See this picture? The one on the main page here? Yeah, that one. That is not what I look like. We all know that “skinny mirror” that’s in our house, the one that we stand in front of when we’re getting ready and think “man, I look DAMN good…in this mirror” lol. That one that’s tilted juuuuust the right way, or has some special kind of glass that just makes us look fabulous. I found myself standing in front of one such mirror at my girlfriend’s house this past weekend, and really just wishing that I looked like my reflection in real life. This got me reflecting on why I was having this thought, and how summer seems to bring with it not only beautiful weather, but some seriously damaging body image ideals as well.

I have always considered myself a confident person. My weight has fluctuated up and down (sometimes drastically) over the past two decades, and even while I’ve been told what a beautiful woman “should” look like, I’ve always felt that I’m enough, just as I am. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get upset when “cool” guys yell out derogatory terms at me while I’m innocently standing at the bus stop, or when girls at the bar snicker at what I’m wearing because it’s not what a “fat” person should have on, but it does mean that I’ve never felt the need to drop pounds or change what I look like for someone else. That being said, every year as the weather gets warmer, and the layers come off, and bikini bootcamp advertisements run rampant, I find myself feeling self-conscious about what I look like just a little bit more than the rest of the year.

I’ve talked very openly about losing 80 pounds since my ex-husband and I split, but I’ve never really talked about how it happened. It was honestly never about feeling like my husband left me because I wasn’t pretty enough, or skinny enough. It was never about wanting to lose weight to meet a new man. It actually happened super organically because I changed my diet to help with my psoriatic arthritis, and then fell in love with dancing my butt off! With those two very simple changes to my lifestyle, I happened to lose a lot of weight, but it was never about a revenge body or impressing men for me. It was always only about me. Knowing this to be true is what makes how I felt this past weekend so hard for me to understand. Why, if I’m so confident and happy with the way that I look, do I still find myself wanting to look different?

The sad truth is that even as the body positivity movement grows and takes on a life of its own, there is so much unlearning that I need to do. I need to unlearn what I’ve been told my entire life really, that unless you’re thin, men won’t want you, and you won’t be successful, and that you can’t be happy (and that you can’t wear a bikini!)! For almost 36 years I’ve taken in that skinny is the only way, and even while I never truly felt that way in my heart of hearts, it was told to me by so many people, in so many hurtful ways, that it lurks in the back of my mind like a relentless tick that just won’t go away. Well, wouldn’t go away until now that is, because this summer is the time for change.

I’m not saying that I’ll feel the need to walk down the street in a bikini tomorrow, but I am going to make a conscious effort over the next few months to let go of the body image standards that have been imprinted on me. I will confidently walk up to the ice cream truck and order a cone without worrying that someone is judging me for eating something “fattening”; I will wear that tank top without thinking my arms look too fat; and I will smile and give gratitude to anyone who thinks they need to comment on my weight, my clothing choices, or anything of the sort, because they are obviously fighting a battle within themselves, and could use some love and support.

So here’s to living healthy, active, fulfilling lives, and wearing a size 2, 8 or 14 (or whatever the hell size you wear!) loudly and proudly. I’m including a few pictures below of me at many weights throughout my life, and the one thing you’ll notice I’m wearing in all of them is a SMILE (well, except for my weird head tilt in the bikini picture, but I thought I’d be super brave and include that one!). Let’s create a summer body image movement for ourselves, our mothers, our sisters, our friends, our daughters, our nieces, and every woman who’s ever been asked if she realllllly needs that second (or third, or fourth!) cookie, because guess what?! If she took another cookie, you better believe she wants it! Oh, and let’s smash those “skinny” mirrors too while we’re at it! XO