Ayla: My Body Is Allowed To Change

Story 8 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Ayla’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up I would constantly compare myself to my older sister, she was shorter and more petite than I was (and still is). She ran cross country, had a thigh gap, and abs in middle school. Next to her I felt tall and ugly, however, I didn’t know how to express this feeling other than becoming painfully shy. It wasn’t until high school that I became more social and looked at my body differently. I never thought of myself as skinny because the standard of thin was ridiculous in the early 2000’s, but two memories have stayed with me and have shaped my body image. The first came from my older sister. She was commenting on how I had a tummy and how I should learn to ‘suck it in’ so it would look flat. She said I should do this ‘all the time.’ The next incident happened in 11th grade while getting ready for a party. I put on a crop top with low-waisted jeans (of course) and asked my ‘friends’ if I looked fat. None of the girls said anything at first then one responded that I was a little fat and had an overhanging tummy. The idea that my friends thought my body was too big (even if now looking back it was the skinniest I’ve ever been) and I actually shouldn’t show my stomach hurt, at this time I began to view myself as the ‘bigger’ friend not only because I was tall, but now because I knew my friends thought of me as larger than they were. At this time I began to develop body dysmorphia, it got worse when I started comparing myself to other women’s bodies more and more.  

It wasn’t until college that I began viewing my body differently and it was at this time that I discovered the body positivity movement. I was first exposed through Instagram with the model, Ashley Graham, and singer/influencer, Lizzo. They were so unapologetically plus size – I felt inspired! It made me feel better to realize that other women were living comfortably in their own skin. I began to buy clothes that didn’t just make my body look a certain way or I’d fit into when I lost more weight. I bought things that felt good and fit my body! Finding the right clothes remains a challenge for me because of my height, I’m 5’11, so I have to purchase all my jeans online in the ‘Tall’ section of stores and often tops that flatter other people don’t fit me at all! Instead of trying to fit my broad shoulders into the dainty blouses that were currently trending in fashion, I began to shop for what flattered my body. If I could give one piece of advice it would be to stop following trends and start shopping for what feels, looks and is comfortable on you! Although Instagram helped me discover the body positive movement, there was a negative side to the app. I found myself scrolling for hours on models like Emily Ratajkowski and comparing myself to impossible standards, on some level it has destroyed how I view myself. 

The ‘perfect’ body being pushed on Instagram is entangled in the ever changing mainstream media portrayal of how women should look. More recently I have realized that the standard of beauty is so unattainable because convincing women that they are ugly is an entire market, selling makeup, surgeries, injections, skincare and more is a billion dollar industry! If we began to accept and radically love ourselves, then many rich and predominantly white men would lose many millions. However, knowing this doesn’t change the fact that I am still struggling, loving, accepting and living with my body to this day.

In order to change my mindset, I began confronting my body dysmorphia and all that came along with it. I began nourishing my body when I was hungry and not waiting hours until I was starving. I stopped forcing myself to feel guilty if I didn’t workout every day, and told myself to stop the self-degradation -something I’m still working on. For over five years now, I have been struggling and working every day to develop a healthy relationship with food. However, I often go days eating very little, then suddenly binge 2,000 or more calories at night and feel awful about it. My unhealthy relationship with food began in college when I left home and had to take full control over my diet. It was difficult for me to eat three meals a day and it was during this time that I developed an eating disorder that lasted me a little over a year.

My freshman year of college, I would skip meals, eat laxatives, and even take pain meds to curb hunger. I am 5’11, and at my worst, I weighed under 120 lbs. I did this because I associated being skinny with being beautiful. People began commenting on my health and were visibly concerned for my well-being. I remember my boyfriend saying he wanted to see me eat a burger and my grandma encouraging me to have some potato chips. However, it took being constantly weak, often blacking out when I stood up, and being cold all the time to end a year of disordered eating. Since then, finding a balanced and healthy relationship with food is something I am still working on, but it has gotten a lot better over the past six years. 

My relationship with food went from counting calories, only eating when I was starving, always talking about my body, food, and dieting, to eating when I am hungry, treating myself to desserts when I want, and not feeling guilty when I have a burger! There were a few things that led me to accepting my body. The first was when I realized that I would be in this body for the rest of my life and loving it would only make me more beautiful, not less. The next step I took to realizing I had an eating disorder and body dysmorphia was to change my focus to what I loved about my body, not what I hated. I began to appreciate my long legs, my nose that is similar to my cousins and reminds me of my family, belly button and belly ring, smile, and teeth! 

Another step I’ve taken in order to heal my eating disorder and body dysmorphia has been to unfollow Instagram accounts that make me feel bad about my body. Before I go any further with this I’d like to say that I am all for anyone and everyone getting cosmetic surgeries and have nothing against it. However, when influencers post on their pages advertising a product, for example waist trainers, flat tummy tea, etc., when they themselves have had work done and didn’t get their body from those products, it is extremely damaging for mental health. Someone who has had liposuction and a BBL should not be telling their audience that they got their body from a supplement! This is why I have unfollowed and cleaned up my Instagram from influences who lie or omit the truth of where their amazing bodies came from, obviously photoshop their pictures, or advertise a lifestyle that is unrealistic and that they themselves don’t even live. By not seeing these images everyday and replacing them with real women bodies I became happier with my own. 

The last thing I did in order to change the perception I had of my body image was to sometimes take down any full-length mirrors I had around the house. I’ve realized that my body is the LEAST interesting thing about me. I am multifaceted, and getting to know other parts of myself is self-love! By removing the reflection of my body, I have been able to explore so many more positive parts of me, instead of spending an hour in front of the mirror analyzing all the things I dislike about myself. I began to use my time journaling, doing yoga, cooking healthy foods, and spending time with close friends. I no longer associate beauty with having a flat stomach and being thin – beauty is how I make others feel, beauty is my uniqueness, and beauty has no real definition. After discovering the body positivity community, I have moved my focus off of my physical appearance. I began to judge my body less, treat it more gently, and really discover what self love is. 

The body positivity movement was founded by black plus size women, they paved the way for a more inclusive fashion industry, better acceptance of mental health, and helped me change my own personal body image. Although I am not black or plus size, the body positivity movement has helped me lessen my body dysmorphia and taught me to unconditionally love my body. Everyone’s journey with their body is different. Some days, I don’t want to look in the mirror or resent how I look from every angle. What the movement has taught me though is that my body is mine for the rest of my life. It will carry me from birth to death and nourishing it with positive thoughts and actions will let me be my best self. 

Something I’d like readers to know is that I am tall, white, and stereotypically pretty. I have benefitted from privilege in one way or another my entire life. However, I didn’t think I was beautiful most of my 24 years, and that is what society wants. They want you to feel ugly so they can sell you makeup, feel fat so they can sell you a diet, and feel undesirable so they can sell you a new outfit. None of those things has helped me love myself. Accepting who I am has come from words of affirmation, conversations with close friends, and feeling confident in comfortable clothing! If you are struggling with body dysmorphia, sometimes the hardest part can be realizing and accepting that there is a problem with how you view your body. However, once you acknowledge that you are worthy and so much more than just your physical appearance there is a whole community ready to welcome you! I’d like to finish with one of my favorite quotes; ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.-Ayla

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