How Instagram Took Me On a Journey To Love My Body

How Instagram Took Me On a Journey To Love My Body

The first time I ever remember someone telling me I was fat, I was probably 9 or 10 years old and we were at a birthday party at the local high school’s pool. It was a popular girl’s birthday party and I remember feeling really cool that I got invited, but that often happened because my best friend was gorgeous and every boy liked her and every girl wanted to be her. I was her sidekick. I was shy, and apparently “fat”.

I had gone to the locker room to change out of my swimsuit and into my clothes and as I was coming out I overheard the birthday girl telling everyone that I was fat. I don’t remember any other detail than that, but that was the first time I thought, “oh you’re not like these girls.”

Looking back on this it’s easy to know why this girl said what she said. At age 10, I had gotten my period. My body had started to change much sooner than these girls’s bodies had. They were all straight as arrows because they weren’t going through puberty, but I was. I had boobs, tiny but there. I had the starting of a curvy body and she had none of that. I’m not saying she was jealous. I’m saying she probably was just pointing out the obvious – my body was changing and theirs wasn’t but as a 10-year old kid all you hear is, “I am ugly.”

This moment and many others shaped how I looked at myself for years. All I wanted to do was be small like the other girls so that boys would like me and I could wear the clothes they did. I’m sure this is what led my mom to take me to dieticians and let go on Weight Watchers in high school when, to be honest, I wasn’t eating badly AT ALL. I was a super healthy kid (minus the stray pop tart + Cherry Coke breakfast I made a ritual my freshman year). My dad required us to play sports year-round so I was constantly working out and my mom made us lunch and dinner most nights so it wasn’t like I was living at McDonald’s.

The summer before college, I was determined to be “skinny” for my new life. I did Weight Watchers and drank a V8 juice for breakfast, ate a bagel for lunch, and then salads for dinner. Not healthy at allllll, but I lost weight and went to college probably the skinniest I had been in my teen years. I promptly gained it all back my freshman year and deemed myself fat and ugly again.

From then on I think I just resigned myself to the fact that this was who I was, but not in a good body-positive way. More of a welp, this is what you get so eat whatever you want and who cares kind of way. It didn’t help that I was depressed because my mom had recently passed away so add in those factors and my body took a real back seat.

When I moved back to Chicago, my dad could tell that the one thing that kept me from being truly happy was what I thought was the elephant in the room: my weight. He offered to get me a trainer and I worked with Ron consistently for months and I did lose weight but I also felt stronger and I loved it. I was back to not exactly eating healthy though. Not on Weight Watchers, but def limiting myself to very little calories and then binging on late-night food. I never really thought of myself having an eating disorder, but looking back on it I definitely did and still do struggle with my relationship with food. Since I consistently work out or have bouts of time where I work out a lot, I have always been able to keep myself more or less within a certain weight or dress/pant size.

My 20s were a time of insane self-consciousness mainly because I was the biggest I had ever been in my life even with the training and weight loss. I was constantly thinking I wasn’t good enough because I was bigger than my friends. Going to stores and realizing I didn’t fit in anything there. Online dating and no one attempting to talk to you. It can be so demoralizing and can put you in such a bad headspace. Not really seeing anyone in the media and  I would have to take breaks from dating constantly because it would get to be too much – being seen as a fetish, guys meeting you and instantly feeling you could see their disgust on their faces, or not even getting messages at all.

Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t this like cloud of darkness over me. I’ve always been a pretty confident person outwardly. Most of my struggle is internal and people have always remarked about how confident I was. That underlying tone being like, “Oh, you’re so confident…since you’re a big girl.” Despite that, I knew I was smart. I knew I was funny. I knew people tended to like me. I knew I had things to bring to the table other than my weight. I knew I was pretty, but I also knew I wasn’t “hot”. Or at least what the media deemed “hot”.

I joined Instagram like most people did back in 2010 to take artsy pictures of things around me and, of course, my food. As it evolved into something bigger and people began using it as a way to monetize, I thought hey I could do that and started to take more pictures of my food and of things to do around Chicago. I started sharing stories and my outfits and people reacted to them so alarmingly positive that I started sharing more of my face on my profile.

I didn’t even know about the body positivity movement and barely followed any plus size bloggers until later. I don’t know how I started following Mindy of @mindycityy but I did and I went to an event at Eloquii and I just felt seen. All these confident plus size women in one room chatting and being confident and being STYLISH. I wanted more of it.

I started doing style shots and sharing more of my looks and got such positive reinforcement that I kept doing more and more and more. And finally I shared a post of me in my underwear and work out outfits showing my stomach and my FUPA – things I had been so ashamed of before, but I wasn’t anymore. This was me. I wasn’t going to hide it anymore. And you know what? Those pictures of me showing my stomach and the parts of me I hate are still some of my most liked photos to date. Because I was vulnerable! Because I talked about something that all of us struggle with daily! I wasn’t doing it for attention, but to make myself more confident and to create a community who saw inspiration in that.

Have I figured out the perfect balance of binging on burgers and working out nailed down yet? No. Do I love my body every day of the week? No. Do I want to lose weight sometimes? Of course! But, I see all these body positive bloggers and Instagrammers out there owning who they are and I feel hopeful that someday I’ll stop caring completely about that stuff. However, the fact that I feel like it doesn’t affect my end happiness anymore is such a weight lifted off my shoulders. Do I think I deserve love despite my weight? Yes, of course. And I’m not sure I would have said that even just a few years ago.

I can’t pinpoint the exact point where I went from someone who was confident on the outside and maybe 45% confident on the inside to who I am now – more like 80% confident on the inside, but it feels great. And I have the community on Instagram to thank for that.

What Being an Athlete Means To Me

What Being an Athlete Means To Me

The last time I considered myself an athlete was high school. I was on teams. I was training. I was actively competing against other athletes.

Then I went to college and I stopped playing team sports, but I knew that if I stopped being active I would gain weight so I still took classes off and on at our athletic center or at a nearby gym for the next four years. Since then, I have been what you’d call and off and on gym goer. Not what I’d have ever considered is an “athlete”.

In my mind, an athlete was someone who was on an organized team and was paid professionally to do it or if you’re on a high school or college level, someone who trains to play competitively. Me going to Pure Barre a few times a week did not categorize me as an athlete. And that was still my thought process until I started the mentorship program with Nike that I am doing now.

When I first signed up for this program through Chicago Ideas I even checked with the organizer/producer to make sure I didn’t need to be a “runner” because sure, I exercise but I’m not running 8 miles a day or anything. She assured me they were looking for all kinds of athletes. I sort of chuckled at the word athlete, but I knew I would make a good mentor since I love motivating young women. And then I went to my first event and felt like such a fraud.

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Our first time meeting our mentees was a few weeks ago at the USWT soccer exhibition game. We got to meet them before the game and make posters, eat lunch, play games and then went to watch the game with girls. The girl I am paired with, Ashley, is a cross country runner – something I know nothing about other than I know you run…a lot. The other mentor Ashley was paired with is a marathon runner and I automatically felt like I shouldn’t even be there. Not only was Kathleen what I considered a real “athlete”, but all the other women in the room also seemed to be more of what you would consider an athlete. A lot of the mentors own fitness studios, played sports at a college level, or have run 5+ marathons. And then there was me – a plus-size woman who exercises occasionally.

Even though I felt like a fraud, I still loved the camaraderie of the group of mentor women and I knew I was still bringing something to the table so this didn’t feel like a total loss. And then we had the 5K yesterday. Like I said, Ashley is a runner so she sped off like a bat out of hell once they said GO and like I said before, I am not a runner. I tried briefly to be one. About 6 years ago, my coworker, Sarah got really into running because our mentor and manager at work were really into it and encouraged us to run the Hot Chocolate 5K with her. For a brief few months, I did the Couch to 5K thing and ran a few 5Ks and tried to run an 8K and then I gave up. Running was just NOT my thing so why try to make it my thing, right? Same thought I had yesterday. Just do what you can and get there. And I did it. I cut a few corners so that I didn’t miss the rest of the day (we had some professional athletes come to talk to the kids after the run!), but I did it. And Ashley was so proud of me. Yes, my mentee was proud of ME. It’s a laughable moment, I know and such a Lifetime movie. Mentor gets a mentee who she learns more from than the mentee learns from her. So cliche. But it’s true.

This whole experience, which isn’t over by the way, has taught me that being an athlete is really just a state of mind. I don’t consider myself an athlete because I ultimately I don’t think I do enough to be an athlete, but like Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” This is incredibly true. My adamant statement that I’m not an athlete I believe comes from being plus-size at the gym. Being plus comes with an assumption that I’m not active or that I don’t know how to use gym equipment or I’ve never set foot in a gym at all. It doesn’t help when you meet new people and tell them that you played traveling volleyball and they respond with, “oh really? Never would have thought you’d play sports.” And maybe that’s also because I come off as a girly girl, prissy sort of person, but in my mind, it’s because they think I can’t possibly move my body because it’s larger than theirs.

Sometimes that’s a hindrance for me to want to go to the gym and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I know I’m strong and other days I believe what I think others see in me. However, I also know the importance of being active. I was a student-athlete once upon a time. I know what strength that gave me – to have a voice, to speak my mind, to get to know other women well. It has taught me so many things that are useful for my corporate world life today. It has taught me that being healthy is important. And I know that is what I am bringing to the table for my mentee. Sure, she is teaching me, but I am teaching her what being strong is just by showing up, by participating, by not giving up.

And I think that’s a much better definition of what an athlete is, don’t you?

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Trial Run: Organic Tampons

Trial Run: Organic Tampons

Let me start this post by saying I am in no way a clean/green natural product expert. I still use non-natural deodorant after a pretty gross rash occurred while using Kopari. I want to try to use more natural cleaning products in my house but haven’t started the transition yet. Clean beauty products are something I have but not exclusively.

However, I read somewhere recently that tampons come in direct contact with very sensitive, highly permeable internal tissue in our bodies (makes sense when you think about it!) and that vaginal tissue contains a very large number of blood vessels and mucous membranes which can carry chemicals and other materials to other parts of your body.

It’s worth noting that the research on the above is so varied. I read article after article while writing this post about if you need to use organic tampons or not and what are the side effects of traditional tampons and one doctor said glyphosate is the main factor for people turning to organic which exists in such trace amounts in tampons that “a lifetime of heavy tampon use doesn’t approach the amount allowed for one day of oral intake.”

So the toxins might not be a major concern, but the idea of organic tampons being biodegradable really spoke to me – especially a plant-based applicator because the less plastic we have that doesn’t disintegrate on this planet is fine by me. Some women also said they felt less hormonal issues (cramping, heavy bleeding) when using organic tampons which also spoke to me since I get really bad cramps during my period.

At which point I was like OK, sounds like I could probably be fine using conventional tampons for the rest of my life, but what is the harm in trying something more natural especially if it’s biodegradable and makes me feel like I’m doing something positive for the earth?

Ironically not long after that, O.B. Tampons reached out to me to see if I wanted to do a collaboration around their organic tampons as did the plant-based feminine care company Honeypot Co. This is what I like to call good old fashioned telling the universe what you want and then it lands right in your lap karma. I’ve also heard really good things about Lola, but I didn’t order any in time for my April period so I will have to add to this post once I receive them in the mail!

Last week, I had my period so I used both organic tampon products and here are my thoughts on organic tampons overall.

CONS: 

  • I felt like I had to switch these tampons out more than conventional tampons. For me, this was comparable to having to apply more natural deodorant throughout the day. It’s doable, but also annoying especially when you’re used to it being so convenient to NOT have to switch out your tampon so frequently. Organic tampons definitely aren’t as absorbent as conventional tampons and that’s what a lot of people usually put in the PRO list because that means it’s less likely for you to get toxic shock syndrome. I usually use Playtex tampons and they are known for being SUPER absorbent so I think the variance there was a big one for me since I’m used to using maybe only 2-3 tampons a day during a heavy day and with organic tampons I used probably more like 5-7.
  • That whole thing about feeling less hormonal? That was a definite NO for me. I had one of the worst bout of cramps I have had in a while this go around. Ones that had me laying on the floor cursing everyone and everything out. I’m not sure if the hormonal thing is something that comes with using the organic tampons more regularly or not, but for me in this instance no I still had heavy bleeding and cramps.
  • The tampons were really easy to insert, but sometimes when removing them it hurt a little bit more than conventional tampons seemed to. This isn’t a deterrent for me, it wasn’t enough pain to make me not want to use them, more of a like, “Oh, that isn’t what it normally feels like”.
  • Organic tampons are much more expensive. I could get a 36 pack of non-natural tampons for the same price as a box of 18 organic tampons.

PROS

  • For me, the fact that both products were biodegradable is a big draw for me and would overshadow a lot of the cons.
  • O.B. actually has applicators that are 92% plant-based which again makes me feel better about trashing them. Honeypot’s applicators are plastic just BPA free.
  • In general, just feel better about what I am putting in my body and what I am putting back in the earth.

Overall, I thought my experience with organic tampons was a positive one. I would 100% buy organic in the future and try different size tampons and companies to find the right one for me.

I wouldn’t say O.B. or Honeypot won over one another. They both had good products that did what they said they would. O.B. might have a bit of an edge because they have plastic-free applicators, but Honeypot was founded by women, donates their time and money to menstruation charities like Happy Period, and is a start-up so really both would keep me as customers moving forward.

If you want to read more on the subject of if organic tampons are right for you, I suggest this article which helped me a lot when I was doing my own research.

15 Years

It’s been 24 days since the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death and I’ve had the draft of this sitting on my desktop since then trying to figure out what to say to convey how I dealt with my grief. I knew I wanted to acknowledge her anniversary somehow and, in my mind, the best way to do that was to write a post about how lately I’ve really felt like I’ve been working through my grief. In the simplest terms, what I originally anticipated this to be was a love letter to myself. Kind of like, HEY Guys, look at me, I dealt with my grief and now I want a pat on the back!

But that to me seems laughable now. It’s funny right that you can have such a clear vision of how you are feeling at any given moment and think you will continue to feel the next day and the day after that, but then just a few days later I’m like, “wait, did you actually deal with your grief? No, you don’t deserve a pat on the back.”

In all honesty, I don’t think I fully dove into my grief ever. I’ve been chipping away at it over the last 15 years as I found the strength. And that’s the thing about grief, right? It’s different for everyone. Mine was a slow burn and honestly something I probably won’t ever get over, but something I will learn to burden me and less and less so eventually it doesn’t affect my relationships and how I live my life.

In the past, I let my grief dictate a lot of how I lived my life. Some aspects made me, in my opinion, better. It made me want to grab every opportunity I could. A friend wanted me to visit her in New Zealand? Yep, doing that because I might not be able to do it ever again. Should I bungee jump? Yes. Should I skydive? For sure. I am really proud that I have literally lived my life to the fullest, but that does have its drawbacks…like zero savings in my 30s and packing on pounds because I should definitely treat myself to that milkshake because who knows if I will ever be able to experience a milkshake again. It’s a slippery slope.

My grief also was detrimental. It made me guarded. I felt like I needed to be strong. For whom? I’m not really sure. Maybe for other people around me so they didn’t have to be made uncomfortable around my grief? But that strength meant numbing the pain and that meant closing myself off to relationships that were scary. Scary relationships were ones that could be ripped away from me – particularly romantic ones. A lot of my “relationships” right after my mom passed were with people who were unavailable – they had girlfriends, they were long distance – in other words they were fleeting. They couldn’t hurt me because they weren’t going to be around long and I knew that.
I was watching Poldark lately, which if you don’t watch and you’re into BBC period dramas then you ABSOLUTELY MUST, and the main character said a really interesting quote to another character whose child had just passed away.

“To be strong is weakness. Tears must fall.”

The quote really hit me in the gut because it made me realize that I had been trying to be so strong that I was actually not feeling the pain. To feel the pain is actually the stronger action.

Since then I’ve tried to change in small ways to let that weakness and grief through. One is to be able to talk about my mom. Even 15 years later, talking about her makes me really emotional. Surface level things are easy to chat about. She liked candy apples. Her birthday was in September. She had a David Yurman bracelet exactly like that! It’s harder to go deeper. I’ve recently started dating someone and I find it especially hard to talk about my mom with him. I think I’ve realized it’s because I’ve really never met anyone since she passed away that I would have wanted her to meet and it’s really hard for me to come to terms with the fact that she never will meet him. Sitting with that grief and actually letting myself grieve the fact that she’s not here for that is something I probably would have grazed over in the past, but I’m trying to truly let myself sit with that sadness now.

Another small change is just having a year of NO. I know most people have a year of yes, but I’ve actually had probably too many years of yes. I am constantly overdoing it and I need to scale back. One way, in particular, is with friendships. After my mom passed I had a hard time of letting any friendships sort of fade and fizzle out. I didn’t want to lose anyone else so I kept people around that maybe I shouldn’t have. My goal this year is to maybe be a little less social, let those friendships fizzle that should have naturally fizzled a long time ago. Inner circles don’t need to be 50 people deep and that is something small I am working to fix over this year.

Also on the docket, spend more time with the people who do really matter and who have been there for me through it all. They are the people it would really hurt to lose and I need to remember that.

My journey with grief is far from over and may actually never be over, but I am proud of how far I have come. If you had known me in college, you would know things are a lot healthier over in this noggin these days. I’ve let the grief soak in below the surface more and I will continue to in 2019.

I guess I will take that pat on the back after all.

Let’s Get Real About Content Creation

Every once and a while, I will see some posts or stories circulate around Instagram that talk about #sponsored posts. The gist of these posts are the following:

  • As a non-content creator, you probably don’t understand that we don’t just do sponsored posts to be annoying on your feed. It’s actually, in fact, because we are trying to make money!
  • Please like and comment on my post so I can make more money.
  • Please and thank you!

Usually, I see these posts and I commiserate, I’m all like, “Yea girl, PREACH!” because I too participate in doing sponsored content with companies and brands and like these other men and women I want to do the best job I can for a brand and they determine my ROI by reach and impressions and likes and engagement. The better all of that is, the more brands want to work with you and the more you can make money.

Add in the drama of Instagram algorithm that might hide your post from your community and doing brand partner posts can be really stressful. Let’s not start on the algorithm. Another post, another day!

I saw a recent Instagram rant though that phrased her frustration a little differently. It basically said, you know those posts you see that look “a little too perfect with a product prominently displayed and the captions that often feel fake?”, you should like and comment on them, it’s how we make money. She went on to say some good points about supporting that person because this is their job and it doesn’t take long to like or comment on a photo if you enjoy their content. Then she goes on to say, “Sponsored posts can be annoying, but if you can look past the cheesy caption and awkwardly placed product you’ll see a woman working hard.”

OK, here’s my issue. We as content creators keep putting this blame of not getting enough likes or comments on the follower/our audience. What if instead of creating content that looks “too perfect” or using “cheesy captions” that might feel authentic, we decided to try something new? What if we took the fewer likes or fewer comments as a kick in the ass to be like, “You know what, maybe I need to try some new things (poses, locations, colors, angles!), see what content my audience wants to see more of, take it up a notch!”

Again, let’s take the Instagram algorithm thing out of the equation because I see really creative, unique content out there that is getting suppressed and unfortunately it’s an issue but it’s a different issue than the one I’m trying to address today.

What I’m trying to say is that we as content creators need to take responsibility for that content we are creating and then ultimately how it performs. Creating content and doing sponsored ads is marketing. Marketing is a lot of trial and error and then strategy and execution. As owners of our brand and content, we should be constantly testing out new things in small doses, see if it works and if it does implement that across our strategy. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it or adapt it slightly and see if that affects your follows/likes/comments.

If you look back in the deep dark depths of my Instagram posts you will see a lot of trial and error that I did. For a while, I took a lot of black and white photos because I liked that aesthetic on other accounts I followed, but I quickly realized it didn’t lend itself to my personality. I am color, I am loud, I am opinions and the community that followed me could see that and wasn’t really engaging as much with the softer, quieter tones I was playing with.

Too often I feel like I see bloggers or content creators doing the same thing when promoting a product. 20 different bloggers doing the same pose, the same background, the same colors, using the same caption. If our content looks like the rest of the content for that same campaign, then how are people setting you apart from the crowd? Why would they want to like or comment on it if it’s seemingly inauthentic, tired and fake?

I have a lot of blogger friends who I give a lot of credit because they are constantly strategizing with their photographers or sounding boards (aka boyfriends or friends or colleagues) about creative and unique ways to stand out from the crowd and trying to cut through the crowd with their own authentic voices.

 

Their product placement makes me intrigued and that’s the whole point, right? I want to see something and be intrigued enough to not just like a photo, but also to swipe up or click that link in that bio! We may be content creators, but we have to be marketers first. That means knowing your audience, engaging with that audience, figuring out what works and what doesn’t from your metrics and then course correcting if needed.

That’s not to say you can’t have AMAZING content and it still doesn’t get likes or views (bc algorithm but again another post, another day), or that you sign a contract with a brand and they have very strict guidelines that you have to abide by which might limit how you can talk to the product or pose with the product or style your photo so I do get those limitations. I’m just encouraging us all to think about this process from the viewpoint of the client and our audiences because sometimes I think we lose sight of that obligation.

And it also doesn’t mean that the woman who wrote the comments above isn’t right. I agree it’s not hard as an audience member to like a post and support another woman trying hard to compete for business. Support, support, support. But let’s also as content creators not become complacent and keep adapting and doing things to deserve that engagement and support.

NOTE: I am not perfect. This doesn’t mean I haven’t done the things mentioned above. I definitely have taken a similar shot as someone, posed in the same way as someone, used a caption that wasn’t that creative. We all do it! Sometimes that’s what feels most authentic to you and you always gotta do you.