The first time I had to run the mile in grade school, I ran it faster than anyone else. I was so into it, that when I got to the final lap, I couldn't get control of my body and had to plow into the (padded) gym wall to stop. Much of my young sports career ended in the same way - tons of speed and effort with little control - because I hadn't grown into my gangly limbs and awkward 5"9 frame yet. It wasn't until my junior and senior years of high school that I finally filled out. Those long and scrawny limbs were replaced by 15 extra pounds of control in the form of solid muscle. It's never left.
In high school, I never felt much different than my friends. Most of them were teammates - athletes who played lacrosse and tennis with me - and also happened to be pretty tall, but when I was recruited to play DI lacrosse in college, things changed. Strength training and conditioning amped up big-time, and I put on another ten pounds of pure muscle. It was the best I had felt in years. My body was invincible, but social media was telling me a different story. With the explosion of Instagram in my college years, I was introduced to the new "normal" woman. She was delicate, feminine, and petite... Glowing from every angle with a defined waist, full chest, symmetric face, and seamless skin. Definitely not me.
On Saturday nights out freshman year with my two best friends (also on the lacrosse team), guys would comment and point from across the room saying how large and strong our legs and arms were, but it was hardly a compliment. We were intimidating because we were strong, and I was even more so because I was tall. During lift, girls on our team would fake reps or sneak off to do abs in the corner. This led to a lot of injuries, but I didn't blame them. I felt it too. They didn't want to look manly. It was then that I started to question the beauty of strength. Images of the same "womanly" figures nagged me on Instagram every morning. Part of me wanted to be like them. I wanted curves. I wanted their soft tone. I wanted to be delicate. But, a much bigger part of me didn't want to accept the new "normal."
I enjoyed conditioning more than anything, even more than lacrosse itself. The rush of adrenaline and blood pumping wasn't only good for my heart, but it was good for my soul. This love of exercise, motivation, activity, and strength has stayed with me to this day. So have my muscular legs. The difference is that I've made a conscious effort to embrace my body. I'm embracing what my legs and strength have allowed me to accomplish. I've rediscovered the beauty in my strength. It's crazy how choosing this body positive mindset has turned my life around.
It hasn't been easy, especially when you feel that your body isn't represented in the "norm." The truth is that diversity in shape, weight, size, race, and ethnicity is the real normal. It's extremely frustrating to see girls on Instagram rocking a pair of baggy-but-somehow-perfectly-flattering boyfriend jeans, but then when I go to try on the same pair in my size, they look like skin-tight jeggings. Believe me, I get it. Keep this in mind, though, the next time you're wondering why everyone in your newsfeed looks perfect: No one wants to post an ugly photo. When given the option, most people are going to try and look their best... whether that means pushing your butt out to kingdom come, only capturing your "good side," or always standing in perfect lighting. They're creating an illusion of the person they want us to see.
We all have something that we wish we could change about our bodies. A plus-sized woman wishes she wasn't, a short person dreams of being tall, a pregnant woman post-partum wants her old figure back... The list goes on and on. Instead of dwelling on what we don't have, let's start embracing what we do have. One of the most important lessons my mom taught me is, "Be good to yourself." Your body is an incredible system. Maybe you're not where you want to be weight-wise. Maybe you didn't get dealt the Victoria's Secret Model deck. You can't change what you have, but you still have plenty worth celebrating. Don't let what's out there prevent you from being confident in who you are.
Falling in love with your body is a process. Pick a few of your favorite features and grow from there. All we need is a little positive reinforcement from ourselves and from others. I was blessed with a fivehead, rectangular shape, and those two darn pieces of genetic armpit fat, but I'm so done hating what I can't control. Here's to all the beautiful, underrepresented bodies out there - especially, the strong-willed and strong-bodied athletes like myself. We can't overhaul the system in one day, but we can most certainly do our part by radiating a little more body positivity and embracing what we've got. It's about time for the old "normal" to step aside.