-food and try and coat them with a layer of fat? Mostly, I ignored them. I pretended that they didn't exist. I'd slip on another sweater and push it from my mind. I liked to think I'd gotten over it.
That summer, I started dating Matt - a guy I'd met teaching skiing. He invited me to the beach with his friends. I enthusiastically agreed to go, but I couldn't deny that nagging pang of self-consciousness that had once been self-confidence.
"No one will notice," I reasoned. "No one will care."
I headed straight for the water when I got to the beach. The boys and their girlfriends followed and started throwing a football in the shallow waters. I joined in. After a couple tosses in my direction, one of the guys stopped the game.
"Holy sh-," he said. "She's got abs!"
My heart dropped. I got a pit in my stomach. I faked a sheepish smile to try and brush it off.
"No seriously - look!"
I looked down, red with embarrassment. But when I looked back up something happened that I wasn't expecting. Matt was getting high-fives.
Then I started getting high-fives too. I couldn't believe they were actually excited for me. Like this was an accomplishment to be proud of not a body-issue to be ashamed of. At this moment, I realized that my body issues were all in my head. They were completely contrived based on images I had seen in magazines.
This was the turning point when I stopped caring about what other people thought about my body. I realized that different people would have different views on what the ideal body type is. There was nothing wrong with looking healthy.
What mattered now was that I was doing the sports I loved and eating food I felt good about.
I've since gained and lost the "freshman 15," and I've watched my appetite change and my metabolism slow through my twenties.
Are there things I don't like about my body? Of course there are. And there always will be. But what that 19-year-old kid taught me was not to let that change my self confidence. There is no "ideal figure." As long as I'm living healthy and actively I can feel proud of my body.