If you follow me on Snapchat, you may have seen me posting this week about having been a face of body positivity in my mid-teens.
I usually try to stay away from this topic entirely because, as I write below, it’s something that has been really difficult for me to navigate. I’m addressing it now for two reasons. First and foremost, I have young girls following me who regularly ask me questions about my body – from why I’ve stopped sharing it in the same way, to how I’ve lost weight, and why things have “changed.” Second, I get a lot of comments like the one below from people saying that I’ve suddenly switched up and never post about body positivity “now that [I’m] skinny.” This just isn’t okay.
As many of you know, I grew up dancing. I was always told I had a “mature” body being that I had a larger butt and legs. It wasn’t something I was particularly self-conscious of, though, because everyone in my family had a somewhat similar body type. When I was about 14, I decided I wanted to be a model. I started recruiting members of my family to take photos of me in our backyard, on vacations, and pretty much anywhere possible so that I could spend my weekends submitting to modeling agencies.
Fast forward to 2020, when lockdown forced every high school student into online learning and suddenly – without hours and hours at the dance studio because even dance class had been taken online – I had a lot of free time on my hands. I started posting every single day to TikTok and it didn’t take long for my videos to gain traction. My first video blew up and without a lot of thought or intention, I became a new face of body positivity.
I was so excited! I felt like all of my dreams were coming true as I watched celebrities recreate my videos, news outlets broadcasting me on TV, podcasts asking me to guest speak, and, best of all, I was finding a community of girls and women online who told me I made them feel more beautiful.
At first, this was incredible. It almost felt like a sisterhood, where everyone was cheering me on and telling me how much my success positively affected them. They saw me on this upward trajectory getting brand deals, more followers, and love online for being who they thought I was.
I felt pressured to keep up this image of eating whatever I wanted and not caring. So even though my parents usually cooked for us and we weren’t allowed a lot of junk food as kids, I started eating a lot of processed food, just to prove that I was still beautiful even if I were eating drive-through tacos or pizza. The problem was, though, that I didn’t feel good. I was tired, irritable, uncomfortable, and sad. I didn’t realize that I was filling my body with foods that were providing no nourishment in the name of pleasing other people.
This type of content was doing well on my TikTok, and I didn’t want to disappoint people. They liked seeing me, in bikinis, tummy out, eating crappy foods. I felt like I was boxed into this image and that if I tried to get out of it, people would think I was selling out. They had decided body positivity was my brand, and at first I ran with it because I thought I was doing something good for the people who were consuming my content. During this time, though, I was forced to be so incredibly aware of my body that I was exhausted, mentally and physically.
I would get thousands of positive comments everyday about how beautiful I was, how much comfort I was bringing to others, and how much they supported me. But as more love came in, hate followed closely behind.
I was reading comments about my body every single day. They ranged from people praising me for being myself to people calling me disgusting and fat, and everything in-between. It was overwhelming and confusing, to be just 16-years-old and to be receiving so much feedback about MY body.
There were also times I was posting photos of myself that I felt good about, and people would comment telling me I was “brave” and thanking me for posting these photos of myself, which felt like a backhanded compliment and really damaged my confidence. I started questioning whether or not I should feel good about my body in the first place, since so many people seemed to think it was bold and nuanced of me to love myself.
I started wearing more clothes and covering up as much as possible. I developed a severe eating disorder and had to seek treatment. My family had to watch me eat to make sure I wasn’t skipping meals. I felt depleted of mind, body, and soul. I had started a vibrant, goofy, happy young girl and somewhere in my journey had become an empty shell of myself. It’s not something I talk about a lot, but it was a very dark time for me and everyone who loves me.
Then, I met some of my now closest friends who introduced me to God, and also to a deeper understanding of health and wellness. I stopped filling my body with junk food and focused on cooking/eating foods that gave me energy and made me feel good. I started healing my relationship with food and starting celebrating again. I began working out for the first time since I stopped dancing and felt like I was shaking off rust that had grown over me when I froze under the pressure of 20 million eyes who all wanted different things from me.
I did lose weight, but it wasn’t necessarily intentional. I was just finally taking care of myself and, not to mention, I was aging. Everyone expected me to stay exactly the same as I was when I started this journey at 16, both physically and mentally. That is such a huge aspect of what I try to relay to young girls when they DM me asking what I did to lose weight. They tell me they’re unhappy in their bodies and that they want to be thinner. I tell them that they don’t need to diet, workout insanely, or get work done. You change SO much in your teenage years and your body is adjusting to new heightened hormones, growth, and change. I tell them to be patient, to eat healthy and balanced meals, and to find an activity they love to do – whether it’s dancing, walking, running or an exercise class.
To the people who love to remind me that I look thinner now, or claim that I’m no longer body positive because I’ve lost weight, I say this: I have lost weight because I am changing from a young girl to a young woman. At 19 years old now, my hormones are balancing out, I’m healing my relationship with food, and I’m feeling better than ever. My doctor and I agree I am not under or overweight, and that where I am now is healthy for me.
In regard to body positivity, you’re right. I’m not body positive anymore, because I am trying with everything I have to become body neutral, to wake up and not weigh myself. To not have my first thought be, “how do I look in this?” To not pay attention when ADULTS are critiquing my CHILD body from three years ago. That is my goal now.
If people have a problem with me reclaiming my body, I hope they know that I am not sorry. I will not apologize for growing up, learning what works for me, and prioritizing my health and well-being over pleasing people on the internet. My body didn’t belong to me back then, but it certainly does now.
To all of the people who have continued to support me, love me, and grow with me, thank you. Your support means the world to me, and I hope we can continue to learn more about how to love ourselves well, together.<3