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

In the Eyes of the Beholder

I’ve always stressed the importance of being media and social media fluent. If you keep up with my writing, you will notice that the topics I cover somehow come back to social media and comparisons, and how we intake and perceive media.

With me, social media is either a good thing or a bad thing, no inbetween. It’s either I’m inspired and motivated, drawing information and shared beliefs from pages I follow and educating myself, or down the rabbit hole I go. Everyone knows exactly what I mean. The rabbit hole of comparisons and insecurities. All of a sudden you’re questioning your successes in life because you came across a certain page on your explore, and then you read through the comments, and stalked her life, her friend’s life, shit you even found her mama’s page through the tags. And then you realize, wow, I don’t even know these people. And they literally don’t even know who I am 🤣 But everytime I go down that route, I have to remind myself that this is social media. It’s so fucking curated and sometimes – let’s all admit it – fake as fuck. Said this before and I’ll say it again – people only post what they want you to see.

Before I started posting on my blog consistently, I considered myself a pretty low-key person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been on social media. But I think compared to the average user, I was more private with my life. Yeah, I’d post here and there, once or twice a month, if not more, but I really feel like what I posted was nowhere close to disclosing parts of my real life to everyone. Even with stories on Instagram, I was never one to post about my daily life. I’m more of a “I’ll give you lil snippets here and there,” type of person. Of course, I’m not knocking the people that DO post all about their lives. I honestly can care less how you choose to use your social media platforms. It is truly none of my business. But I choose to keep my personal life under wraps. And it’s not until now that I’m posting my personal struggles on my blog that people see through the window of what I’m really like. And even then you still 100 ft. from said window, just sayin’.

I’m very choosy with what I choose to share and open up about, especially since this is with the public. It’s so weird that I want to live a low-key life, but at the same time I want to share everything to break societal norms. I hit a point in my life where I’m like… dude, fuck all this fake curated bullshit, show me something real, talk about some real deep shit, open up about those emo ass struggles we all face as humans. I was tired of seeing airbrushed, fake it till you make it, artificial ‘I’m livin’ my best life,’ type of content. So I started speaking my truth through my writing and journalistic work.

And at this point, I think we all know I’m not gonna front like I got my whole life made. Clearly, I’m so confused about my life and career decisions that I made how many blog posts about it just to vent. And to be honest, I’m probably not done writing about my anxieties yet.

Before I started posting consistently every week, I would occasionally post on my Instagram a blog post or article I wrote for SFSU’s Xpress Magazine. And that would seriously be like once every 2 months or something. Especially if it wasn’t for Xpress Magazine, and it was just me writing a personal blog post that was totally not school related, that shit would be like 1 post every 3+ months, if not longer.

I made this blog for school in 2016. At the beginning of 2019 I think I had like…. 33 or 34 posts. Maybe even less. More than half of those posts were blog posts I HAD to write for class / assignments / articles I wrote throughout my Journalism degree and thought, if I wrote it, might as well share it! Maybe less than 10 of those 33 ish posts were written ONLY for my blog and because I wanted to and felt like it.

So just picture how shocked and confused I was when this happened…

About 2-ish months after I officially graduated in December, I made plans to hangout with an old friend I’ve known since I was about 9 or 10 years old. Michael and I haven’t seen each other since our 8th grade graduation back in 2009, and briefly talked during our school reunion a year later when we were all freshmen in high school in 2010. So it was literally 10 years since the last time we saw each other and really caught up.

I didn’t know what to expect. Of course I was excited to hangout with him since we were super tight during our cringy years, but so much time had passed I didn’t know how it would be. But when I saw him, he started telling me about how he’s a crazy party animal, stories of how his life has been since being openly gay, and all the crazy shit he gets himself into! I was truly entertained with everything he was telling me. But rewind, before he disclosed all this information to me, we had to break the ice.

“Dude, so how are you! What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

Michael looked down in a shy manner, leaning on his hand, his elbow on the table.

“I don’t even want to say,” he said. “Nothing compared to what you’re doing. You’re so successful.”

My eyebrow rose in confusion. In my head I was like…. bruh…. I ain’t doin shit what’re you even talking about? 😩

I asked him to elaborate. He told me that he sees me doing “big things” with my blog, I just graduated college, and it seemed like I was very successful.

I almost choked on my Wingstop. I told him how insecure I was about my writing and making things public, how my life is in shambles after graduation because I don’t know what route to take with my life, and how overall confused I was.It really shocked me that he said that. Because he totally saw me in a different light than how I saw myself.

I visited my old journalism professor, Nancy, a few months after and told her about this incident. She pointed out that isn’t it crazy that I could be idolizing someone and comparing my life, but not even knowing that someone could be looking at me in the same light, even though I don’t feel that way about myself. Nancy explained to me that there will always be someone “ahead”of you and there will always be someone “behind” you, we’re all basically trying to make it at different paces. But that doesn’t mean that we are failures if someone is more ahead of us, and that also doesn’t make us more successful if we are the ones more ahead.

It made me realize that the people we think have it all together, probably don’t. In the example of me and Michael, he seriously thought I was so successful and secure in myself, when it was legit the opposite. Yes, I’ve made accomplishments in my life like graduating, and pursuing my writing career, but in my eyes, I’m far from where I want to be. But in the eyes of an outsider, without much context, it seems like I got my life figured out.

I think that’s why I respect Lizzo so much. She’s so successful, her career is flourishing, but she still remains transparent. She posts videos of when she’s depressed, and I think that’s very important to share your successes, but also your struggles. Especially being a famous person who people look up to, she promotes being real. She shows her human side, regardless of how much fame she receives.

A few days before the SFSU graduation ceremony, I met up with my friend, Ivan, to give him my extra Oracle Park graduation ticket. I originally was trying to sell the 2 extra tickets I had, but ended up giving both of them for free. “Fuckit, good karma coming my way,” I thought. In exchange for the graduation ticket, Ivan dropped me off to the crafting store, Michael’s, so I could get some last minute things for my graduation cap. And honestly, good karma did come my way because that drive with Ivan was exactly what my heart needed!

I’ve known Ivan since Skyline College. We are the definition of “started from the bottom now we hereee.” He’s like that gay best friend that always tries to hype you and remind you that you’re that bitch! And that’s exactly what he did during our drive to the craft store.

He could tell by the way I was venting that I was stressed. To the point where he was like “girl, we need to hangout, I could tell you’re really stressed out about this and need to talk!” Of course it was about the future and career choices.

Ivan reminded me who the fuck I was and what the fuck I stand for. It warmed my heart that he told me after all these years he still kept up with my writing. To the point where he described a specific story I did. A true king. I told him how scared I was about not making it in the industry, and how it’s hard to be a successful writer.

“Boo, you got this though,” he said. “You know what, I know you’ll make it. You’ve always been motivated. I have no doubt in my mind you’ll make it! You got the passion! I know you!”

I told him I do have the passion, and I do want to make a difference in this world with my writing. But I voiced my concerns about hoping that my passions can pay future bills. I told him I want to find a way or a middle ground where my passions and career collide and I can make decent money to live comfortably.

“Omg, yeah. That’s what sucks about being a humanitarian. You got passion and you want to make a difference, but you don’t get paid for shit.” And if that ain’t the fuckin truth 🤣🤣🤣.

But both of these conversations made me realize that we all come down on ourselves pretty hard. We’re always worried about the next job, next opportunity, next move, that we don’t celebrate the little victories. Also, you could be that someone that somebody else is stalking thinking, “damn, I wish I dressed / look like/ was as successful/ as confident/ as open/ as cool as them,” all the while you’re thinking you’re a failure and you ain’t shit. And social media plays a big role in that. Like I said a billion times before, people post their successes, but nobody really talks about the waves of emotion that comes with success. The person you are looking up to is probably going through it too. Whether they are famous or not.

We are all at different stages in our lives. What may be a major success to someone is something minor to the next. If you find yourself falling down that toxic rabbit hole and you’re comparing yourself and feeling mad insecure, just know that everyone is struggling in one way or another. Nobody truly has their life together. You’ll also never really know everything about someone just through their social media platforms. We’re all human. We all go through it. In reality, we all want to be perceived as successful and that we have our lives together. But it’s okay if you don’t. Success is truly in the eyes of the beholder.