So if you ran into me between the years 1998 and 2011, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking about: my thighs. Anytime I ate something that wasn’t spinach or perhaps flaxseed, I would imagine the food curling up, all lumpy and warm, on my dreadful thighs. I’ve tried every workout, diet, and ­weight-​­lifting technique to slim and tone my thighs, but to no avail. When I moved to China, I couldn’t speak Chinese, and I imagined ­everyone—​­taxi drivers, waitresses, ­Ping-​­Pong court ­monitors—​­saying to me, “Have you seen your thighs? . . . Because I have!” One time I walked out of a gas station and a man yelled out his car window, “Hey gurl! You suuure been drinking yo’ milk,” which I could only assume meant all that frozen yogurt I ate freshman year of college went straight to my . . . I can’t even type it again. If I had online dated during these years, my inability to keep secrets to myself (see, I was born to be a writer) would have yielded some disclaimer about my thighs. Aren’t you exhausted just reading about it?

But everything is different now. I rarely (okay, only once a week) think about my legs. I made a decision a year ago to stop loathing my ­body—​­after all, all it ever did was get me where I needed to go. All those trips up and down the basketball court and all that rock climbing and mountain biking and Ultimate Frisbee I did at camp every summer had to merit some degree of kindness. While I was at ­it—​­that is, drafting a ­cease-​­fire agreement to my ­thighs—​­I also decided that whether it was my body or my intelligence or my work ethic, I would do my best to stop chastising myself. Because I learned that what I thought influenced who I became.

I’m guessing you have a few choice words for yourself, whether gross, unaccomplished, ­good-​­for-nothing, unattractive, pathetic, unintelligent, or something worse. Perhaps you speak harshly to yourself without even realizing it. These words may seem harmless, but in actuality they are poisonous to your ­self-​­worth, choking joy out of your life. When we criticize ourselves, we look for confirmation from others that we are what we dread most. A man doesn’t ask us out, and we believe it’s because we are somehow deeply flawed. He must have noticed my ______!

In all seriousness, pay close attention to your thoughts about yourself. Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? Are you proud of the person you are and the life you have created for yourself? At first, you may not be aware of the negative messages you believe about yourself. Here are some questions you should ask yourself as you begin this journey:

  • Do you only feel good about yourself when you are achieving something?
  • What do you say about yourself in conversation with others?
  • How many times do you think something good about yourself? How many times do you beat yourself up inside?
  • Do you push yourself to the point of exhaustion and berate yourself when you mess up?
  • Do you avoid mirrors because you hate what you see?
  • Do you constantly compare yourself with other women?
  • Are you dating a man who treats you like a doormat?

The answers to all these questions might touch the heart of the issue and encourage you down a path toward finding your beauty. Speaking kindly to yourself and believing the truth leads to a deeper sense of ­self-​­worth, affecting every relationship in your life. You will no longer be shackled to the opinions of others and can live free, knowing you are enough.