100. The Beauty Within

100. The Beauty Within

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

The Beauty Within

Real beauty is to be true to oneself. That’s what makes me feel good.

~Laetitia Casta

When I was growing up, there was always something good cooking or baking in the kitchen: Sunday sauce and meatballs, roast beef with mashed potatoes and peas, lasagna, pumpkin pie and brownies for dessert.

My parents, who’ve been lovingly married for forty-five years, contributed to my strong sense of wellbeing, emotional health and body image. My father always told my mother how beautiful she was no matter what size she was and my siblings and I were always told how wonderful we were. My parents were caring and respectful of each other and of us; they were great role models for how to treat ourselves and others.

That’s why it was hard for me to understand how overwhelming my body issues became after giving birth to my son when I was eighteen. Pre-baby, I was 5’11”, size 10 and 145 pounds. I assumed I would be thin forever. I wasn’t prepared for the whopping 77 pounds I gained in those nine months.

It took me twenty-four years to accept that it wasn’t just a baby that changed my body — it was also being a working, single mother, with all the accompanying emotions: guilt, fear, loneliness, and exhaustion. I dealt with my emotions by eating. An extra serving of fried chicken always worked, right?

As time went on, society seemed more judgmental about women and their bodies. And I hadn’t changed my childhood eating habits. I was still treating myself to cereal, sodas, ice cream, baked potatoes, pizza, pumpkin pie and lasagna — all the foods I thought were “fun” and symbolized good times, holidays, and weekends. I worked long days as a florist and that meant unscheduled eating and quick, feelgood, cheap meals most nights.

The stress of being a single mom and running a small business affected me deeply. I began to feel as though I didn’t deserve to be happy or loved. But food never let me down or made me sad.

My father always told my mother how beautiful she was no matter what size she was.

After my son left for college, I felt lost. It got worse when he subsequently joined the United States Marine Corps.

But it wasn’t until one very long, emotionally draining romantic relationship ended badly that I took control of my life. The end of the romance made me realize that I had to stop letting other people decide if I was beautiful. My weight did not define my beauty inside or out. And most importantly, I realized that I deserved more for myself. I was going to put myself first. I finally accepted that I was the only one responsible for my happiness.

I started riding my bike down to the beach and to and from work. The exercise helped me get through those long days at work and helped me with all the emotions of missing my son. I started to eat salads and more vegetables and fish. I cut out sodas, snacks, and pastas. I bought books on detoxing and sugar. If my son could endure becoming a Marine, I thought, then I could work out and make healthy choices and go to his boot camp graduation 20 pounds lighter.

I wanted to make him proud of me.

I joined a cross-fit gym and loved it. It was hard, but they were kind and motivating. I learned how one’s body reacts to weightlifting and a healthy diet. I was focused. I felt amazing. And after only a few weeks, I was down 8 pounds!

But it wasn’t really about the weight, it was about a shift in my core. I felt stronger, inside and out. I was making better choices with the food I put in my body and seeing the results in glowing skin, better sleep, and more energy.

It’s now four years later, and I’m happy to report that I am in love — with myself, with my life, and with the most genuine, wonderful, loving and supportive man I have ever met. We ride bikes together, we cook, and we laugh. Being happy has done wonders for my figure. And, like my father did for my mother, he makes me feel beautiful every day, no matter what size I am.

My son, who is an inspiration to me, returned home after serving four years in the military. At home, we don’t eat processed foods and I have an organic vegetable garden.

Once in a while, I indulge in some good old-fashioned fried chicken. But mostly, I surround myself with healthy food, good people, work I’m proud of, and lots and lots of beautiful flowers.

I don’t feel plus size; I feel my size.

~Jenny Wildflower

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