They say your metabolism slows to a barely noticeable crawl in your late twenties. At 29, I’ve come to realize how unbearably true this statement is.
My body isn’t as forgiving of all my chocoholic, soda-loving ways, and suddenly, exercising isn’t just about having something to do—it’s a necessity.
It’s an adjustment I still haven’t mastered, my incessant sweet tooth and lack of coordination making fitness a difficult venture for me personally. I’ve never felt the need to worry about my weight, feeling at least okay in my skin.
Until a recent photograph made me stop in horror.
A few weeks ago, my husband was working on his amateur photography skills and convinced me to be his model to test perspectives and shots. I slinked into a black shirt I’d just bought and my skinny jeans, feeling pretty okay about myself.
And then I saw the photos when they were finished.
Suddenly, all I could see were stomach rolls and stomach pudge. I didn’t see the lovely backdrop or the way he’d captured the sunset just perfectly. I didn’t see the huge smile on my face or anything except what I could only describe as a bulging, thick middle-section.
I was horrified.
As a teenager, I’d never had to try to be thin. Blessed with what I’d always assumed was an eternally fast metabolism, I didn’t have to worry about saying “no” to a piece of cake or takeout. My stomach was mostly flat and, although like so many teenage girls, I went through many self-conscious phases, I was never embarrassed by my body. I always had a semblance of confidence from knowing I was fairly thin.
Staring at the girl in the photo a few weeks ago, though, that “okay” feeling was obliterated. Suddenly, I felt sick knowing I could no longer be confident in any outfit. I felt like I was now the girl who had to hide behind others in photographs or wear a strategically flowing shirt to cover what I could only describe as repulsive.
I swore to myself I’d change it. I’d go on a diet and workout extra hard. I’d get back to the flat stomach girl I used to be. I’d get rid of the bulge and find my confidence again.
Like so many women, I became obsessed with the imperfections. I set my eyes on this goal of perfection, of sleekness and flat abs from my past.
However, when I explained my plan and horror to my husband, he gave me a look like I was crazy. “What are you talking about? There’s no stomach bulge. You look fine.”
After putting down my self-made detox water recipe I’d found on Pinterest and tuning out the grumbling of my stomach, I looked at the picture again.
The stomach bulge was still there. The muffin top was still visible, at least to me, and the sleek, flat stomach of my past was still a distant dream.
However, glancing at the photograph, I realized something.
I truly am no longer the flat-stomached teenager of my past. I’ve got curves and bulges where there used to be none.
But I’ve also got a new sense of wisdom, a new toolbox of life experience, and a new vision for my future than my flat-stomached self did. I’ve grown and changed. I’ve learned and lived. I am not that same teenager in mind, body, or spirit.
And that’s okay.
As women, so many of us get stuck on the parts of ourselves we don’t think are perfect. We judge ourselves with a critic’s eye. We base our sole worth as a person on a single snapshot, on a bulge we overemphasize in our mind, or an imperfection we think is prominent.
Looking at my picture again, I glanced past the imperfect spot my eyes wouldn’t stop seeing—and I saw something else that so many of us struggle to see.
I saw the smiling woman I’ve become, a woman of determination and dreams. I saw the woman who is far from physically perfect but is uniquely her own.
I saw myself for the first time as more than just the size of my waist or the color of my lipstick. I saw past the idea of perfection that has been engrained in my mind.
Instead, I saw the real, true-life me who is almost thirty and not perfectly fit. I saw the real-life me who is doing the best she can and needs to work on some areas of life. I saw the real-life me who has her moments of doubt but has an amazing husband who helps build her back up when she can’t get past some hang-ups.
I still don’t like the picture. We are sometimes our own worst critics, and beauty is truly subjective. We all, however, have our hangups and areas of self-consciousness.
Still, I’ve come to realize I need to cut myself some slack, as we all do.
I’m far from perfect, and that’s okay. I am more than a single moment, a single snapshot, a number on the scale, or a bulge on my stomach.
We all need to learn to let go of this idea of perfection with our bodies. We need to learn to see the true beauty in ourselves and in each other.
We need to learn to love the real-life versions of ourselves, perceived muffin top, stomach bulges, and all.
Lindsay Detwiler is a published contemporary romance author of seven novels and a high school English teacher. To learn more about her works, visit her website.