Body Image Storytellers Share Their Pain and Wisdom

“Athleticism, diet and the sport itself went hand in hand, my version of the holy trinity that initiated my hypersensitivity around body image.”


I made a mask that shows two sides of me: one that is bright and confident, and another that displays my insecurities. On the right, you can see my confidence and happiness. But on the left you see my darker self doubting and more self conscious side. Although there are days when I truly feel amazing in my skin, there are others where I wish I looked like the skinny Victoria Secret model. I symbolized this by making the words of self doubt smaller than the other words of uplifting messages. This is because I seem to be more confident than not but, in the back of my head, I may not be. I have learned to not change my body to look like a specific way, but instead to embrace my body and love it for all of its rolls and marks.

This month, The Prowler asked people to send in their stories regarding body image. Body image is something that many people struggle with, including some of us. Lately, it’s been harder for some to feel comfortable in their own skin, and we felt that, especially with going back to in-person school, others would feel the same way. We wanted to create a safe space where people could open up about their struggles. 

Due to the personal nature of these stories, we have published them anonymously.

I grew hips early, maybe in the 4th grade, but I didn’t know it. Running at the front of the class during gym, I was sure I felt everyone’s eyes on me, and I thought it was because I had a big butt. Then someone noticed that I land heavily on my heels and asked why my walk was so loud. I must be overweight, they mused. I’d never ever been fast, so I wasn’t particularly invested in being perceived as athletic; instead, these experiences made me want to be invisible. Or at the very least, quit gym. It took 15 years when finally I ran, ran, ran until my guts threatened to spill out through my throat. I spent the whole remainder of that day in bed fighting nausea. “I can’t do it,” I told my partner. “I can’t run. Other people can, but not me.” But I did it. And it wasn’t to lose weight; I still have my hips and everything else. I just wanted to run. I felt aware, for the first time, of this vital energy in my body that had never needed an outlet before. So I ran. That day, until I was sick. The next day, until I was sick. Eventually, a 5K. Not much changed from running except for my perception of my body as a liability. Now, I see it as a powerhouse, and I’m proud of all it can accomplish.

I was very skinny. So skinny that at summer camp, my bunkmates would kiddingly suggest I stand, wearing only shorts, at the entrance on visitors day so guests would think they were entering a concentration camp. I became so self-conscious, I refused to ever wear shorts again.

I’ve been athletic and had an athletic body most of my life. So getting pregnant gave me a shock. When women have babies, our bodies are no longer our own. I grew uncomfortable with my baby bump but loved it at the same time. I looked at myself in the mirror and made a promise that I’d be proud of my body, stretch marks (I call them my tiger stripes) and all when I gave birth. And it changed my entire mentality. My body is a miracle that allows me to grow human life. Who cares if there’s a little pouch there later? I don’t need to be the fittest mom in the best body. I need to be healthy and fit enough to run after kids. At the end of the day, if I’m healthy and happy, that’s all that truly matters.

At the age of 12, I decided to join my first club volleyball team. Athleticism, diet and the sport itself went hand in hand, my version of the holy trinity that initiated my hypersensitivity around body image. My diet became something that not only I watched, but that my coaches also took notice of. At 12-years-old, I remember receiving a coach’s text in the team group chat that read: “If you are eating fried food, Jesus is watching you and you’re going to hell.” Another coach at the age of 15 made it blatantly obvious that he favored the tall, skinny blondes; he flaunted their pictures and hailed them for their beauty. At age 16, I sat down to ref at a tournament, when a coach approached and threw his bag of snacks at me, telling me to “eat up,” and when I told him I wasn’t hungry, he responded by saying I looked skinny and fatigued, that he wouldn’t leave until he saw me eat. This past June, I found myself at my first beach workout of the summer, at 8:00 am, sitting in a pool of my own vomit. The trainer walked up to me and asked what happened, and when I told her I had just thrown up, her response was “yeah, that happens sometimes, it means you’re working as hard as you’re supposed to,” as if working myself so hard that my body physically gave up was some sort of right of passage. I continue to find myself in the middle of an interesting paradox: I want to be the best player possible, but I remain sensitive around body image. I continue to ask myself how can I be thin and muscular, tall and slender, strong and agile, smart and athletic all at the same time? However, despite the harshness, volleyball still remains my happy place and first love, my escape from anxiety, and I have learned that there is no perfect way to be, that our bodies have little super powers all over them, making each individual one uniquely beautiful.

While I am an adult and a mother of older children, I was severely anorexic as an older teen. Perfection is the enemy of the good and it took me years to figure that out. It also took too long for me to realize that what my body does for me is more important than someone’s idea of how it should look. I am sad to watch the impact of social media, the societal rewards of thinner bodies (better jobs, more money, getting hired over someone less thin) and what younger people think they need to aspire to today.

When I moved to LA, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was “too fat to date anyone here.” Three years later and I still think of the harsh words said by this one individual, and while intellectually I know it was just one jerk with their own trauma, projected onto me, because of the constant messaging from the media, I really internalized this and it still haunts me to this day.

I was driving down the 101 in the middle of summer with my windows down. Since there was a lot of traffic, both sides of the freeway were at a stand still. A guy in a large black truck across the median also had his window down. When he looked at me, he shouted, “Holy f*ck you are so fat.” Needless to say, the unprompted verbal attack greatly hurt my body confidence and caused me to spiral with my ED.

When I was in middle school, I came home one day after school to watch cartoons – this was the 90s, so naturally it was “Batman: The Animated Series.” A dieting or exercise ad came on and presented a guy as having overcome his previously undesirable body through the product they were plugging. They then showed an image of his body and I thought, “Hmm, I kinda look like that” and was happy that my body type was desirable… only to realize with a wave of embarrassment that this was the “before” picture. Apparently I was supposed to look like the sculpted hunk in the “after” photo or I should be ashamed of myself. While I realized later that it must be even harder on girls because they have more pressure to be sex objects, it was still pretty hurtful to have the overt statement that bodies like mine need to be corrected. Over the years, I have felt how much subtle and overt messaging there is about how guys should look. I have often been a little overweight – I don’t have many experiences being called “fat,” but I’m not exactly thin either. The heroes and love interests in movies often don’t look like me, despite the total normalness of my body in the general population. The self-confidence that I worked to build later in my life would have come more easily if our society had given me more role models that looked like me unabashedly.

When I was a little kid, I was constantly being nagged about my weight.

“This is what you should look like.”

“Do you want to end up like her?”

“Boys don’t like fat girls.”

I felt as though I was prey in the savannah of my own home, constantly being watched like a hawk. I am not prey — I should not be policed at the thought of food. I had not lost control, yet the others around me treated me like an addict. They would tell me their stories, making me think that it was a right of passage in my family to be bullied into losing weight.

Now, doctors think they know what I go through, saying things that don’t apply to me at all. They think I’m just lazy and don’t expect there to be more. I don’t have a “problem food,” but they think I’m lying when I tell them the truth. They’re supposed to be the ones helping me, yet they don’t try to see that there’s a psychological reason that’s keeping me…from fitting into their perfect graphs.