My best friend and I are swimming in my pool. She’s in my second-grade class and happens to live next door. I pull myself out of the water and up onto the edge to take a break. My friend swims over and bobs next to me, watching me breathe heavily after a vigorous swim. “Why do you have five rolls instead of a flat belly like me?”

I look down at my stomach, although I don’t have to because I know exactly what she is talking about. I have probed, squeezed and poked at it before. I have no idea where the rolls came from. All I know is that my body doesn’t look like my friend’s, or anyone else’s.

Even though you don’t see it, you are beautiful.

Try this as an experiment:

Pick up a fork full of food. It doesn’t matter what you are eating. It can be something that you love, like the mashed potatoes that your grandmother makes with way too much butter to make them ever so fluffy, or your boring lunch that contains a store-bought salad with wilted leaves and unripe green tomatoes. Place the food in your mouth. Put your fork down. This will be the hardest part. Whether the food is good or not doesn’t mean that you have the ability to stop.

Even though you are always hungry, you are beautiful.

Middle school is folding in on myself, a shyness on a platter, served with a bagel in the morning and teasing as the main meal. The outspoken, get up and dance, happy-go-lucky child of my pre-teen years is quickly replaced by someone that I can’t quite recognize. The taunting starts as whispers from the boys during P.E. class, pointing as they laugh at how slowly I run the mile; the more confidence they acquire, the more I lose. Children can be cruel.

Even though you are self-conscious, you are beautiful.

Chew your food purposefully. They call this mindful eating.  It’s like trying to meditate while consuming food. I call this slow torture. And as much as I believe that slowing down is important, for both the digestion system and overall health, I struggle with not shoveling everything on my plate into my mouth and then going back for seconds.

Even though you feel ashamed, you are beautiful.

Loose clothing and avoiding anything that hugs too tightly to my flesh results from my growing self-consciousness about my body image. Locker rooms and swimming pool parties become my arch-nemesis. I want to crawl out of my skin. Hating myself, the tears I cry at night are not over the mean words said to me. Instead, it’s the deep-seated fear that I will never be loved.

Even though you feel worthless, you are beautiful.

I often wonder if it’s the cause of the society that I live in. One that is hyper-focused on weight and image.  Knowing that I might be a happier person if I lived in a place that judged me less for my physical attributes. Maybe this is wishful thinking. The emphasis put on our identities is interlinked with how we look, in one way or another, this has always been the case.

Even though society judges you, you are beautiful.

“Have you seen Evie?”

“Oh, you mean the chubby girl with curly hair?”

I stand in earshot of their conversation, and my heart feels sluggish as I process the words.  One way or another, this seems to be the description I am given. Whether it’s the word fat or chubby, it still feels the same, a blow to my self-esteem and the reason I constantly feel inadequate in my skin.

Even though you loathe your body, you are beautiful.

In my twenties, something else that’s outside of my control starts to develop between me and the general public. I notice people examining my stomach, eying it, as if trying to figure it out. “How far along are you?” I get asked as if it was a causal question appropriate to ask the person ahead of them in the supermarket line. Now, in the years prime for baby making, society has coined me as ‘carrying’ instead of battling with some extra pounds. It is a new shame that takes over now. Every time that someone freely asks me when I am due, an embarrassment like no other wedges its way between my bones.

Even though you lack confidence, you are beautiful.

We all have our fair share of insecurities that pile on without regret. They show up in the dark corners of our minds and force themselves to the forefront without invitation. We begin to see ourselves through the labels we start believing.

I’m not sure if I will ever come to terms with my body. What I know for sure, though, is that everyone deserves to hear this often and genuinely:

You are beautiful.

*Originally published on The Mindful Word