Natasha Jones: Stay True To Yourself

Natasha Jones, also known as “@oliviaeyes” on Instagram, is best known for her fashion content on social media. She’s a freelance curve model, brand ambassador, influencer, and content creator. When looking through her Instagram feed, you can see her confidence and infectious smile radiating through her photographs! However, this San Diego native had no plans of becoming an influencer. Natasha had no idea that her love for content creating would have her modeling for well-known brands, partnering with others, and inspiring others around the world.

Natasha was born and raised in San Diego, California. She graduated from the University of San Diego, the first in her family to graduate college, with a bachelors degree in Media Communications. She originally wanted to be a pediatrician and studied human biology for four years. However, Natasha made the drastic change to study communications when she realized how intrigued she was with social media and the interconnectivity of the world. After making the switch to communications, Natasha’s plan was to work behind the scenes in advertising or marketing. Her goal was to highlight minorities to better represent people from different backgrounds and bring inclusivity to mainstream media. She never imagined that she would be doing just that, but with her being in front of the camera.

“I never envisioned myself being an influencer – or model for that matter – I was too shy and didn’t think I could ever be in front of the camera,” Natasha admitted. “If anything, I hoped to work behind the camera and bring representation to minorities whose stories are often never told and rarely seen in mainstream media. It was super important to me to highlight young female voices.”

Ironically, the pandemic helped get Natasha out of her shell, and got companies sliding into her DM’s. Because of the shutdown, Natasha and her sister were insanely bored in the house. Like many others, they had nothing to do while the world waited patiently for COVID-19 to pass. Natasha bought a ton of new clothes before the shutdown and had nowhere to wear them to. For fun and to just pass time, Natasha asked her sister to take pictures of her in her outfits so she could post them on Instagram. The sisters explored all of San Diego for different scenic opportunities, making sure to social distance from others who were also trying to get out of the house for fresh air.

When posting the photos on Instagram, Natasha would make a point to tag where she purchased each item incase people wanted to know where to purchase it. Her main objective was to take cute photos to show off her new outfits since no one she knew in real life would be able to see them. Her love for fashion brings her so much joy because it allows her to feel good in her skin. After a few outfit posts, Forever 21 reached out to her and asked to send her clothes in exchange for content. Natasha couldn’t believe it. She fell into the modeling / influencer world completely by accident! Natasha never planned to go down the influencer route, but believes that the pandemic definitely helped push her in that direction.

Natasha had a previous Instagram account where she would post her occasional selfies. At the time, she was self conscious about her body and was only comfortable with posting her face on social media. Natasha didn’t join Instagram until she was in college because her mom believed it can make you vulnerable to people with ill intentions. So when she started posting her outfits online during the pandemic, she thought nothing of it. She had no intentions on going viral or gaining such a big following. She genuinely didn’t believe that anyone would care to follow her or keep up with her personal life. But after a couple of months of keeping up with her content and posting with Forever 21, Natasha saw a big spike in her following.

“Before becoming a full time content creator/model, I had a small amount of followers just from posting selfies,” Natasha said. “I thought it was cool, but I gave no real thought into this turning into a career. I had gone to school and graduated with a degree that I assumed would help me land a career behind the scenes.”

But Natasha rolled with it anyways. She believed that at the time, she was too naïve to even be skeptical about pursuing modeling and content creating as a career. She was in a place in her life where she just wanted to experiment and test out the waters with what she wanted to do with her life. These opportunities were something new and exciting, something completely out of her comfort zone. Natasha was way too excited and eager to try new things and dive in head first, that she didn’t even have a chance to psyche herself out of it. On top of that, she had a very supportive inner circle. Her friends and family were very supportive and encouraged her to pursue a social media career. Natasha and her sister have bonded over taking photos together. Her sister is the reason why she has so many great shots to choose from.

It was pretty early on when Natasha realized that doors were opening up for her. After posting content for Forever 21, opportunities started coming from left and right. She noticed that her Instagram photos were being used on Forever 21’s website and ads. Brands started reaching out to her because Forever 21 is such a well-known company. “This is just the beginning,” she thought to herself. And she was right. She decided to go for what she wanted – literally. Natasha didn’t wait for certain brands to reach out to her – if she really wanted to work with them, she would reach out to them first. The very first brand she reached out to was Parade because they stood for everything she believed in – inclusivity and diversity.

“I wasn’t nervous at all because I felt I had nothing to lose,” She said. “Even now – you can’t lose something you don’t have. I am a huge believer in shooting your shot because the worse thing that could happen is they say no, but there are always going to be other doors for you. Also, those same people who told you no will come back in the future asking to work with you!”

But Natasha did have that voice in the back of her head telling her that she wasn’t model material. She never thought that she would get into modeling or content creating, so it was hard to see herself in that new light. In the past, she had friends who were already models and content creators, and they pushed her to post more consistently on social media. But she never thought that she could be “that girl.” She didn’t think she had the confidence or “look” to be a model. Natasha was intimidated because she rarely saw girls who looked like her creating content and modeling for well-known brands, so at the time it seemed like a distant fantasy.

However, the pandemic opened up Natasha’s eyes to so many worlds and experiences. She was exposed to so many body positive and curve influencers during lockdown. Seeing people built like her, with similar body types, and not the traditional “model look,” inspired Natasha to change her views of what models can look like. Seeing others be so comfortable in their skin made her embrace her curves and reflect on her internalized fat phobia. This is why Natasha is so passionate about representation. She believes seeing diversity in mainstream media has the power to change one’s mind, opinions, and world view.

Natasha is grateful that she can be that light for others to embrace their bodies and beauty in an industry that is still stingy with representation. She feels so blessed that she has built a platform that people can connect with. It warms her heart to know that she is that person that some women look up to, since she has been in the same position in the past. She still feels like plus-sized women are still very under represented. There have been many times where she feels like the token plus-sized girl in the fashion industry, being used to lure in business from plus-sized people.

“I think that many companies use me and girls who are similar to my body type to be like, ‘Look! We have a plus size girl who is wearing our clothes!!’ ” She said honestly. “Most of the time, these companies only go up to my size and claim that they’re inclusive. If you only go up to a size 14, you are not inclusive and need to reevaluate your entire brand.”

Natasha received many offers from brands to do campaigns. But it wasn’t until she got vaccinated that she did her first campaign with Rue21. It was towards the end of lockdown, a year after she started posting consistent fashion content on her Instagram page. She waited to do in person campaigns because her family wasn’t comfortable with her traveling to LA for work during COVID’s peak. Natasha is still in awe when she sees herself on clothing companies’ websites and social media pages. It’s crazy for her to realize that just 2 years ago, she was buying clothes from these brands and now, she’s one of the faces of their company. She gets emotional because she knows the younger version of herself would be so proud of how far she has come.

Some may find it hard to believe, but Natasha had no prior experience with modeling before she got into the industry. She enjoyed taking pictures with her friends, but the shots were all in lighthearted fun and not considered professional modeling. Like with anything, practice makes perfect. Natasha is still learning to be comfortable in front of the camera and working with other photographers. Some of the tools she uses to better her posing is to have others take photos of her until she feels more relaxed and comfortable, watch YouTube and trendy videos that give tips on how to pose, studying other influencers and models’ photos for inspiration and tips, and always practicing those poses and techniques when she can. It’s not as simple as smiling for a photo, a lot of time, effort, and practice goes into perfecting different shots.

Natasha quickly saw her following on Instagram grow. She was completely shocked, and quite honestly, scared. Suddenly it seemed like all eyes were on her. Natasha jokes that if people really knew how “uncool” she was in real life, they would unfollow her immediately. She’s a very humble individual, and doesn’t think her life is any more or less exciting than the next person, so for a split second, she felt the need to pretend to be cool in front of the camera. She started to second guess how she looked in some photos and the image she wanted people to see online.

There were times where Natasha struggled with finding her own rhythm in posting and caught herself trying to be like other content creators. She felt as though her content had to be a certain way and had to follow the status quo of other influencers. In doing so, she was becoming unhappy with overthinking her posts. She wanted to remain true to herself, but at the same time, she was conflicted with getting too personal with her followers. She considers herself a very private person, so finding the middle ground of sharing just enough so your personality shines through, but at the same time not over sharing was something she had to get used to. The last thing Natasha wanted was for her followers to think that she was an imposter. She found herself going through the motions of imposter syndrome.

She realized that she was becoming consumed with overthinking her online presence. She decided that the best thing to do was simply be herself. She didn’t want to lose track of who she was for the sake of content. Not being herself was mentally exhausting and took away from the fun of creating content. Now, Natasha posts whatever content she wants on her page. She doesn’t like to overanalyze a photo, look at analytics, or overly edit any photos.

Now I just post or share whatever I want. If you like me, that’s cool, but if you don’t – feel free to unfollow. I’m not meant for everyone – no one is, and life’s too short to pretend to be anyone else other than you. I am so grateful for creating the little IG family I have and hope to bring some sort of positivity to the platform by just being myself … When I feel I am being too critical of myself I take a step back from socials. I try to prioritize my mental health above work. If that means deadlines are missed then I will simply notify whoever I am partnering with to let them know. You have to do what makes you happy so figure out what you want and do that. If you need a break, take it! If your hobby turned into a job then make it into something you can enjoy again. Do what you want, whatever that may be.

Natasha Jones

But, influencers are human too, which means there will be times where they’re not in the mood to create and times when they’re experiencing insecurities. Just like any of us, Natasha is juggling a full-time job, social life, home life, relationships, and so on. She is not always in the best spirits when she is on a strict deadline, but she understands that there are deadlines that need to be met. What gets her through these tough moments of finding the motivation to create is knowing that she genuinely enjoys what she does. Natasha sees content creating and modeling as an outlet where she is free to express herself. She describes it as feeling as though she has her own private world where she is in control of the narrative of what others see and know about her.

The fact of the matter is, the public will never know more than the content shared. Natasha still has her moments of feeling insecure, which people would have never gathered from her pictures. Natasha remembers a specific shoot where she didn’t feel confident in herself:

When I first started posing in more revealing outfits, I was not confident. The first lingerie collab I did, I was wearing a two-piece set out in public on the beach. I thought it would be no biggie because I looked up to so many plus size influencers who always wear two pieces out and about. But when I was about to take my photos, I felt so self-conscious. I had never worn a two piece lingerie set nor a two piece bikini in my entire life, yet alone with people around me, and I started crying. But my sister comforted me and talked me through it. I also wanted to go through with it because I had a moment where I was like, ‘Wait… why are you crying? Do it for yourself. Do it for those people you say are beautiful just the way they are.’ On those days I feel low, I always keep in mind I’m doing it for the ones who look up to me. My IG fam means so much to me. I always want to make them feel seen, loved, and confident in who they are.

Natasha Jones

Social media is usually portrayed in a negative way, but Natasha always remembers to embrace all the positive that comes with being a public figure. She is so grateful for her Instagram family and friends. She uses the people that look up to her as motivation to embrace her curves and accept her body for what it is. Natasha celebrates all the women who look like her thriving in all aspects of their lives. She’s constantly amazed with how many kind people she has met who genuinely want to uplift others instead of bringing them down. Instagram has remained a fun outlet for Natasha to express herself, be creative, and have fun!

Natasha gained such a loyal following by reciprocating the love. Her motto is, “give love, receive love.” She always makes a point to answer DM’s and comments on her posts because she appreciates anyone who would take time out of their day to show her some love. She feels a sense of community with her followers and feels as though they are her friends. Natasha does admit that she typically doesn’t respond to men’s DM’s because it makes her uncomfortable. She tried to respond politely to men’s DM’s in the past, but has always ended up regretting it. So, in her comments she’ll usually respond with a “thank you,” and keep it at that. Natasha wants her platform to be a safe space for all women. She loves to see the endless amount of love and support she gets from women all over the world, so she tries her best to maintain a positive space where she feels comfortable interacting with others.

Because she is so dedicated to her followers, Natasha has made it a top priority to only endorse companies that align with her beliefs. She knows that there are a lot of people who look up to her, so she is very careful with what she promotes. Natasha has no problem turning away deals with well-known brands. She has gotten paid offers from companies who sell diet supplements, waist trainers, personal trainers, Botox, and the list goes on. Natasha admits that the money being offered is nice, but not tempting enough for her to support brands that promote fat phobia, capitalize on people’s insecurities, and tell people that they are not good enough by just being themselves. She remains true to herself and her beliefs, and refuses to work with brands who go against everything she supports and believes in.

What many people may not know is the fact that Natasha was a full-time content creator and model during the pandemic, but also juggling a job as a Social Media and Influencer Marketing Coordinator for a San Diego based company as of last year. Natasha’s mom pushed her to get a job to utilize her degree she worked so hard for. Her mother is very supportive of her influencer career, but is also very skeptical. Like any parent, Natasha’s mom just wants to make sure that her daughter is thinking ahead for the future, as content creating can be a very unstable profession. Even though her mom is skeptical, she is very supportive of Natasha becoming a full-time freelancer once she starts seeing consistent big results. Either way, Natasha understands that her mother’s worries come from a place of love.

Since Natasha has a full-time job as Social Media and Influencer Marketing Coordinator, she is constantly juggling both jobs. Throughout the week, she works her 9-5 job that utilizes her college degree, and the weekends are for content creating with her sister. She edits photos throughout the week and preps them for posting usually the day before she posts them. She has not quite found her balance yet, but it has pushed her to learn how to prioritize her time. Natasha is using this time to figure out what career path she would like to test the waters in – as she has both experience behind the scenes and also being in front of the camera.

As she goes on this new journey of balancing out her job behind the scenes and simultaneously pursuing a freelance career, she hopes that she can manifest her dream future. She knows that life is a crazy ride, and you’ll never know where life can take you, but she hopes to work towards her goal of becoming a full-time content creator with no other jobs on the side. She is so grateful for her current job because it allows her to see behind the scenes. It has opened her eyes to the social media industry, which allowed her to learn so many new strategies from a brand perspective that she can apply to her own following. And it has made the obvious more apparent – that her true passion is in content creating.

“I thrive in fast paced environments so I truly feel I have found my passion,” she shared. “I trust  life will take me where I need to go so until then, I’ll just keeping taking everything that comes my way day by day. I strongly believe everything happens how it’s supposed to, so being able to work on both ends of the social media Industry has been a blessing!”

At the start of the pandemic, Natasha had no idea that posting her cute outfits would lead her down this path and open so many doors and opportunities. Her following on social media continues to grow, but she still remains humble. People are starting to recognize her in real life, but Natasha still tends to lay low and doesn’t like to make a big deal of her online fame. The most important lesson that this journey has taught her is to love, accept, and value herself. Growing up, Natasha always strived for perfection. She wanted to fit in and feel accepted. Now, she is content with knowing that it’s perfectly fine to be a work in progress and be yourself. She believes that whatever is meant for you will always find you.

Natasha’s advice to her followers is to always stand up for themselves. She believes it’s important to prioritize your values and beliefs, making sure that the choices you make align with what you truly believe in. She’s a firm believer in following your dreams – even if it means taking a leap of faith! After all, that is how Natasha became a content creator and freelance model. She is so grateful for the community that she has built online. Her goal has always been to celebrate and support women, and her online presence is doing exactly that.

“I want to create a safe place for people to feel like they can be themselves and that they will always be more than enough,” Natasha said. “If people take anything away from my platform, I hope that they know how beautiful they are, just by being who they are. All I want is to be a source of positivity, representation, and maybe some comfort when they’re feeling low. We all have the power to be a light in this world – I just want everyone to recognize that in themselves.”

Reign: The Last Gift

“This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

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

“The day I found out I was pregnant, it was shortly after my grandma passed away in January of 2018. I found out on February 4th. I wasn’t feeling like my normal self, my stomach was hurting and I was just feeling really weird. When the test results came back, I cried. I was mostly nervous to tell my mom. I was nervous to hear what everyone was going to say. 

My son’s dad was very supportive when we found out. He asked me what I wanted to do and how I felt. His exact words to me were, “I’m with whatever you want to do.” I was too scared to terminate my pregnancy, so I decided very quickly that I was going to go through with it. He was happy to find out he was going to be a dad. 

The beginning of my pregnancy was very rocky, everyone in my family was so focused on the loss of my grandma and the heartache that it left them with. I had very little support in the beginning. I was told things like I was being “selfish” and that they were “disappointed” in me. I also was told that I couldn’t be “focused on” because of the big loss we just took as a family. What they didn’t know was that this pregnancy was gonna save me. Mostly from self-destruction. 

Not until the middle of the pregnancy were things able to run smoothly with everyone excited and becoming more open minded to the thought of a new innocent life. The feeling of not having them be supportive was sickening to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do without my family being happy for me. I was very sad, and on top of the loss of my grandma, I was kicked out of my mom’s house.

 I was staying with my grandpa and aunt, and a couple days before my grandma’s funeral, my mom came by and had a conversation with me about what I was going to do moving forward and how I felt, etc. She didn’t apologize, but she expressed that when she got pregnant as a teen mom, her mom didn’t turn her back on her, so she didn’t plan on doing it to me. Over all, aside from family support, I had the most loving, patient, and caring partner by my side during all the tribulations. I was happily pregnant, I didn’t care what everyone was thinking of me. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to change my mind about having my baby. 

My original due date was October 3rd. I went into early labor due to the car accident that happened on September 19th 2018. My mom, grandma, and I were just running a few errands – a normal day. All of a sudden, what I can remember was an older man merging all the way into the side of my mom’s car. He was coming from the left side of me. I was in the back seat on the passenger side and my mom veered all the way to the right to avoid impact as much as possible. 

To be honest, during pregnancy I hated the seat belt, so I didn’t have one on at the time (worst decision ever), and I had to brace myself with my feet. My first reaction was getting out of the car and making sure my grandma was ok, then to curse the guy out who hit us. An elderly woman and a pregnant woman all in the same car. I was furious, so furious I forgot about my health, in that moment adrenaline took over.

 I didn’t feel the urgent need to go to the hospital that same day. I became suddenly tired after the accident, so I went home and got in bed for the rest of the day. My mom also never wrote a police report about it because the other driver didn’t have any information on him. I didn’t have any injuries from the car accident, I just had a back spasm from bracing myself from going forward from impact. My grandma and my mom were totally fine, and my mom had to go to work after dropping us off at home. 

 After the car accident, I didn’t go to the ER immediately, like I mentioned earlier, everyone was fine and I waited a day and checked into the hospital at 10am September 20th, 2018. During that time they ran tests and monitored me and baby till around 5pm and then finally told me that I couldn’t continue with the pregnancy and the baby has to come now. I was so confused and scared. Everything being told to me, I had them repeat to me twice because I wasn’t quite comprehending nor was I even remotely ready for this just to happen. The decision making and procedure was just so quick.

I’ve always expected birth to be like… I don’t know, honestly I thought something more movie-like. It’s nothing like the movies, babies come at their own pace and they are in their own race. You don’t know what is going to happen next during pregnancy or labor no matter how ready or prepared you think you are. I gave birth 2 weeks early. I was induced twice due to the accident and no, I didn’t know anything about “inducements” prior to this. Nor was I expecting to be induced. This was an emergency induction due to the fact that I didn’t have enough amniotic fluid to continue a full term pregnancy. I was at the doctors 2 days before and everything was fine prior to.

First and foremost, I have never experienced this much pain in my whole entire life, this was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure. I honestly wish they had given me the option to undergo surgery right away instead of having to go through the inducement process. The purpose of the process was to dilate my cervix to prepare for a vaginal birth (or so they thought). The first one was too painful to endure, so they gave me a second option. That one took 3 times to attempt, the final time I was able to endure it and finally got through the hardest part.

 Overnight, we waited. On the morning of September 21st, 2018, we were just waking up and all of a sudden the heart rate dropped on the monitor. In less than 2 seconds everyone (nurses, medical assistants, doctors, specialists) come rushing through the room doors and immediately become hands on trying to figure out what is happening. All I heard was, “get on all fours!” “get on your knees and hands right now!” So, I did. As I’m in this position I start screaming to ask for information on what the hell was going on here. 

My birth wasn’t an emergency birth because of the accident,  it was because of my baby’s heart rate dropping while being induced. I was totally unprepared for this experience. They never gave me a cesarean option or made it seem like an option from the very beginning of the inducement. I never was told I was going to have a C-section until the last couple of seconds before being rolled out of my room. When everyone came to my room to figure out why his heart rate dropped, I overheard a nurse say “roll her out to the OR,” and that was as formal a warning as it was going to get in this story. 

Now that I work in healthcare, communicating everything with the patient helps them trust you. It also allows the procedure to take course in a natural flow because narration is leading. Of course, during this time it was an emergency, but I feel like I only felt doubtful or scared because I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody was communicating with me and the environment was chaotic. This part of labor was the most traumatic, the couple seconds that I didn’t know what was going to happen or what could happen.

In those fast 60 seconds, I was being rolled out to the “OR” (operating room). I asked for my child’s father to be present and they told me they would allow him to come in. They never allowed him in, assuming because of the emergency and not knowing the outcome of the emergency. I was upset (at the time) that my son’s dad couldn’t be in the delivery room with me because I needed that extra support. The nurses didn’t want to hold my hand, I was grabbing their scrubs for dear life. I was scared. It would have been nice to have him there with me but now looking back, I know that it was best he wasn’t present because anything could have happened. And instead of having them deal with possibly detaining him from acting on emotions, they were able to just focus on delivering Oriyon safely.

 I just remember being SO scared and unprepared for what was happening. None of the videos I watched on “giving birth” went like this! LOL, no more than 15 minutes passed and my baby was safely delivered and healthy. I couldn’t believe it though. I didn’t know what he was going to look like, I didn’t know that I was going to have him so quickly. I was in awe to think that this precious little baby came from inside of me. His dad was able to be the first one to hold him while I was unconscious and recovering from the procedure. I woke up in pain but was able to see and hold my baby boy, Oriyon Hasani, 4lbs 10oz for the first time. 

The most traumatizing part of my whole labor experience was being rolled into the operating room without knowledge of what could happen next. And the inducement takes second place to that. To the vaginal birth-giving mothers that may look down on C-section mothers or jokingly say that they didn’t give birth to their baby, I don’t agree. I personally don’t feel like it makes me less of a mother, But I finally understood why moms are the way they are. 

In some way, I finally understood  what my mom was talking about when she would tell me, “You’re not ready for a baby.” But honestly nobody ever is. I think she meant it in a warning way, like I wasn’t ready for the pain of giving birth but also the pain I would be willing to endure for someone else. Having money, being out of your parents’ house, being over 30, being married, that doesn’t make you any more or any less ready to have a baby. 

Being a new mom was hard for me because it was a realization of how I would be fully responsible for this little human, forever. The new thought of having created a whole entire human is still very shocking to me. Everything happened so quickly. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that I had my baby, right here, and NOW. I began to second guess and question my ability to be the mother I wanted to be. With the reassurance of my family, friends and his dad, I was able to take it one day at a time learn to be patient and get a hang of motherhood. 

When I was still in the hospital, I was on an intense amount of drugs. I had access at the tip of my finger, with the press of a button. It was pre-covid so I was able to have visitors come to my room, and of course, people were coming in to see him. I was just so drugged out in pain. I remember what was happening but it’s so blurry as a memory. It’s as if I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. The healing process was horrid for me. At home, I was spending a lot of time alone with my newborn. At the time, I lived with my son’s dad and his family, and everyone would go to work so I was doing things for myself most of the day.

 I went through an intense chapter of PPD (Postpartum Depression), and things started to change around me very quickly. I didn’t get enough time to process, just adapt. I suppressed a lot of those emotions. Being a new mom, I was sort of just existing for the first couple of months. There was a lot going on with my new extended family, shortly after I gave birth. My son’s dad went away for a short time and I had to move back in with my mom. I didn’t have much time or space to feel every emotion that I was feeling or wanted to feel. I had to think about my son and what was best for him. My emotions were on the back burner and I wasn’t able to express or identify a lot of these emotions until a year ago. 

A lot of my healing is so recent. Oriyon is now 3 years old and I am now 25, I feel like I have just now fully healed from postpartum depression. Now, I’m working through some generational trauma at this point of parenting. I have done a lot of self-reflecting and spiritual work. And I changed my career pursuit. I don’t believe that it takes everyone this long, but I do believe that it takes real work, time, self-reflecting, and acceptance of self.

Coming out of this journey I had to learn and discover who I was all over again. Not like “What’s my favorite color?” or “What’s my regular Starbucks order?” but like allowing myself to have some ME time without feeling guilty, like buying myself some essentials without buying my son anything.

I often share how I feel like my son saved me because of the decisions I could have made. I know myself, and I know I can be impulsive, but because I had my son, I could easily establish what I should be doing. I’m constantly putting my son first. I grew out of a lot of people and bad habits once I became Oriyon’s mom. The first time I experienced death really close in my family, I had bad coping mechanisms. I was unproductive, angry, and I relied a lot on numbing myself – I didn’t really care about much.

Having a baby changed me. It was hard to transition to the mom phase, but it was happening for the better. Getting in tune with my inner being allowed me to be a stronger woman and better parent. Overtime, I learned to separate myself from a lot of things that I felt were hindering me and blinding me. I did what I needed to do to reach what I wanted to obtain. I have wanted to create sustainability for us, to love myself physically and mentally, and to become more patient as a parent. 

Over all, I came to a realization that only I was in the way of my own self and I was allowing myself to come up with excuses to be toxic, sporadic, and impulsive. It was important to be gentle with myself and having those breakdowns. The set backs were essential to my personal growth. In the end, the most rewarding feeling is the amount of  growth within relationships, bonds, and experiences. Being able to use that in all areas of life to be so full and grateful to the point of self joy feels so amazing. I am truly blessed.

The best part about being a mom is having someone who truly loves you for who you are. As a parent, we don’t realize that our kids look up to us. They look at us as if we are heroes that can make anything happen, they love us unconditionally, and they spend majority of their time with us (as moms). They don’t get to see the struggles or the tears and even if they do, they wipe our tears for us. They could be so young, and still, they know just what to do. Being a mom is so dope to me because it gives me purpose on my darkest days.

I like to think of my pregnancy as a gift from my grandma to have purpose and motivation to keep going. This second family death brought new life. There’s really no telling where I would be without my son.” -Reign

Marinelle: The Journey Continues

Story 10 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 MY story, written in my own words:

This collaboration / series is one that I hold dear to my heart because I have been a body positive advocate for a couple of years, and have made it one of my missions as a writer. This is a topic I am very passionate about – having individuals feel comfortable in their body regardless of societal body standards. I would like to add that being body positive does not mean that you are confident and reassured in your body at all times. That belief is discouraging and just all around false. Being body positive is definitely a lifelong journey. And I ask that in your responses / blog post, that you be as transparent as possible. I pride myself in sharing real, authentic, and unfabricated stories – being truthful is key.

Marinelle Cabillo

“Quoted above is a paragraph taken from the original email I sent to all of the candidates who were interested in being a part of this Body Positive Series. I was ecstatic when I finally had all 9 slots taken for this project. It has always been a goal of mine as a writer to focus more on the body positive community and document people’s self-love journeys. Collabing on this series with like-minded, brutally honest individuals re-sparked my interest and passion on this community and reminded me why I write – to reach others and share the stories of your every day person. Reading and hearing other people’s struggles and downfalls made me realize that a lot of us share the same feelings and experiences in different ways. One thing that we all can agree on – our self-love journey is never linear.

The belief that people who identify as body positive are self-assured and satisfied with what they see in the mirror all the time is inaccurate. I try to emphasize that a lot in my writing since I am known for being a body positive advocate. Nobody’s journey is linear. You just don’t wake up one day and realize you want to change your mindset, your beliefs, and everything you believed to be acceptable and unacceptable, and just start off with a clean slate. It takes a lot of highs and lows, learning and unlearning, 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, and so forth. You will eventually get to a better place, but the journey is never lateral. You will have your off days, and that’s okay.

I tried to write this post in advance because it’s the big blog post #100. I was about 10 paragraphs deep, and the writer’s block was ridiculous. I wasn’t in love with what I was writing, and I didn’t like the direction I was going in. I originally was going to start off with how I was in 2016, and what steps I took to accept and love my body. But the more I added to it, the more I hated it. Though it wasn’t my intent, I felt like it was giving off the “I didn’t like this, so I changed this, and now I’m enlightened!” vibe. And that wasn’t true. Yes, I changed my mindset and had to put in a lot of work to get to this point, but I didn’t want it to seem like I had a problem, I overcame it, and now I’m coastin. Nope. That wasn’t the message I wanted to emphasize, because the journey continues… for life. So I scrapped it all and started over.

When I say that it took a lot of learning and unlearning to get to where I am today, I mean it. Deciding to love and accept my body for what it was and simultaneously declaring Women Gender Studies as my minor in 2016, really got the ball rolling on changing my mindset and views. I really had to reevaluate what I grew up to believe was acceptable and unacceptable, and how those views and feelings contributed to my inner turmoil. I had to reflect on parts of myself that I did not want to question or explore, but in order to heal and plant new seeds of thinking, I had to pull at the ugly roots that had planted in me so long ago. The Women Gender Studies classes I was taking at the time really opened my eyes to see that these ways of thinking in terms of beauty and beauty standards, are engrained specifically into the female mind at a very young age. And because of the unrealistic standards media and society places on women, companies profit off of all our insecurities.

I refused to be the foolish consumer that only cared about my outward appearance. I had to remind myself that I was so much more. So much more than my outer beauty, than my body, than whatever version of myself I want the public and social media to see. I refused to have companies make a profit off of my insecurities, and stay in this cycle of self-hate and fake confidence disguised by likes on social media. I refused to fall into this habit of following famous people online who alter their images, and give a false sense of reality. I no longer wanted to support companies and brands that publicly excludes, alienates, and makes people feel bad about themselves for being plus-sized.

I had to be true to myself and admit that at times I could be a hater towards others based on my own insecurities. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve accepted that that’s the reality. I had to stop comparing myself to others. And that was something really hard to do. In the past, I would be jealous of people who had outward appearances and features that I believed to be desirable. It was really difficult for me to accept that someone else’s beauty does not overshadow my own. I had to be confident in myself and my own attributes, and separate that from my feelings of feeling worthy based on what I looked like physically. I had to engrain in my own head that I was enough, that I am worthy of self-love at any weight, and each time I fall victim to the negative self-talk, or compare myself to others, or care too much about outward appearances, I repeat the same cycles that I no longer want to continue. This world profits off of our self-hate, and I wanted no part of it.

And as time went on, I learned to literally not give a shit. I wanted to workout, not to lose weight, but because I wanted to be healthier. I no longer cared about the numbers I saw on the scale because as long as I felt good within my own skin, my actual weight didn’t matter. In fact, I wanted to gain muscle, which would realistically have me gain weight. I felt so liberated to do as I pleased without feeling guilty. Restricting myself from foods, places, and clothing was a thing of the past. I wanted to feel comfortable, happy, and at ease with myself. Doing a social media cleanse really helped me push for this change. Once I eliminated accounts and people that made me question my own self-worth, it was the first step of Game Over. What I do not see can not affect me. What I do not see can not influence me. What I choose to see and internalize is completely up to me. With time, college courses, and increasing confidence in myself by positive affirmations, I learned to dissect social media posts. I can appreciate other people’s beauty, even if it is altered, but still know that it is not reality. When I feel myself getting insecure when I hit that explore page, I’ll try to shut it down real quick. It has brought me peace to know that social media in the literal sense, does not matter. It is not something I need, and therefore, I shouldn’t try so hard to uphold a certain appearance. Basically, I shouldn’t care.

I think the pandemic was the cherry on top of the “I literally don’t give a fuck about my outward appearance” sundae. For a lot of people, the pandemic forced us to be alone with our thoughts – probably more than we wanted. Getting used to the shutdown and restrictions really had me focus on the health of me, my family, and friends, above all. I got used to not getting ready for work, not going out, not putting on makeup, not putting on clothes other than my pajamas and the occasional “walk around the neighborhood outfits.” Everything was more relaxed, even though anxieties of the outside world heightened. The uncertainty and the safety of society really had all of us on edge – from COVID, to social unrest, to targeted violence. On top of that, there were no outlets to relieve that stress, everything was shutdown. It felt like I was watching a train wreck and couldn’t turn away. I was constantly reminded of the realities of 2020.

So for me, food became my solace during the pandemic. Looking forward to a good meal that was usually through UberEats or other delivery apps was the highlight of my day / week. It made me feel good to know that I was helping keep some businesses alive during the unpredicted shutdowns. It brought me comfort to eat foods that I used to eat pre-COVID because it brought back a sense of normalcy. My relationship with food has always been a strong one. I love food. I was never a picky eater, and my parents didn’t have to worry about me not eating enough or not finishing my plate. Their concern was to get me to stop eating. And now as an adult, I’m the type of person that would rather meet up at a restaurant or grab something to eat than hangout at the club. I’d say 100% of my social life revolves around eating good food with good company. When I’m traveling and going to new places, my main focus is what I’m going to be eating. I want to try all the foods that each place is known for, and I will literally plan around what food I want to get. And with the pandemic, eating bomb food went from being a social, bonding, unwinding and having a good time, to suddenly being my comfort and sense of normalcy.

We all know that the pandemic is still going strong today – almost a year and a half later. Relying on food to give me comfort and make me feel “safe” while the world fell apart, mixed with everything being shutdown, meant that there wasn’t a lot of exercising happening on my end. Everyone joked about people coming out of quarantine putting on a lot of weight, and for me personally… where’s the lie? I’m for sure – hands down – the biggest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not ashamed to admit that either. When the jokes of weight gain started circling early in the pandemic, I knew that I was informed enough to see the humor in some of the memes, but I also knew that there were some people out there that would really be struggling with this topic. When people around me would comment on not wanting to gain weight during the pandemic, I would get defensive and quickly add in that it’s OKAY and normal to gain weight during something as serious as a global pandemic, and it should be the last of our concerns.

It made me sad to know that during a time of crisis, people were already dreading the aftermath of the pandemic’s tole – gaining weight. When I hear people putting themselves down for not working out as much, gaining weight, or not having any motivation, I try to chime in and let them know that it’s okay to be feeling those emotions. Especially with my sisters, I find myself being overly aggressive with my messages of being content with gaining weight, but I realize that not everybody has the same outlook. For me, gaining weight during the pandemic was expected. However, I really didn’t expect COVID to be a problem to this day, I didn’t expect it to last this long. I tried my best to remind myself that my body will be changing along with the state of the world, and it’s okay. I was so used to not wearing makeup, not putting on my regular clothes, and not being in the public eye. Dare I say the homebody in me got comfortable to this new normal? Because I definitely got comfortable being comfortable and not thinking twice about how I looked!

I started working in person again in June 2020, to date, that’s over a year working in person. But during this time, up until recently, my mind is still in lockdown mode – not caring to be seen by anyone, social distancing, not having a social life outside of work, and basically living in workout leggings all the time to feel comfortable throughout the work week. My eating patterns remained the same even though I was back at work because the dreadful news of the world would still stress me out. For me, things were “back to normal” for the last year, given that I’ve been going to work Monday through Friday in person, but I would constantly be reminded of the state of the world every time I looked at my phone, turned on the news, or went out in public. For me, the masks are a constant reminder of the world we are living in. Living day to day for the last year and a half not knowing if you could be the carrier, have the sickness yourself, or infect someone you love is such a stressful way of living. I constantly had to weigh out the pros and the cons of hanging out with people outside of my family. It was a gamble every time, and I hate that to this day, every choice I make to expose myself to public places can result in a horrible ending. On top of that, restaurants remained closed, there were still many restrictions, and it felt like we were far from seeing a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

When vaccines started rolling out, and things started to slowly open back up, I definitely felt the results of my anxiety filled binge eating patterns that were heightened throughout the pandemic. My friends and I were vaccinated, and started to see each other more regularly again. With time and more people getting vaccinated, restrictions started to ease up little by little. I was very slowly getting my social life back, and that meant wearing clothes other than my comfy workout leggings that I live in every day at work. I mean shit, pandemic or not, ya girl always lived in leggings Monday through Friday, because working with kids, you need to be as comfortable as possible. But it was a huge eye opener when I started to wear clothes outside of my work outfits. I felt like the Pikachu meme where he’s all surprised with his mouth open, even though I knew this was going to happen. My clothes didn’t fit the way they used to.

At first, I didn’t even really care that I was gaining weight. I was like… whatever it is what it is, we’ve been in this pandemic for a long time. It’s what I expected, and I had mentally prepared myself to slowly transition out of the lockdown. I anticipated that my body was probably not going to look or feel the same prior to the pandemic. I had to remember to be kind to myself. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, a lot of people are going through the same transitions as I am. We are all just trying to adjust back to normal given everything 2020 has put us through. I have come to a point in my life where I know that my outward appearance is the least of my problems, that I am worthy and enough at any size, and that negative self-talk will get me nowhere. I know all of this. I’m completely aware. I try to practice this and feel confident and reassured with whatever reflection I see in the mirror. However, I am human, and I still have my feelings of insecurity. I’m not confident and self-assured all the time, and that’s okay.

In the past, I would’ve been deep in my self loathing ways by now – hating my body, restricting myself and then binging at the end of it all, and talking negatively to myself. But I know where that path would lead me – down a deeper hole. I’ve learned time and time again that making myself feel like shit will accomplish nothing. It will just have me feeling bad about myself and I won’t have the motivation to do better because I’m too busy sulking in my misery. There is literally nothing to gain from negative self-talk, but it’s such a common habit. Especially when you are feeling down, insecure, and frustrated with yourself, it’s hard to stop that voice in your head that is tearing you to shreds and dragging you through the mud. But I knew from experience that if I went down the self-loathing route, it would result in me being really hard on myself, which would push me back into the same cycle I tried so hard to unlearn.

Now, my off days / episodes look a little different. I’m not ashamed that I gained weight, I don’t totally hate what I see in the mirror, and I don’t let people’s commentary or opinions affect me. However, my views on gaining weight has changed over time now that I’m getting older. It’s no longer about how I look, I’m more so concerned about my overall health, given that my late 20’s are just over the horizon, and it’s something I should be keeping an eye on. I was aware of how I was using food to cope, but feeling not the best in my old clothes, and not feeling confident with what I saw in the mirror, brought to light my relationship with food. I was starting to see that during the pandemic, I would eat until I was stuffed to “treat myself,” but really, I’m just binge eating for pleasure and because I’m stressed.

I acknowledge my binging habits that have heightened during COVID, but I refuse to call them “bad habits.” Speaking only for myself, labeling them as “bad” just makes me feel guilty and ashamed about how I’ve handled a really tough year, and that’s not my intent. I want to remain kind to myself, but not be totally oblivious to what I want to change. In the past, to try to stay healthy and balance out my love of food, I would try to go to the gym and squat heavy. But gyms are closed, and with COVID going around with different variants surfacing, I found myself not going out as much. Basically my only form of exercise was walking to the grocery store and hiking once a week. I had to come to the realization that I would get winded doing simple tasks, and I have gotten too comfortable being lazy and not wanting to do anything. It wasn’t about how I looked on the outside, now it’s about how my current habits are making me feel on the inside. I feel sluggish, unmotivated, and unhealthy. Acknowledging what I want to improve, without bashing myself and putting myself down, has allowed me to make small but conscious changes to try to get in more exercise to make me feel better.

I know that for me right now, being healthier means being more active, getting more exercise in, and trying not to binge eat when I’m stressed out or trying to treat myself. A common misconception is that the body positive community promotes unhealthy habits, promotes obesity, and glorifies health complication that come with being overweight. This is not true. Just because you identify as “body positive” doesn’t mean you are glorifying obesity. Being body positive doesn’t mean that you are against working out, it doesn’t mean that you hate skinny people, or that you ignore your health. Being body positive sure as hell doesn’t mean that you are always feeling good about your body. For me, being body positive is being inclusive to all shapes and sizes, it’s being kind to yourself regardless of what your weight is, it’s knowing that you are worthy of love and respect at any size, it’s knowing that you are so much more than your outward appearance, it’s trying to love yourself and your body at all stages of life. Being body positive is not letting societal body standards dictate how you live your life, it’s choosing to live freely instead of constantly stressing over how you look, it’s not restricting yourself because you are hyper-aware of your body, it’s being self-assured and confident in being an individual in a world that wants you to conform and feel shitty about yourself so they can profit off of those insecurities. For me right now, being body positive is all that, and at the same time it’s being aware that I have to make healthier choices. And these choices should not be to punish or restrict myself. The goal is to always be loving and accepting of the body that I have right now. This is the body that has gotten me through the pandemic, and is continuing to get me through it.

And doing this Body Positive series has helped me appreciate and see what “body positivity” means to others. What my meaning of Body Positivity is is not exactly alike to anyone else’s definition. As highlighted in this series, being body positive is: not caring about what you see in the mirror, not letting what people say get to you, being your own number one fan, feeling confident without makeup, choosing a Vegan lifestyle, getting back into a hobby, making peace with your past, accepting your body changing to bring in another life, and so on. I appreciate how transparent every single person was during this Body Positive series, and for allowing me to share their very intimate self-reflections.

It’s okay to not feel body positive all the time. I hope this series has helped people see that people go through their self-love journey differently. No two stories are alike, but even then, we still manage to connect and resonate with other people’s experiences. We are all human, and nobody is perfect. We will have periods of progress, but also periods of regression. Don’t feel discouraged if you are not where you want to be yet when it comes to how you view yourself and your body. This is a lifelong process, so continue to learn and unlearn, and get used to the fact that sometimes you will teeter totter back and forth from what you’re trying to outgrow.

I hope that sharing my personal struggles with my forever changing body reaches someone who needs to hear that being body positive does not mean you are confident all the time. That myth discourages people because that is something that’s very unrealistic. Our bodies and our views are forever changing. If you attach happiness to correlate with your outward appearance, you will never be content with yourself. Your self-love and self-respect should never be conditional. ” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

April: The Scar That Brought Life

Story 9 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 April’s story, written in her own words:

“Before I found out I was pregnant, everyone said I had lost so much weight. The thing is, I didn’t even realize it. I didn’t notice until I physically went to go weigh myself and saw that I was at 115 lbs. when usually, I’m 130-135 lbs. I didn’t notice it until I looked back at pictures and saw how my face lost weight and my clothes looked more loose fitting.

At the time, I’d just moved from San Francisco to Merced in Central Valley. I was born and raised a city girl, so moving to the Valley was a big change for me. I didn’t know a lot of people where I was. I only moved because my boyfriend relocated for work, so I moved out with him to the Valley. It was a whole new world to me, I couldn’t just step out and walk across the street to Mission to check out grocery stores. The place wasn’t my vibe, so I was very depressed. I was home sick. I didn’t have much to do or look forward to.

I was still feeling insecure about my body, still feeling ashamed of my arms, or not having more boobs. Growing up, my idea of a “good body” was to be slim and toned. I was always skinny growing up, I had some fat, but I was more…boney? Haha. It was more because I had a fast metabolism because I would eat a lot if I liked the food. I was – and still am – very picky with food, but when I like it I’ll definitely eat a lot. There weren’t places I was familiar with since we had just recently moved there. I had to eat at different restaurants to finally find the places I liked. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t that hungry to eat but I didn’t really find places that I liked that much. I’m so picky with food and the variety of choices we have in the Bay Area are endless.

I found out that I lost 15 pounds before I got pregnant. How could I lose that much weight and not even know it? But I still felt uncomfortable with my body thinking I looked fat. I noticed my clothes were getting too big and a little more loose. Especially my bottoms! My jeans or shorts would be loose on my ass and waist area, and I’d be frustrated because I liked to focus on my figure, so accentuating it with clothes meant a lot to me.

When I found out I was pregnant, it was because I was a week late on my period. I was on birth control pills, so I wasn’t sure why I was late. Then I went to take a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood and they told me I was 5 weeks and a day pregnant. It was bittersweet. I was scared. It wasn’t the right time for a baby. I was more worried about telling my parents and not the actual fact that I was pregnant. I wasn’t working, I moved 3 hours away from home, and now I’m pregnant? Being pregnant just felt like something that would make me a bigger disappointment to them. Not to say a child is a disappointment, but for so many things to not be right, it just wasn’t the right time for a baby. Not at all. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t happy where I was. Let alone my relationship was rocky at the time. It was just NOT the time for a baby.

My belly didn’t start showing until about 4 to 5 months in, which in the beginning kind of sucked because I just looked bloated. I didn’t want to wear fitted clothes in the beginning because I looked like I just got fat. I couldn’t wait to finally show my belly and wear clothes to show it off. To just walk around and be able to show people you really pregnant instead of just a verbal confirmation. When my bump finally started to show, it felt nice to be able to match the whole “I’m having a baby” with a big belly. Just walking around rubbing my belly when it was out there starting to show made me feel closer to my baby.

My wardrobe already had loose clothing. I didn’t really buy any specifically for maternity clothes, I just used whatever I had. My clothes were starting to fit tighter just around my belly. It was nice, but also frustrating at the same time because the time it took for me to find clothes that I felt good in was difficult. I wanted to show my belly but a lot of my clothes weren’t appealing to me on my body. I expected the physical aspects of pregnancy, but not the mental or emotional aspects.

I knew I would be insecure about my stretch marks so I got cream early on. To me, they just looked like scratches. I didn’t want them on me. I’m already a little dark, so the stretch marks would be darker and show more. I looked so hard for cream. But to be honest, I only used it a few times and didn’t even remember about putting it on. In the end, it wasn’t that important to me anymore to fit into my routine.

My whole “pregnancy plan” didn’t go as planned at all. I always thought when I became pregnant one day that I’ll be close to my family, but I was a 3 hour drive away. I thought I’d go out more, but I wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere, especially in the heat. A lot of my experiences during pregnancy were the complete opposite of what I had envisioned, which just goes to show you that you can’t always plan for this shit. I always had an ideal pregnancy, even before I got pregnant. I wanted to experience a natural vaginal birth. A C-section is a major surgery, and I never wanted the scar from it. From what I’ve heard and read, a vaginal birth is easier recovery, gave the mother more control over the birth, and I felt like it would give me and my child a deeper connection if I physically pushed him out of me.

We had gone to an ultrasound where we found out my son was frank breeched, meaning the baby’s bottom is down and his feet are by his face. The doctor told me that if he doesn’t flip head first by 38 weeks, we would need to speak about the next steps. I was around 32-34 weeks when they told me, and they say that babies usually turn on their own around 36-37 weeks. Mind you, I always said how stubborn my son was during my entire pregnancy. We had paid for 2 ultrasounds, 1 to see gender and the other to get a 4D image of him a few weeks before his arrival. He would always cover his face! When they tried to find out the gender, he wouldn’t move or turn. So of course, when we get to my 38th week ultrasound, he’s still in a frank breech position.

I was told I would need a C-section, but I also had an option to try an ECV procedure. An ECV procedure is when the doctors push on your abdomen to try to turn the baby from a breech position to a head down position, so that’s a whole 180 degrees. I went in for the procedure, and at first there was one OB doctor trying to push and turn him. Then she called for another doctor to help. I can’t lie, it was painful, but I was willing to go through it to hopefully get him to turn, but he didn’t. That’s when I decided a C-section was going to be the way to go. Choosing to have the C-section was a selfless act because it wasn’t what I wanted or planned for me, but it was the only safe decision with birthing my son.

I don’t think I failed as a mom because I didn’t have a vaginal birth. I still birthed a healthy human being. I just didn’t get to experience the birth plan I had in mind. We focus so much more on how we want to give birth, instead of just appreciating that our bodies are growing a child inside of us. We aim towards having the birth plan we wanted, and if it doesn’t happen, it just brings us down, which isn’t good for the mothers or the baby. I was more afraid of the surgery itself. A lot can go wrong during any surgery, so I was very anxious about it. What if the epidural doesn’t work and I feel everything? What if something goes wrong during the procedure itself? What if something happens to my baby? There were just a lot of unknown questions that were scary about the surgery.

I got a call from my OB about my C-section schedule. I was getting my nails done when he called to schedule it for Thursday, September 19th, 2019. That was only a week away. That’s when it hit me: shit was getting real and we were really about to have a baby. I called everyone to let them know that it was scheduled. Everyone was sending their prayers and well wishes that everything would go smoothly.

It’s delivery day! My C-section was scheduled for 10am, so we had to be there a few hours earlier. But when we got there they were behind on surgeries so it got pushed to 12. The anesthesiologist comes in and has me sit still in order to administer the epidural. They had asked me what music I wanted during the procedure, and I said 90’s R&B. I thought that was pretty cool to be able to choose the music playing, it just set the vibe for it all.

My doctor makes the incision and I just feel pressure and pulling. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels weird because they’re tugging at your insides. The doctor pulls and pulls, and out he came! Jalen had his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck which the doctor said may have been the reason he didn’t flip inside my womb. But then we hear his cry, and we have a healthy 21 inch, 7lbs 8oz baby boy at 12:55pm. We were in the procedure room since 12pm.

When Jav handed him to me, I didn’t cry. I shed a tear, but I didn’t really cry like how some moms usually say they do, or even what I actually expected of myself. I thought I’d be bawling. All I did was shed a tear. I always felt guilty for that. It made me think ‘does this mean I don’t love my son enough because I didn’t get that emotion?’ It wasn’t until recently where I realized I was just in complete shock. My mind and body had just gone through a whole different experience that I wasn’t really prepared for, like yeah you can study up on what to do but you won’t know what outcomes it’ll bring.

Recovery after my C-section was difficult. I couldn’t even wash or bathe myself, my boyfriend had to do it. Imagine being so strong, enough to birth your child but not be able to clean yourself? It was uncomfortable, but it was so hard for me to bend or move at all because of my cut. I felt so unlike myself and hated that I needed my boyfriend’s help to clean, bathe, and wash myself. He was basically my hands and feet for me. I was grateful for it, but I just wish I could’ve done it for myself. I didn’t like not being able to care for myself. I couldn’t walk for long periods of time and was in so much pain, but walking was part of being able to recover.

Don’t believe people when they say that C-sections aren’t considered real births. Your body physically brought a child into this world, it’s real. It’s not easy. The process, the recovery, the postpartum, it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth the pain, vulnerability, and sleepless nights. Accept the help that people are willing to give you. You just went through a major surgery, it doesn’t make you a bad mom to say you need a break to rest your body while someone cares for your baby. I’ve personally turned some help down, but I get it. You can’t really just mentally and physically walk away for a little bit and focus on yourself because you have someone who depends on you now. But you also won’t get through your recovery if you don’t rest and take care of yourself as well.

In the beginning, the cut was still tender to the touch. I still felt the pain of it so I noticed it way more. I guess you can say I’m kind of a perfectionist, so if shit doesn’t go my way or look right, it gives me anxiety. I didn’t feel like my body looked the way I wanted it to. I knew I’d always have the scar, but I just wanted to see if I could lighten the scar a little bit. But now that I think about it, I obviously didn’t care that much because I didn’t end up buying any cream. I don’t regret having negative feelings about my scar because it made me realize that the appearance of it didn’t matter. No one cares that it’s there because it’s part of my birth story – every mother has one and everyone’s story is different. It’s the story behind the scar, the first selfless act I had to make for my son. A permanent scar to show that I was cut open layers deep with my insides being moved around for the doctor to remove my son. Now I have the greatest joy of my life.

Sometimes I would find myself comparing my body to other moms and their recovery, not even knowing their birth story. But it made me feel down that I didn’t have the energy to exercise or work on my body. I appreciate and have a new found respect for what our bodies can go through as women. To be able to recover and push through, to birth, and raising our little one. I used to just dress with baggy clothing in the beginning of my pregnancy and didn’t like to show too much skin. Some days I’ll look at myself in the mirror, analyze how my body looks lately, and when I’m feeling down about my body, I’ll wear baggy clothes so I don’t show my arms, or wear a t-shirt instead of a crop top because I don’t wanna show my stomach. On days I feel insecure, I mostly try to hide my body. But then there are also days where I’m so proud to have the figure I have even as a mom.

I guess I just moved on from the idea that I have to look a certain way because I’m still young. I didn’t just wake up one morning and was super confident in how I look. I still have my vulnerable days but I’ve started buying more fitted clothes, more crop tops, and clothes that I actually used to wear before I was a mom. I tried to box myself in with what styles to wear to be conservative because I’m a mom, and now I just want to look good for myself and feel comfortable and confident in what I’m wearing.

You can imagine an “ideal pregnancy and birth story” but there’s so much that you don’t know that can happen until that moment, until it happens to you. We are all mothers. No matter what our birth story was, is, or will be. If you focus so hard on what you want and imagine to happen, you won’t appreciate what’s actually happening, you’ll probably even resent the experience because it wasn’t what you expected. But the whole experience is a beautiful gift, you’re bringing a new life into the world. Once you have your baby in your arms you won’t even be so focused on how it came about, you’ll just be grateful, full of joy, and filled with unconditional love.

Don’t compare yourself to other moms. You don’t know what they experienced mentally and physically with their own birth and recovery. Our bodies are all different. Be patient with your mind and body, only you will know what you can take. Be patient with yourself. Recovery isn’t easy and dealing with a newborn is even harder. It takes time to get into your own rhythm and balance that works for you. It’s not about you losing weight, it’s about accepting the body that brought your child into this world.” -April

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

Allysa: To The Girl I Once Was

Story 7 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 Allysa’s story, edited by Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory:

“Dear Allysa,

I know you hate your body now, and you think you need to have a “perfect body” like you see all over social media. You also feel lost and stuck in your body because you just won’t accept it. You think about your body negatively, but that’s okay. You are going to realize that the “perfect body” comes in different shapes and sizes no matter how much you doubt yourself and the body you’re in. You are too focused on social media’s definition of a “perfect body,” and you keep asking yourself, “why can’t my body be like that.” You grew up thinking like that and it made you think that’s the only body type out there. You’re struggling with looking for clothes that fit you or what you’re comfortable in. You can’t get the clothes you want because you are afraid of what people think of you. You have to get oversized clothes to be comfortable because you don’t want people to make fun of your body.

The question is, “what is the definition of true beauty?” You’ll finally realize that “true beauty” comes in ALL shapes and sizes. Always keep that in mind because your body is beautiful just the way it is. 

Your current relationship with food is not the best. You binge eat every 1-2 hours because you are going through anxiety and depression, making you feel stressed out and confused. You think binge eating will help you get through all of the problems you are facing, but it won’t. You’re seeing your body and face changing because you binge eat. It’s to the point where you’re not comfortable taking pictures of yourself because you don’t like how you look. You’re too focused on what your body should be, even though you know it’s not good for you. You’re skipping some meals because you think it will help you lose weight, but it won’t help you mentally or emotionally. Even though food is good, you think you can’t control your eating habits. But the truth is you can control your eating habits if you believe in yourself. 

I know you’re going through countless mental breakdowns where you start to doubt yourself – from your body to your future. Your mental breakdowns have made a huge impact on your eating habits. 2018 will be the most traumatic year of your life because you are going to go through depression and anxiety. You will lose yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. The real reason why you are going through mental breakdowns is because you are still grieving the death of your cousin, who you loved so much. You have a special bond with her & she inspires you to follow your dreams. She is still your light whenever you see her smile or her face. Right now, you can’t accept that she is gone and you feel empty inside because her presence is not with you anymore. But try to remember that she will always be watching over you and you’re doing everything you can to keep her spirit alive.

You just sit and cry when you want to be alone, and think that no one is going to help you. You say, “what am I going to do?” and think no one is going to understand what you’re going through. You keep blaming God for taking your cousin away so soon. But that’s not the case, you know your cousin fought for her life. She was strong & brave after all she had to go through. You’re not comfortable opening up about your mental breakdowns to anyone yet, that’s okay. But keeping your mental breakdowns to yourself is very unhealthy. You will realize that you can’t help yourself unless you have people helping and guiding you through it. 

You’re thinking about who you can talk to about your emotional breakdowns. You start to think of who you can trust that will help you, people that have always been there for you, even at your lowest. You’ll turn to your Godsister, Ezra, & your best friend, Janine, because they’re the only ones who have been there for you since the beginning. But how do you tell them? You need someone to be by your side through all of this. Once you reach out to them, they’ll completely uplift you. They tell you that they believe in you, which motivates you to be the best version of yourself. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where you’d be. After some time, you’ll finally have motivation and words of wisdom to finally realize that you are worth it and enough to be in this world.

2019 is the year that your life changes. That is the year you focus on yourself. You’ll finally accept who you truly are because you will learn that only you know the real you. So don’t put yourself down just because you don’t like how you look right now. You’ll finally find yourself by changing your eating and exercising habits. You start to journal, where you write about your day and all the things you like about yourself. You’ll start to portion out your food and drink more water. You’ll make working out a daily routine. Losing weight will make you proud of your hard work, it will boost up how you see your body, and you’ll gain confidence. The amazing thing is you did everything for yourself. You’ll start to believe that you are enough.

You’ll get back into dancing, and it’ll make you feel more confident. You’ve been dancing since 15 years old and your dream has always been to be a professional dancer. You stopped dancing at 19 years old because you didn’t like how you performed at a birthday event. Giving up dancing was hard for you because you loved it so much. Dance is how you expressed all of your feelings, but you felt like it was not going to take you anywhere in life. But how would you know? It’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes, but what’s not okay is quitting on yourself and what you love doing. If only you knew that right now, in the present day, you are pursing your dreams in becoming a professional dancer, and you’ll soon move to Los Angeles.

I want to apologize for how I treated you. I’m sorry for not believing in you. I’m sorry for the way I thought about our body- being too focused on what our body “should be,” not what it truly is. You are going to be so proud of the Allysa now, because you have come so far.” -Allysa

Sabrina: My Journey To Self-Love

Story 6 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 Sabrina’s story, written in her own words:

“Today, I’m taking y’all on a journey. The journey of how little Sabrina went from an innocent girl who didn’t have a care in the world, to feeling the pressures of society and succumbing to her inner negative thoughts, and all the struggles and learnings she has gone through in the last 24 years of being in this body. So buckle up and hopefully, this story helps someone out there going through it feel less alone. 

Growing up, I always had a turbulent relationship with my body and eating habits. As a baby, I was pretty chubby, but was also a colic baby, meaning I was just a complete nightmare to be around. I would cry all the time and fuss about eating so much to the point that my mom would spend hours trying to get me to eat and had to feed me water with a spoon. I was really out here trying to dehydrate myself. Over the years, I continued to have problems with eating and would need to be force-fed by my parents. At that time, I had really poor eating habits and would waste all the lunches my parents would pack for me. 

This all changed though around the age of 8 when my body finally recognized how amazing food tasted and I started to inhale everything in my line of sight. My diet was super unhealthy at this point. I would prefer fast food instead of the home-cooked meals my parents made for me. After school, I would beg my parents to take me to McDonald’s, KFC, or Taco Bell. At McDonald’s, I would order 2 fish filet sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and maybe a diet soda to wash it down, which would all be demolished by me before we even got home. 

Around the age of 10, my family had moved to India where we ended up staying for two years during my middle school years. My school at the time offered meals on campus and it was buffet style. We would have so many options for breakfast, lunch, and snacks and no one to supervise us or tell us how much we can or can’t eat. This was literally my dream come true and I happily ate as much as I wanted and didn’t give a care in the world. 

However, soon enough, this safe bubble I was in popped. I distinctly remember a specific time when my family and I were in Goa, a beautiful beach city in India, for vacation. I was about 11 years old at the time and was starting to develop into my womanhood – aka grow boobs – and I had no idea what was going on with my body. I was playing in the ocean with my sister with our clothes on and my mom called me to come out of the water. She told me to cover myself or wear another shirt on top since my boobs were very visible under the wet shirt. I remember feeling so ashamed about this and immediately ran back to our hotel room and started crying. At this point, I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit because I knew my body was going through changes, and I felt so so self-conscious. I didn’t know this at the time but this was a significant turning point in how I viewed my body. I would continue to feel bad about my body for many years to come. 

As puberty hit me like a freight train, I continued to gain a lot more weight. By this time, we had moved back to California and I was starting high school. I was close to ~150 pounds being a 5’ 6” girl and my relationship with my body grew more turbulent. My doctor told me I was overweight and suggested that I exercise even though I was playing competitive sports at the time. I started comparing my body to other girls in my class and would feel so bad about myself. During track and tennis practice, I would always feel like I didn’t look as “athletic” or as “slim” as other girls in our sports uniforms. I remember hating my tennis uniform because it was a sleeveless top that made me conscious of my arm fat. I would feel bad about eating the bagels that my teammate’s parents would bring for tennis meets. I was envious of the other girls who ate whatever they wanted and their bodies still looked “skinny.” It seemed like they didn’t even have to try to look that way and here I was beating myself up about eating a bagel. 

I started to dread going to the pool or the beach because it meant that I had to wear a swimsuit. While other girls were wearing bikinis and feeling super comfortable in their bodies, I still couldn’t even bring myself to wear a one-piece without feeling fat & undesirable. Mainstream media made me feel like the ideal body type was to be skinny and have a flat stomach. I was not skinny nor did I have a flat stomach which made me feel like something was wrong with me, my body, and that I should be doing something to change my body. 

This feeling worsened every time I went to a family party and some uncle or aunty would comment on my body. “Oh Sabrina, you look like you gained weight,” or “Sabrina, you are looking better than last time. Looks like you have lost some weight.” These comments made me feel even more insecure, self-conscious, and made me feel like I had to look a certain way to be considered pretty and worthy. Word of advice to anyone who gets unwarranted comments like this from family or friends: fat shaming and skinny shaming is never okay, don’t let them get to your head. It says more about their own insecurities and way of thinking than anything else if the first thing they feel the need to comment on is someone’s physical appearance. It’s such a shallow way of looking at the world. 

Of course, I let their comments get to my head. Self-confidence was at an all-time low and my body dysmorphia led me down a very restrictive path. When I was a senior in high school, I decided enough was enough and I was done feeling bad about myself and my body. I decided to go on a very strict low-carb, high protein diet and exercised intensely every day for 45 minutes. I would have some cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch (probably ~300 calories), maybe an orange (like a small ass cutie) as a snack, and would head to my part-time job after school.

During this time, I was strictly logging everything I ate on My Fitness Pal and was so anal about hitting my daily calorie, and macro count. My body was not getting the nutrition it needed and I started to slowly develop a binge eating disorder. I would have a very light calorie day at school, would go to work in the evening at the accounting firm I was interning at, and try to avoid looking at the table full of food that my coworkers brought. 

Eventually, I would succumb to my cravings – cause ya girl was basically starving herself during the day and was so hungry. I would take any food I could get my hands on, go down to the basement at work where I would usually file documents, and gorge myself. I would feel so ashamed for doing this that I would literally make sure no one was near me while I stuffed my face – like I haven’t had food in days. After I finished binge eating, I would usually feel so bad about myself and so physically uncomfortable. I remember one day when it was a particularly bad binge eating episode, I literally sat on the floor with food all around me and sobbed uncontrollably at work. There were days where I would go back home after these episodes and exercise to burn off some calories to make myself feel better. But this never made me feel better since I was 1) so bloated and uncomfortable 2) felt like I ruined all my progress for the day. This would usually end in me breaking down sobbing, feeling more guilt, and ashamed. I would look at my body in the mirror, hate what I saw, and to make myself feel better, I would binge eat again. 

This was a very silent struggle that I went through. My parents didn’t know that I was going through this because honestly, I was doing a pretty good job of hiding it. I would always binge either at work or late at night at home once my parents went to sleep. I would be so ashamed of how much I was eating that I would make sure to do it in secret. 

It took me a while to realize what was happening and what I was doing to myself. I knew that I was binge eating because of my restrictive diet, but I never made myself throw up after these episodes, so I never labeled it as an “eating disorder.” Boy was I wrong. One day, after a particularly bad binge eating episode, I googled “How do you know you have an eating disorder?” and “How do you recover from binge eating?” This sent me down a rabbit hole until I finally opened my eyes to my reality. If I continued down this path I knew this wouldn’t end well. I dealt with my eating disorder for almost 8 months and that was probably the lowest point in my body journey thus far. 

After months of this, I knew I couldn’t live like this any longer. I didn’t feel healthy or comfortable within my own body and I hated feeling so superficial about myself. I started to be honest with myself about what I was doing to my body and how destructive my mindset was. The summer before my freshman year of college was when I found the plant-based community and started watching documentaries like “Coswspiracy” and “Forks over knives” and read books like “The China Study” and “The Starch Solution” (highly recommend). I instantly gave up meat after bawling throughout those documentaries. I learned about the environmental impacts of the animal and dairy industry and realized I had to make a change. I also loved how in the plant-based community, there was a focus on eating nutritious whole foods and not restricting the number of calories you ate. I was vegan for the first 2 years of college, transitioned into vegetarianism after, and am currently trying to go vegan again. 

During this time, I also came across the concept of intuitive eating which is essentially eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Sounds easy enough right? But if you have ever struggled with an eating disorder or even followed any diet rules you know this isn’t so easy in practice. Since I had restricted certain foods and had binge-eating tendencies, my body was so out of touch with its natural hunger cues. Psychologically, I needed time to get over the diet culture mindset. It took me about 4 months to get to a point where I could stop counting calories and feel comfortable with eating whatever I wanted and however much I wanted. 

During this period, my focus changed from losing weight to listening to my body. I worked on shedding all of this conditioning I had about food, diet, and my ideal body. I was finally eating intuitively. What helped me during this time was to ditch the calorie-tracking apps and unfollowing any accounts that were promoting a certain body type.

In college, my body continued to go through many changes. I gained the infamous Freshman 15 (more like Freshman 25 in my case), and didn’t exercise consistently the first two years. That was the first time since my childhood where I felt liberated and unrestricted. I didn’t care as much about being a certain weight or looking a certain way, and I let myself eat freely without limits (with the only limit being that I was vegan but that didn’t stop me from finding the wonderful world of vegan junk food). 

Of course, this liberating feeling didn’t last long. I started to feel bad about all my weight gain and started beating myself up for letting it get this far. I would try to go to the gym to do cardio or a group class but never stayed consistent and felt demotivated by all the strength and stamina I had lost. The summer before my junior year, I discovered the weightlifting community and loved the focus on gaining strength & building muscle vs. losing weight and having a skinny figure. This was a huge mindset shift for me in how I viewed exercise. Prior to this, I always saw exercise as something I had to do to burn calories and lose weight. Weightlifting completely reframed that for me, and now I wanted to lift so that I could gain strength and see my progress. 

As I continued to weightlift throughout my junior year, I started eating more since I was hungry and wanted to gain muscle. I started to see how food is actually fuel that would help me get stronger and build muscles vs. something that I had to limit and keep track of. The last two years of college were probably the most comfortable and proud I felt of my body. I worked really hard to gain strength and shed past conditionings of restrictive eating. I felt like I finally arrived at a place where I could feel confident in my body and love what I saw when I looked in the mirror. 

Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I’m suddenly happy in my skin or that I never have destructive thoughts about my body. I still look at the mirror and focus on the “flabby” or “unflattering” parts. I still pinch the fat on my stomach, arms and back and wish it wasn’t there. I still have moments of low self-esteem. I still look at the mirror sometimes and am not happy with what I see. 

The media makes us believe that diet culture is so mainstream and that everyone needs to adhere to these strict ways of eating to look a certain way. It’s truly scary how ingrained this is in our culture, how often it is practiced and seen as normal. The staggering truth is that the diet industry is a $60 billion/ year industry. We are constantly being pitched something that makes us believe we need to lose weight – a fitness program, celebrities promoting weight loss pills, brands selling clothes that only fit a certain body type, etc. It’s hard to not fall into the trap of thinking that we need to change our bodies when all we see online is eurocentric beauty standards and a lack of representation. 

Since the pandemic started, my whole workout routine has completely gone out the window. Without a gym, I’ve been struggling to stay motivated to do at-home workouts. I have lost all the muscle mass I worked so hard to build in the last few years and have beaten myself up for not working out consistently. I have slipped back into feelings of low self-worth and have had moments where I’ve been critical of my body in the past year. Whenever I have these moments, I remind myself that this is MY body and the only body I will ever have. It’s a privilege to have this body and I have to honor and love it at all stages. I spend extra time on self-care and self-love practices that help me get out of that negative headspace and allow me to focus inward instead of outward. Taking time for gratitude has been essential and I thank my body for being my vessel on this earth and allowing me to have all these dope experiences. This has allowed me to be comfortable with accepting myself the way I am in this present moment. 

If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would hug her and tell her that she is beautiful and loved just the way she is. I would tell her that your weight doesn’t define your worth. Diet culture is a load of bullshit and you should never try to conform to something you see on the internet. Food is meant to be enjoyed and life is meant to be unrestrictive. I would tell her that criticizing your body for years hasn’t helped you at all so why don’t you try accepting yourself and see what happens. 

As a society, we are conditioned to think that we need to look a certain way to feel happy and confident in ourselves. The media feeds into this thinking and makes us feel like we’re less than and/or not beautiful just the way we are. If you’re reading this and have been through or currently going through something similar, just know you are amazing just the way you are, and fuck society’s nonsense. Don’t value your body over your being. No one can take that away from you and you have so much more power and agency than you realize. Everyone has body issues, even those you idolize. When you come to realize that everybody deals with body image issues in their own way – even the people you might consider as flawless – then you can start to accept yourself just the way you are. We are all different shapes, and sizes, and that’s what makes each one of us unique and this should be celebrated. There is no one else like you. We only have one life to live and one body so we must take care of our home & nourish it with love, kindness, and empathy. I want to share my story with others because I know I am not alone in how I feel about my body. We need to speak to one another and shed ourselves of the programming society has instilled in us. The more we do this the more we can feel liberated and closer to our truth.” -Sabrina

Rohit: Lessons From My Weight Gain & Loss Journey

Story 5 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 Rohit’s story, written in his own words:

My Weight Gain & Loss Story 

I always loved Shōnen stories when I was a kid. For the uninitiated, Shōnen is one of the most popular genres of anime, typically featuring a male protagonist who embarks on an adventure filled with challenges. My first exposure to the genre came through Pokémon, which I’d obsessively wake up to watch on Saturday mornings throughout my childhood. Looking back, my fascination with Pokémon and similar shows stemmed from the main character’s relentless pursuit of a goal or self-perfection, the clear distinction between good and evil, and the excitement that follows exploring the world around us. Unfortunately, Pokémon is where my issues with body positivity likely started. And it’s exactly what you’re  thinking – the exposure to extremely skinny, fit male figures in Pokémon and other shows unconsciously shaped my mental model of what constitutes beautiful and attractive, and has been something I’ve worked my entire life to overcome. 

I hope that in sharing my story, others struggling with similar issues can understand that they’re not alone and appreciate that self-love is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition. While progress in most things in life is usually not linear, the setbacks, insecurities, and painful feelings I experienced  through my weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, and muscle loss make me who I am today and I’m thankful for them.  

Having a body-positive self-image has never been a strength of mine. At 26 years old I am still struggling with low self-esteem due to ingrained beliefs around what my body should look like. I became painfully  aware of my body and how others perceive it in middle school when my peers began making jokes about how fat I was, saying things like “When you walk around, it can cause earthquakes!” At that point in time I likely weighed 140 pounds and was 5’7”. Despite being relatively tall for my age, there was no hiding it. You might be wondering, “How did he get to that point?” My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy. Even as early as elementary school, I remember chowing down on McDonald’s and Burger King chicken sandwiches that my loving mother would drop off for me on weekdays. It didn’t matter if I got a  bad grade on my math test, was bullied in school, or felt alone, because I knew I always had food to comfort  me. And like most kids at that age with immigrant parents, I needed a lot of comforting. Over time I developed an addiction to fried, fast food and probably played a big role in keeping my local Olive Garden and Burger King alive. 

Whenever I’d see family or family friends they’d be quick to point out how chubby I was. “You’ve got such big cheeks!” and “Did you gain weight?” were usually the first thing they’d say to me whenever they visited. Over time the embarrassment grew to such an extreme level that I’d instinctively run upstairs to my room whenever someone rang the doorbell. My parents chalked that up to my shyness and introverted-ness, but looking back it was largely because I hated how people would comment on my weight, and I’d rather just avoid social interaction altogether. Video games and TV shows didn’t make me feel bad about myself. My mother would typically reassure me saying that having big bones runs in the  family, it’s just temporary, and not to worry about it. I definitely worried about it.  

When middle school came around and the harmful jokes and comments abounded, I realized that I could  use humor as a deflection – by being silly and ridiculous in and outside of class, I hoped that the attention would be taken off my weight, even just for a moment. Sadly, even my most fire jokes couldn’t spare me from the almost daily humiliation that was PE class. I distinctly remember being the slowest person in the entire class to run a mile – I never made it under 10 minutes! And scoring low on other fitness-related exams, reinforcing my belief that I’m worse than others and something is wrong with my body. 

After years of enduring hurtful jokes and comments in addition to seeing idealized images of men’s bodies in movies and TV, I became disgusted with my body. I would actively avoid going swimming – which was  hard when the pool party was at your house – because it would expose my rotundness. I would look at myself whenever I would change in the mirror with shame, and dress in baggy clothing to distract people from the shape of my body. Compounding this internalized shame and resentment is my lifelong struggle with  perfectionism, thinking that the way I looked should be a certain way and, in my mind, I always fell short. 

When I made it to high school, already disgusted with my body, I became committed to changing the body that brought me so much pain. Thankfully, I channeled my frustration and angst into my weight loss regiment. It took many months and a lot of discipline, healthy eating, and exercise, but I was able to lose twenty pounds during my Sophomore year and started to take pride in how I looked for the first time. This is where my story maybe takes a turn from others in the body positive community – part of me is glad that growing up I had a negative body image. If I didn’t, and simply accepted myself for how I looked, I  probably would never have adopted healthier eating and lifestyle habits and would’ve continued spiraling down a path of fried chicken nuggets and scrumptious curly fries. For me personally, being overweight wasn’t difficult just because in society’s eyes something was wrong with me, but more so because I felt  unhealthy – moderate exercise really exhausted me and I’d often have jolts of pain that felt like the  beginning of clogged arteries even though I didn’t know it at the time.  

It might seem fun to eat unhealthy food frequently, and maybe it is in the short-term, but there’s a lot of pain and difficulties that can easily outweigh (yes, pun intended) the ephemeral joy. Over time, as I slowly adjusted my diet to stop feeling so unhealthy my relationship with food improved and I no longer relied  on it for comfort. That process was really difficult and I had to unlearn the bad habits and dependencies I developed over the span of many years. For those of you contemplating a similar transition my advice is to start small, slowly replacing processed fats and sugar with natural fats and sugar from food that you  enjoy eating such that over time your body finds unhealthy food undesirable, which is exactly what happened with me. I eventually reached a point where eating fried and processed food felt nasty and I avoided it at all costs. To this day I actively resist eating fried or fast food and stick to a diet high in vegetables & fruit, high protein, and low carb. After improving my diet and losing even more weight, I vowed to never be fat again and to treat my body like a temple. Unfortunately, even as the weight  gradually began to disappear the insecurity I developed around my body image did not. No matter how  much weight I lost or how my body began to look, I kept feeling that I didn’t look good enough and didn’t live up to the expectations society had of me. 

These insecurities later manifested in college. I can barely recall my junior year and it wasn’t because I was sleep deprived. Enabled by the fraternity I joined and the almost manipulative drinking culture, I  would binge drink and blackout several times a week. Sure, it was lots of fun in the moment and to this day I don’t really regret those decisions, but the proverbial beer belly reared its ugly head. My breaking  point occurred when a close female friend casually remarked one day that I was looking chubby and need to lose weight. I felt that all the progress I had made with accepting my reformed body image and vowing to never be fat again vanished all within a single instant. Just like in high school, I decided to channel my anger and frustration at myself into self-improvement and started working out religiously. In parallel, I also gave up eating meat cold turkey as I strongly believed that all of life is interconnected and must be respected. By the time senior year ended, I had lost the beer belly I was so ashamed of and started to build lean muscle thanks to transitioning to a low carb / high protein vegetarian diet and hitting the gym at least 4 times a week. My relationship with food had completely transformed and I actively sought out healthier options that made me feel better and supported my more active lifestyle. Things were finally  looking up and I never wanted to look back.  

Fast forward a few years and I was back home in San Jose working at a startup with ample free time. Of course I’d continued working out frequently, finding deep satisfaction in pushing myself physically and lifting even heavier weights. I’d often get sore or experience weird muscle pains that led to short breaks and ice baths, but I’d just get back up and keep pushing harder – partly motivated by my body-related insecurities, never feeling satisfied with how I looked despite putting on more muscle, and realizing that  women found me attractive. That all came to a halt on a beautiful summer day in Yosemite. A few weeks  prior my college roommates and I planned a trip to Yosemite to take on the notorious Half Dome hike which claimed several lives and caused hundreds of accidents in the past fifteen years. The hike itself  wasn’t too crazy – 17 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, fairly do-able for folks like me who  hike regularly and like to push themselves. Our initial plan was to wake up in the wee hours of the morning  to start the trek to beat the rising heat and crowds of people that flock to the trail each year, but we encountered a ton of traffic on the route there and ended up reaching camp near midnight. Faced with a  difficult decision of sleeping for three hours before embarking or hitting the trail immediately with no rest, we chose to test our luck and hike in pitch darkness with no rest. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this case is no different. Two of my friends injured their feet landing on rocks at weird angles due to the low  visibility, but despite the injuries and exhaustion we all pushed forward.  

I’m thankful that we successfully traversed the treacherous cables and reached the summit, taking in the magnificent views. But the trouble started after we went back to camp, ate our weight in pizza, and passed out for the night. I woke up to a strange sensation and hoped it was a dream. I couldn’t move my neck. In that moment I was filled with sheer terror; would I ever be able to move my neck again? Did I have a permanent disability? What did I do to myself? Why did I push myself to the extreme? After pounding Motrin and surviving the car ride back home, I shared my experience with my physician who immediately  recommended I get scanned by an MRI machine to figure out what the heck was going on. While that experience itself was torture having suffered from claustrophobia my entire life – imagine being stuck in  a metal coffin with no space around you bombarded with shitty EDM sounds – receiving the results was more painful. I had somehow managed to herniate a disc in my cervical spine (my neck), and the damage would never be undone. There was no treatment beyond medicating the pain away and some physical therapy.  

To this day it remains a mystery why I herniated the disc. I knew a bunch of other people my age who were on a fitness and weightlifting grind who didn’t experience any of these issues. It likely was the result of pushing myself to my limits with improper weightlifting techniques combined with shitty luck. Looking back, I’d like to say I wish I didn’t pursue physical fitness with such an extreme devotion, but I really do enjoy pushing myself and tackling greater challenges. Even if I hadn’t herniated a disc at that point in time, it likely would have happened to me doing some other intense activity eventually. Initially, living with a herniated disc wasn’t so bad. While working out, hiking, and sitting down for extended periods of time caused some discomfort, it never prevented me from living the life I wanted and pursuing my physical  fitness goals. Fueled by my body-related insecurities and desire to push myself, I kept exercising intensely and took on even more extreme hikes like Mt. Whitney (23 mile roundtrip with 6,000 feet in elevation gain over a single day). Sadly, things got worse from there. After completing another arduous hike with friends in Hawaii, I felt another weird sensation – a shooting, numbing pain going down my left arm which  I never experienced before. The strange pain also didn’t go away when I took painkillers, which alarmed me even further. I decided to cut my trip short and head back home to figure out what happened and  took yet another MRI.  

What had happened? I herniated yet another disc, right below the previous one and the weird sensation I was feeling was actually nerve pain caused by the discs impinging nerves near my neck that travel down the shoulder and all the way to the hand. Unlike last time, the pain I felt in general was very high and even sitting down for just 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful. I could no longer run, lift weights, or live the active lifestyle I had become accustomed to. In lieu of those activities, I’ve started swimming more regularly – although it’s difficult to find open and heated pools these days – walking daily, and hiking less intense trails to stay fit. Meditating daily, getting lost in fascinating books, and playing the trumpet are my new ways to destress. Despite all that, it’s still painful watching the muscle mass I had worked so hard to build and maintain over the years slowly fade away as my muscles stopped being nurtured and used. Even when I thought I had reached a place of body positivity, in those ensuing weeks and months, I realized that I never really did. My extreme workouts were partly motivated by never feeling satisfied with how I looked and still feeling like I didn’t live up to the idealized image of the male figure. Losing my muscle mass reignited insecurities and shame that I worked so hard to forget.  

While my disability isn’t noticeable to others externally and I’m spared from others’ judgment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was broken inside permanently and my body failed me. I yet again hated myself and my body for failing to meet society’s expectations. Truthfully, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was exposed to a different way of thinking about myself and body positivity more broadly. I became exposed to the idea on a Facebook social media post about body positivity, that one’s weight is not a reflection of one’s health and being overweight in particular isn’t such a bad thing from an attractiveness, societal, or  health perspective. This broke every belief I had – strongly feeling that being fat is unhealthy, unappealing, and should not be celebrated. After reflecting and discussing with others, I realized that health is a scientific concept and one’s weight does not accurately reflect health – people who may look  overweight might be in good overall health, as paradoxical as it seems. A great example of this is NFL linebackers who typically weigh over 200 pounds and seem very unhealthy in terms of their body shape and size but are way more physically fit than the average person. I also realized that being overweight itself is not an issue to be worried about in isolation; it is the issues associated with being overweight that are the real causes of worry like having clogged arteries, difficulty sleeping, diabetes, etc. In that same vein of thought, I realized that having a body shape, or in my case a body structure, that does not conform with societal norms does not make one any less beautiful, whole, or healthy either. My eyes had been opened to the importance of self-love and body positivity, and how the way we view ourselves has a direct correlation with how we think and behave.  

Last year I decided to make a big change. I adopted an entirely plant-based diet and no longer eat anything related to animals such as honey, ice cream, and pizza. The beautiful thing about being plant-based is it’s actually difficult to eat unhealthy – unless your diet mostly consists of carbs like bread or pasta or vegan junk food like plant-based ice cream and burgers. I’ve been feeling higher energy, don’t have food coma, or crash when I eat, and noticed I was losing weight as well. But being plant-based doesn’t guarantee one won’t gain weight, as I painfully found out after a few months of quarantine when I went home and the first thing my mom said to me was “Beta you’re looking heavier, you put on some weight”.  

Since experiencing that initial epiphany, I have tried to continue practices in self-love and body positivity. I will admit that it is not always easy, and progress is not always linear. I still struggle with moments, days, and weeks of low self-esteem and body negativity. I still check myself out in the mirror every chance I get  and obsessively focus on how my hair looks. I still pinch my belly and love handles, wishing they would  shrink and disappear. I still find moments where I feel physically damaged and hate my body for not being able to do simple things that most of us take for granted like sitting in a car for an hour, bending down to pick things up off the floor, or playing with young children and dogs. While changing my behavior and  mindset is certainly a work in progress, what has been encouraging is that in those situations I remind myself that I am beautiful, do not need to look or participate in certain activities to feel so, and that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  

Whenever I find myself feeling insecure and down on myself because of my body, which inevitably happens and I’ve accepted won’t ever stop, I first accept how I’m feeling and don’t try to fight it. I try to introspect and figure out where these feelings are coming from, and remind myself that the only person’s  opinion that really matters here is my own. What also helps is having a generally positive attitude, which I was able to forge through the difficult times I’ve endured and the realization that dwelling on the negative is a fruitless endeavor. Something else that helps when I feel down is the genuine acceptance that some things in life including negative feelings are out of my control and I should instead focus on controlling the controllables – my actions, behavior and mindset. The power of a positive mindset lies not in being happy all the time, but in preventing one from falling into spirals of negativity.  

If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d try to convey that it’s great to want to adopt  a healthier lifestyle but to be cognizant of what is motivating me to do so. I’d also share that while pushing  oneself is a great trait, it’s also wonderful to accept how you look at any point in time and find yourself  beautiful even if how you appear doesn’t match society’s notions of beauty. I’d tell myself that while Ash Ketchum and other Shōnen protagonists are amazing, I should simply aspire to be the best version of  myself, flaws and all.” -Rohit

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

Alisa: The Insecurity Within

Story 3 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 Alisa’s story, written in her own words:

“I’m Alisa Nguyen-Le, and I’m a 4’11” half white, half Vietnamese cisgendered woman. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with insecurities around my short height, acne, and weight. To this day, I am working towards accepting and loving parts of myself that I once would grimace at. The journey of embracing body positivity and unlearning societal beauty standards is not easy, but to me, it’s crucial in order to live a truly fulfilling life. That is why this project spoke to me so much. 

Around the age of puberty, I started breaking out with severe acne and developed a hatred towards the way my face looked. From once being called pepperoni face to my family always commenting on my skin, I never wanted people to look at my face. Every time I would look in the mirror, all I could see was my pimples and my scars. Because of the insecurity of having acne, I started wearing makeup when I was in the eighth grade to cover up my blemishes. In high school, I would put on a full face of makeup every single day to make me feel more confident and mask my insecurities I was having. When I put on makeup, I felt like a different, more likeable person. It hurt to look at myself in the mirror, and it was impossible to tell myself that I was beautiful unless I had a full face of makeup on.

On top of that, growing up in a community that was predominantly Asian, I always wanted to look more like my Asian side to fit in. With makeup, I felt as if I could alter my looks to be more of the person I wanted to be. When I would look in the mirror, the voice in my head would criticize everything I saw including the paleness of my skin, my acne, my sparse brows, my small lips, and my baby face. After I started to take birth control in college, I began noticing that my skin was getting better. Despite my acne improving, I still felt a lingering insecurity inside of me. I started to realize that the way I felt about myself was internal and that I had the power to change the narrative in my head. When I started to feel “ugly”, I would tell myself that no two people in this world are exactly alike and to embrace the face that nature had given me. By making this a mindful practice in my life, I slowly started becoming more confident in going outside without makeup at all. Finally, I was finally able to tell myself I was beautiful naturally.

Despite my progress in accepting my natural face, I also started to notice my body shape changing after beginning to take birth control. I was gaining weight. In the past, I would be able to eat whatever I wanted without gaining any weight. I would eat a lot and enjoy every moment of it. However, this started to change dramatically, and I started to tell myself that I couldn’t eat the way I used to. I began to feel insecure about the way my body looked, especially when wearing a bathing suit. My thighs were getting thicker, and I started to gain more fat on my stomach. I started to label my arms as flabby and would suck in my stomach when taking photos. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt like I was in someone else’s body. At the time, I was with my now ex-boyfriend and genuinely feared he wouldn’t want to be with me anymore because of the way my body was changing. I would discreetly throw in comments to hopefully receive compliments and validation from him to help make me feel worthy enough. This was also when Instagram influencers started to become more prevalent, and I started developing a habit of comparing myself to more fit, pretty, and skinny girls I saw online. I started going to the gym more regularly, and though it made me feel better, I started to base my self worth on whether or not I gymmed.

To this day, I struggle with only wanting to wear one-piece bathing suits (if I have to wear one), not wanting to wear outfits that show my arms, and avoiding crop tops (even though I love the look) to avoid feeling embarrassed over what people can see behind the fabric. I have fears that folks from high school will see photos of how I look now and think, “wow, she’s thickened,” or “Alisa let herself go.” It’s tough when I look in the mirror, and I’ll think I look good, but when I see myself in photos from the same day, I feel repulsed at how “fat” I look. I’ll genuinely question, “is this really how other people see me?”. During January 2020 (right before the pandemic), I went on a trip to Hawaii. I hated almost every single photo of myself in my bathing suit. After this trip, I told myself that I wanted to make some significant changes in my life to lose weight. I wanted to gym more aggressively, and I wanted to change my diet. I had seen other people try a keto diet and saw that it worked for them, so I told myself that I wanted to give it a try too. Although I started somewhat strong, I quickly started developing my old habits of eating carbs (mind you, I’m a huge foodie and love all foods, so this was incredibly challenging for me). My failed diet made me feel like a failure as a person. 

When the pandemic hit, and gyms started closing, I honestly felt a bit of relief. Relief that I wouldn’t have the pressure of physically going to the gym. I also started to not feel as poorly about not sticking with my diet as my mind had shifted from being hyper-aware of how I looked to getting acclimated to “the new normal” of the pandemic. Although I always knew in the back of my mind that I had an unhealthy obsession with the gym, I never did anything about it. This changed dramatically during lockdown. After having no other choice but to sit down and reflect on what really mattered to me, I deprioritized my looks and shifted my focus to my health and the health of my loved ones. I also began to hear people talk about “quarantine weight,” which made me feel better knowing that other people were on their journeys. Now, my focus is to try to take care of my mind, body, and spirit. If I work out one night, then great. If I don’t, I try not to dwell on it. If I feel like eating something, I will try my best not to feel guilty about it. Of course, I’m a believer in “everything in moderation,” but I recognize it’s natural for things to become unbalanced from time to time. 

It’s a life-long process, and I wish I could say I’ve moved past this internal battle with myself. Because of this internal battle, there are times where I feel like my obsession with exercising manifested itself into an obsession with at-home workouts. There are also times when I fear that I will develop the same obsession I had with the gym pre-covid life. However, in those moments, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself. When I die, I know people won’t remember me for how I looked on Instagram photos, but rather who I am as a person and how I made others feel. When I do feel my insecure mindset starting to creep up, I try to remind myself to channel that energy onto uplifting affirmations instead. I tell myself that everyone is beautiful the way they are, and everyone is on their self-love journey. I tell myself that it’s okay if I don’t look like the model girls I see on Instagram. I tell myself that people love me unconditionally, regardless of how I look. I tell myself that I am beautiful, even if it’s hard to believe at the moment. I know the journey of self-love is difficult, painful, and sometimes almost impossible to endure. However, through resilience and strength, I have faith that everyone will be able to see their natural-born beauty and embrace who they are inside and out. As we live in a digital world, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in beauty standards from what we see on the screen. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that what we see online is curated and does not always reflect reality. However, social media isn’t always negative, and it gives me hope and inspiration to see more body-positive activists spread the message that everyone is beautiful in their own way. 

Although the “body positive” movement is often associated with advocating for bigger bodies in the media (which is absolutely necessary), I hope that one day, the stories of all body types will be shared. It’s important for all people to tell their story so our society becomes more understanding and empathetic of the people we surround ourselves with. For anyone else struggling with their body image, I want you to know that you are loved for who you are, regardless of what you look like. You are beautiful and unique. You are strong and will get through these challenges. If there is one thing that you take away from this story, please remember that you are not alone and we are in this together. You are one of a kind and there will never be someone exactly like you. Embrace it.”

-Alisa