Almost two years ago, I shared my story of how I overcame eating disorders and excessive exercise to become the body confident woman I am today. Inspired by Dove’s self-esteem project, I poured my heart out in hopes of inspiring all of you to love your bodies, big or small.

This year marks Dove’s 60th anniversary of caring for women and I couldn’t be happier to share their latest project! Through the years, society’s definition of beauty has certainly evolved, but still 69% of women feel they don’t see themselves reflected in advertisements, movies or television. As one of the 69 percent, it’s exciting to collaborate with brands who believe beauty should be a source of confidence, not anxiety. 

In an effort to showcase representations of beauty women can relate to, Dove has partnered with producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhymes who has been a pioneer in celebrating diverse and inclusive beauty on screen for decades. Together they’ve created Real Beauty Productions, a collaborative digital studio that showcases the stories of real, everyday women and their lives. The goal of the video series is to shift the power of storytelling from Hollywood to the hands of women and girls, to ensure all women can see their #RealBeauty represented in media and pop culture. The first short film stars Cathleen Meredith, founder of Fat Girls Dance, a plus size dance group encouraging women to take on challenges and be fearless while promoting body positivity and self-love through the celebration of dance.

Unconditional Self-Love and Beauty at Every Size via @GirlWithCurves

My own journey to self-love reminds me a lot of Cathleen’s conclusion to seeing her body on camera for the first time. She calls herself “fat but awesome” and that’s how I felt after finally realizing I could love myself at any size and weight.

After seeing a full body picture of myself for the first time in ages at the age of 21, I was faced with what I thought at the time was a harsh reality I had to do something about. I remember thinking, wow is that really me? That night I got on the scale and cried my eyes out seeing 219 pounds displayed. Immediately I started eating healthier – no more soda or fast food, and exercising daily. I lost 30 pounds slowly and steadily over six months, then I hit a plateau and my body refused to shed any more weight.

That’s when I discovered spinning class, jogging and calorie counting. Twenty more pounds off and I was happy, but not at my “goal weight” of 135 like supermodel Gisele Bundchen. If she was 5’11” and 135 pounds, I could be 5’10″and 135 pounds, I thought. Of course I didn’t take into account the fact that I was built naturally bigger than she is, with thicker legs, wide hips and overall just a bigger person than any supermodel at the time. Years went by where I maintained 160-165 healthily through exercise, yet all I ever obsessed about was waking up one day and gaining all the weight back. 

Fast forward a few years and I was abusing appetite suppressants, over exercising and restricting calories, desperate to lose more weight so I could finally look and feel good. Even my trainer at the time said I was crazy to think 19% body fat was high for someone my height. I eventually got down to 153 pounds, a size 4 dress and I thought I was happy, but I really wasn’t. I felt sad and ugly inside because I knew what I was doing to myself was wrong and unnatural.

After suffering knee injuries as a result of the excessive exercise and not fueling my body enough to sustain all the activity I was doing on a daily basis – jogging 4 miles each morning, followed by spinning class and an hour of cardio in the evening, hundreds of squats, lunges and crunches – I was faced with the truth I had been living: I couldn’t go on punishing my body. Why was being big so bad? When did I stop loving myself?

It was in that moment, limping out of the doctor’s office on crutches because I couldn’t walk on my own, that I made the choice to get healthy, both mentally and physically. Every time I used to go to the doctor I felt as if the height/weight chart was glaring at me, waiting to call me out for being overweight. Today when I go to the doctor I make sure to preface any conversations about health and weight with the fact that I’m happy with who I am, I’m healthy at my size and a number on a scale doesn’t define me, not to mention the size chart doesn’t account for muscle, body type or genetics and is obviously way out of date!

So today, I leave you with the hope that before you look in the mirror one more time feeling as if you’re unworthy of feeling amazing about yourself and your body, know that you are worthy of loving yourself unconditionally and feeling beautiful every single day, because you are! 

Thanks to Dove for our continued partnership celebrating the diversity of beauty.