January 3, 2018: 2:04 AM

The beginning of the New Year is filled with urgent and strong worded resolutions. Weight loss is always at the top of the list for most Americans, especially women. That is why I was I surprised to experience the realization that my body is worth acceptance, no matter the size, in January of 2018. I can look in the mirror and accept myself. Accept my body for what it is. Every curve and bit of pudge in every place that society deems it to be unflattering and inconvenient. The problem is it can be difficult to keep that strength throughout the year. 

I am a healthy weight. Sure, I might have a tummy and thick thighs. My hipbones don't protrude when I lay down and my face is full. But I'm not obese. When I go to the doctor, they tell me that my BMI and weight are on par with my height. 

But ever since I can remember, I've typically been the bigger person in my age group. I've always been tall (fully grown, I am now 5' 7"), my best friend was underweight during her elementary and preteen years, and I was surrounded by skinny individuals in dance classes and in the school musicals. I was constantly comparing myself to my peers, wishing I could fit into the (insanely minuscule) size large costume for my sophomore year dance company show. I tried not to break down in tears while the costume designer desperately tugged the zipper around my midsection, as everyone else was able to comfortably fit their petite bodies in the Forever 21 dresses.  

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a negative body image of myself. I remember looking down at my thighs and despising how they spread when I sat down in the car. I must have been only seven years old. My stomach always stuck out a little like the start of a pregnant belly, and I easily latched on to the culture of all the older females in my family saying, "I have to lose weight" and "I hate this big belly." 

In high school, I was determined to change my body. I had always aspired to be skinny, and I would be skinny no matter the cost. 

When I have a goal that I am strongly invested in, it takes my world by storm. Recalling how devoted I was to my studies back in high school, I laugh at how strict I was with attendance and not missing a single assignment or extra credit opportunity. I would compulsively check my grades online at least three to four times a day. I applied the same obsessive behaviors to losing weight. 

Tracking exercise became my obsession. 10,000 steps was the goal, and even sometimes that was never enough. I would count every calorie I consumed, and made sure I did extra exercises so I would burn way more than I took in. I would celebrate when I managed to only eat 800 calories a day, and frown when I ate out with my family and pushed 1600. I skipped meals when no one was watching, and tried to go to sleep before 10 PM to avoid the hollow feeling of my stomach growling throughout the night. 

I went through all of that emotional turmoil and you know what? It worked. I got slim. I was giddy off the feeling of my ribs sticking out when I laid down, and I could finally wear a crop top confidently. But after a while I burned out. It wasn't healthy. I would push myself for every last bit of energy that I owned in order to keep up with waking up at 6 AM for school every day, going to dance practice and clubs, and by the end of the day when my homework was all finished and my FitBit tracker notified me that I had burned at least 2,000 calories that day, it was at least midnight or 1 AM. 

 It was never enough for me. My family complimented my newfound slimness and admired my dedication, but I always shot it down and said I wanted more. Even though at times the scale told me I lost 1-2 pounds a day, I always wanted to be skinnier. I would look in the mirror and exclaim that my stomach just wasn't flat enough! And when my weight wouldn't budge for two or three days, I would explode in frustration. 

Finally, I got out of that situation. I stopped harshly restricting food, and I quit dancing for a bit. I realized that the environment I was in was too emotionally tiring for me, and not supportive of my mental health. All of this didn't come without shame though. Repeatedly I would relapse, feeding off of my family members going on their restricted diets and criticisms of their eating a cupcake. Even today I'm afraid that I might give in again. But I realized that the shame I forced upon myself for being 100 calories over my 1100 per day limit was just as intense as if I lost the $20 that my mom gave me to pay for groceries, or if I offended a friend. And now I understand that providing nourishment for my body in no way equates to any kind of treason. 

 In the past year I have been following numerous body-positive accounts on social media, trying to boost my confidence and believe that I can be beautiful no matter what size. My body keeps me alive every day. It pumps blood through my veins and shields me from infections, heals my cuts and provides me with insulation. It is unfair to constantly criticize my figure when all it does is live and work for me. 

In the past months I’ve finally realized that I can be happy with my weight. My boyfriend consistently tells me that he loves my figure. Although he has said that for the past year, I can finally comprehend that he means those words and isn’t just saying what I want to hear. Now I look in the mirror and see the beauty that he sees. For real this time. The point is: it doesn't matter what size I am, as long as I am happy and healthy. I deserve to realize that I am beautiful. Now, I finally feel proud of my body.

 -Vera Armstead

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Vera Armstead is a 19 year old woman from Crofton, Maryland. She studies Psychology and English at St. Mary's College of Maryland and aspires to be a novelist. She is passionate about dance, film, literature and family.