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

Trixi: My Post-Bodybuilding Journey to Intuitive Eating

Story 4 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 Trixi’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up in a stereotypical Asian household, I was expected to be above average. I had to be better than the best. I always felt like I had to give 110% percent to prove that I am worthy. Anything less than perfect made me feel like a failure. I meticulously planned and created lists to make sure I got into a good college, and secure a job after. I took the advanced classes, became board members for clubs, and made myself look like the best candidate in writing. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to think I was slacking. 

So ever since I can remember, self-doubt loomed over me like a dark cloud. I always had negative thoughts in my head telling me I couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried my best. After graduating college, I expected the negative thoughts would die down, but they continued to weigh down on me. Regardless of what I achieved, I still felt like I didn’t accomplish enough. 

Then, I decided I was over it!!! To overcome my insecurities and prove to myself I was capable, I decided that I would complete a challenge soo hard that if I achieved it, it would immediately squash all the negative notions I had about myself. This was the very first challenge I took on for me, and not anyone else. I was so used to performing to meet the expectations of others, but this is something that I wanted to do for myself. 

Disclaimer: We are not defined by our achievements! We are all inherently worthy. But, I didn’t know that then. lol So in June 2019, I signed up to compete in my very first bikini bodybuilding competition…and this is where the plot thickens: what I initially thought was simply a test to boost my self-esteem turned out to be the beginning of my body positivity journey and healing my relationship with food.

For 6 months, I followed a strict meal plan and training regimen. I completely cut out sugar and dairy (two of my fave things), I drank 1.5 gallons of water a day (which was already a challenge in and of itself) and gosh, I said no to pad thai more times than I can count, and I fucking love pad thai. Training included fasted cardio in the morning, about 2 hours of training in the evening, followed by 30 mins of post-training cardio. In addition to changing my physical activity and nutrition habits, I had to learn to better manage my money (cause bodybuilding ain’t cheap) and my time to juggle a full time job and somewhat have a social life.

I took it day by day. I showed up and eventually these tasks became habits. I began to see myself as an athlete and I started to believe that I could really win this competition. There were a lot of temptations (food, drinking, sleeping in). Executing the plan wasn’t easy, but making the right decision was simple. I know that most may have difficulty with following very strict rules but having a plan and checking off boxes was what I was used to. I had the mentality of “If I want this, then I have to do that”. And if I don’t, I won’t get it. This time, the goal was to win, and all I had to do was to execute the clear-cut plan that was given to me.

November rolled around and it was finally competition day. I placed 1st in True Novice, 2nd in Novice, and 4th in Open. But regardless of my placing, I already felt like a winner. I proved to myself that I was strong, I can show up no matter what, no excuses. Even before I hit the stage, I was so proud of what I accomplished. I didn’t even care if I didn’t win or not. No judge could have told me that I didn’t bust my ass to get here! While bodybuilding helped me gain confidence, it also brought to light my complicated relationship with food.

After my competition, my training and meal plan became more flexible. But this flexibility really threw me off. When I stuck with my meal plan, I wondered if I was being too strict, and not giving myself time to enjoy food. When I did enjoy food, I wondered if I was letting myself go. I fell in a loop. My mind would switch between “Follow your meal plan or else you’ll gain weight too quickly” then restrict myself from eating anything “bad”. But then I would think, “Enjoy some treats! Live your life!” and I would binge. I would eat and eat, waiting for my stomach to tell me that I was full, but it felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit that was impossible to satiate. I was waiting for my brain to tell me, “ok that’s enough,” but it never came.

This battle led me to explore my eating habits growing up. When my family went to restaurants, we would always order like an insane amount of food and get absolutely stuffed! Even when we were so full that we could barely breathe, we always made room for dessert. “Food is nourishment!” they justified. But rather than focusing on nutrition, food was mainly for comfort and celebration. Even when my body told me to stop eating, I ignored all satiety signals to continue celebrating. So even before bodybuilding, my satiety cues were practically nonexistent.

The cycle went on for two months. Restrict and binge. Restrict and binge. Restrict harder, binger harder. I looked in the mirror and saw I was no longer lean. Looking back, I didn’t gain much weight but at the time I hated what I saw. I felt big, I felt out of control. Mentally, I was slipping.

I knew this eating pattern was unhealthy but I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. It got to a point where I no longer trusted myself; the body that once triumphed on stage was now failing me. It felt like my body was hijacked by something else, and I was stuck in this vessel, just watching myself derail. Naturally, the scale started to go up and I felt like I was gaining weight all wrong. I spent so much time looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing myself. Front angle, side angle. I would hold and pinch my fat, wishing I was lean again because lean meant I embodied discipline and hard work. It meant that my behavior aligned with my goals. Back then, the goal was to get lean to win a competition. Now, the goal was to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but I had no clue what that meant! It isn’t so straightforward. There is no clear-cut plan for that.

People began to notice that I refused to eat and drink anything that wasn’t outside my meal plan. Comments like “Just one bite won’t hurt!” and “It’s only one shot” really bothered me, because at the time, I felt like one bite or one shot can really ruin my body. Following my meal plan gave me a false sense of security, and I didn’t know how to transition out of it post-competition. 

Christmas was my all-time favorite holiday, but that year, I dreaded it. Thinking about all the food that will be at parties gave me so much anxiety. And just my luck, that year, our annual Christmas potluck was held at my apartment. Even at my own party, I was so scared to eat the “wrong” thing. I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed, but on the outside, I pretended I was okay with not eating or drinking anything. I tied so much of my identity to being disciplined and put together that I was terrified my friends would find out the confident athlete they saw on stage just a few months ago wasn’t there anymore.

That night, I eventually caved. I started to eat, and again, I couldn’t stop. By the end of the night, I felt so uncomfortable that I went to my room to change to less fitting clothes. When I took off my shirt and saw how bloated I was, the self-loathe set in and I started to cry. Never in a million years did I think I would develop body dysmorphia. I was 10lb up my stage weight which actually put me in a healthier weight, but in my eyes, I gained too much. I hated myself for being out of control and I hated myself for having such a fucked-up relationship with food. I felt disconnected with myself and with others. I felt alone and overall a fucking mess.

My friends saw me breakdown. “I didn’t want you guys to judge me.” I admitted shamefully. But as one of my friends put it, “The people who love you will always be there for you unconditionally, and the people who do judge don’t matter.” Seeing my friends concerned was my wake up call.

After that night, I decided it was time to heal my relationship with food. The first step I took was to destigmatize foods as being either “good” or “bad.” I learned that restricting myself was just as harmful as indulging which often led me to binge. Opening myself to all foods lifted constraining thoughts. After this shift in mindset, I felt liberated and empowered to trust myself again.

Next, I adjusted my eating habits to not only be healthy but also sustainable. Fitness is a huge part of my life and to improve my performance, I need to fuel my body properly. At the same time, I love to hang out with friends over drinks, and eat with my family at the dinner table. Finding balance was a whole lot of trial and error. Eventually I learned I feel my best when I eat nutritious foods about 80% of the time. I meal prep most of my food and occasionally I use Door Dash (aka my best friend during quarantine). This may not work for everyone. It is completely subjective and depends on your own goals and lifestyle. 

Lastly, I evaluated and reset my intentions. I learned that my beliefs around food were rooted in self-loathe and punishment. I felt like I had to be perfect all the time or else my efforts didn’t count. It was an all-or-nothing mentality. Now, I see it as a journey of self-discovery. I know that I am going to slip up occasionally, and that’s okay! I have learned to respect my body and to love myself no matter what stage I’m in. If I am making an effort to honor my body, I know I am on the right path.

Despite the mental roller coaster that bodybuilding put me through, I would still compete again. I came in with the intention to build trust in myself, and looking back, it taught me to do just that and more. Next time around, I won’t be competing to prove I am enough, but simply for the fun of improving in this sport. I’ll be coming back with a better mindset, and a healthier relationship with food. It’s been a year and a half since my competition, and I am just now feeling comfortable with my eating habits and my ever changing appearance. While my relationship with food is a work in progress, I am really proud of how far I’ve come.” -Trixi