I think most people have something about themselves that they don’t like, whether that’s a facial feature, the shape of their body, even their hair or their height. I’m one of them. It’s no secret that I have body insecurity issues. I used to tell myself, “I’ll love my body once I lose weight. I won’t dislike myself anymore if I’m not fat.”

But that was me lying to myself. Because I’ve been skinny, and I still hated myself. Even when I was 130 pounds, I thought I was fat. In the photo below, I was a high school senior. I remember photoshopping my right arm because I thought my bicep made it look too big.

My journey has been a really long one. And no, I don’t look like that now. I’m still overweight, and I still want to be more fit, and I’m still working towards that. I’m a process, not the finished product. But that’s not what this story is about.

I’m hoping that even if you don’t suffer from the same problems that I did, you can relate it to an area of your life where you could afford to be a little kinder to yourself.

Things got really rough when I was in college. After three years of abusive and neglectful relationships, my picture of self-worth was in the toilet. My weight had rocketed to a tidy 206 pounds. I was absolutely miserable. I weighed myself obsessively, sometimes several times a day. I would eat healthy foods all day and at night, the depression would hit, and I would give up and eat enough carbohydrates for three people. I’d berate myself for giving up, then do it all over again the next day.

I would look in the mirror with disgust every day. I would say vicious things to myself.

This was a journal entry I wrote in 2013 when I was in an emotionally abusive relationship.

“You’re so disgusting, why can’t you change?” “He wouldn’t have cheated or dumped you if you were thin.” Never realizing how damaging this kind of thinking was, I thought that if I was “tough” on myself, I would one day be able to flip a switch and break my destructive pattern of behaviour.

My family knew what I was going through, and they tried to help. My dad would offer to buy me exercise equipment, go on hikes with me, and more. My mom tried to stop me from binging late at night when I would get depressed. My sister had been through her own journey, and she would offer me tips on healthy eating.

Instead of appreciating the help, I resented it. I would get irritable and say, “No I’m fine,” and brush them away. I struggled to make myself to go counseling at the student health center. I didn’t want help. I wanted to do it on my own. But yet, I couldn’t. This kept up for two years. I graduated college, nothing changed.

What a conundrum! I was unhappy, and I knew exactly what was making me unhappy (on the surface), why couldn’t I fix it? What was keeping me from making the change? It definitely wasn’t that I wanted to be that way. No one wakes up and thinks to themselves, “I would LOVE to be miserable today!”

In November of last year, my friend Imaan told me I should try audio-journaling. Basically, it’s like recording your thought processes out loud. I did it a few times, but one night something clicked. I had a revelation.

I have no problem helping my friends or family. I will do literally ANYTHING within my power to help when it comes to them.

But the sad truth was that somewhere along the way, I had convinced myself I wasn’t worthy of the same.

When people I loved mistreated me or left me, I convinced myself it was my fault, not theirs. In my mind, I had done something to deserve it. I didn’t think I was worthy of love and good treatment.

So there it was. I knew the next step was convincing myself that I was worth the effort of change. But how do you change the way you think about yourself? It seemed impossible.

I started small. I made a daily checklist full of mentally-healthy activities, and I tried to do all of the things on it over the course of each day.

At first I didn’t believe a single positive affirmation that I said to myself about my physical appearance. So I tried to see myself as others saw me and say the things that they said. “You’re a caring person.” “You have a warm smile.” Eventually it got easier to say things like, “You look nice today.” Or, “You have pretty eyes.”

The next thing I did was to try to “date myself.” I had lavished attention, affection, and gifts on boyfriends in the past. My logic: I wasted all that time giving them things they didn’t appreciate and didn’t deserve. I should at LEAST give myself the same things that I gave them.

I would make myself a tasty meal. I would buy myself nice tea in the store. I would draw something for myself. It started to make me feel a little better.

I journaled a LOT. (And I still do.) I would write out all of the things I was feeling. Somehow, in writing those feelings, I was able to look at them without judgement. I didn’t feel bad for having them. They were just there.

Eventually, I started to notice a change.

I realized one day that I had been eating normally for about two weeks, without even thinking about it. I couldn’t remember having had an urge to binge in that time. But one night, I was particularly depressed — and I binged. When I stopped eating I felt immediate guilt, and more depression…

I had an anxiety attack. Once the fog of racing thoughts had passed and I could move and breathe normally again, I realized that although I had been completely overwhelmed, not once did I turn to rude, self-deprecating statements like I used to do. I was as patient with myself as I would have been with a friend. I was awestruck.

Then one night, something even more incredible happened.

I was lying in bed, feeling low. I wanted to say something to comfort myself, but I didn’t know what. Then I remembered a phone conversation in which one of my friends said, “I love you, it’s going to be okay” to himself when he was dealing with something particularly difficult.

Self-love…It had always seemed like such a far-off goal to me. I had hated myself for so long. I didn’t hate myself anymore, but I had never expressed love to myself. I shrugged, perhaps I should try it. So I did. I said whispered it to myself, out loud.

“It’s going to be okay, Elena. I love you.”

And to my surprise, for the first time ever, I actually meant it.

I still binge-eat sometimes when I’m depressed, but it’s rare — maybe a few times a month. I started taking medication (a low dose of a seratonin reuptake-inhibitor) for my anxiety and depression, which has helped me immensely. I’ve become more assertive with people and I stand up for myself more often. I’ve become more courageous about what I wear.

And I’ve lost about 15 pounds since last year, about 20 overall.

L: January 2015, 206 lbs. R: February 2017, 187 lbs.

Once I stopped focusing on my outward appearance, all of a sudden it was much easier to change.

You have to love and value yourself as a person, not an image, to make positive outward changes. Once you realize that you are MORE than your outer appearance, the obstacle of changing that appearance becomes much smaller, if it even remains an obstacle at all.

I’m doing it for the right reasons now. I’m not trying to lose weight because society tells me to do it, or because I think people won’t love me unless I’m skinny, or because I think I’m unattractive at this weight.

I’m doing it for me. Because I’m worth the effort that it takes to be happy. I am worth kindness from other people, but also from myself. And so are you.

You are worth it.

— Elena “the Rhinestone” Rovito

Brazilian zouk instructor, body positivity advocate. Changing the world through vulnerable conversations & self-reflection.