Finding a Positive Body Image at 36

I turned 36 in December. Aside from being a lovely perfect square (? math teacher/nerd alert), there is nothing special…

I turned 36 in December. Aside from being a lovely perfect square (? math teacher/nerd alert), there is nothing special about this age for me. I’m closer to 40 than I am 30, but that hasn’t bothered me yet.

What has plagued me my entire adult life, however, is my body image. I’ve never been all that confident in my body.

My Early Body Image

As a child and a teenager, I was a scrawny, flat-chested, bony-butt stick figure.

During my military years in my early 20’s, I bulked up. I weighed the most I’ve ever weighed in my entire life, something I can still say even after having been pregnant. Sure I worked out nearly every day (mandatory 0500 PT), but I was eating junk – and let’s be honest, not really putting all that much effort into those early morning workouts.

And then I went through the usual phases of an adult female in her 20’s and early 30’s. I dropped the military weight, became an avid runner and a certified yoga instructor. I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl and was overall, impressed with the capabilities of my body.

Body Image in my late-20’s/early-30’s

I was never obsessed with my weight or my body image. But a few times a week, I’d complain about how my jeans pinched me between the thighs, or how tight sweaters were across my shoulders. And come summer, although I wore a bikini, I covered up. I wore shorts to walk down to the water to cover the jiggle in my butt as I walked. I draped a towel over my mid-section when I sat down in my beach chair to hide the multiple rolls. I would watch, longingly, all of the other women on the beach who walked around in just their bathing suit, chatted with their friends, played beach volleyball, and laughed with confidence. Often times, I would find myself wondering what it was like to be so confident that I could walk around without trying to cover a part of my body.

Family on Beach
Notice the placement of my arm … Definitely not positive body image here.

Don’t get me wrong – I have always worn between a size 2 and a size 6. This isn’t about a number on the scale or the size of my body. It is about the way my body felt.  Despite being tiny, I felt lethargic, bloated, and heavy. At the end of every day, I had this running joke about how many months pregnant I looked. And some nights, I wondered if perhaps there could actually be a baby inside, because, damn, that was a large belly.

And leave it to children to exploit your greatest insecurities:

One night, after a particularly rough day at work – a day where I emotionally ate three donuts left in my classroom after a student’s birthday celebration, followed by an entire box of sea-salt chocolate covered caramels – I plopped on the couch next to N. I was exhausted and felt like crap.

As then-four-year-old N cuddled up next to me, she patted my bloated belly, looked up at me and said:

“Soon we will go to the hospital so you can have the baby.”


Settling for a sub-par body image

Fast-forward three years, and it’s been more of the same. I waxed and waned between a hardcore workout schedule and a nothing-but-sugar-and-baked-goods diet. There was Whole30, vegan, and sugar-free diets. There was Soul Cycle, yoga 5 times a week, running every day workout schedules.

And while I was seeing results, I still wasn’t feeling great. There was always that night at the end of every stressful week where I’d stand in front of the mirror and wonder how my thighs could possibly have gotten bigger. There were those sumo-wrestling moves I did every day to get into my jeans. And those sweaters still didn’t fit right across my back and shoulders.

Eventually, I just assumed that this was adulthood. This was my mid-30’s. This was my new normal. The opportunities I had to feel great about my body and the way I felt had passed, and I was on my way to accepting that this was how I would feel for the rest of my life.

The shift from negative to positive

But then something happened. Tyler had started using a nutritional program and started having more energy and losing weight. I was intrigued as I laid on the couch after a long day at work, watching him buzz around the house, cleaning this, folding that, and putting this thing away.

Y’all – he was non-stop.

And for anyone who knows our story, the fact that he was going and going and going was intriguing. He’s a low-energy, constant back-and-hip-pain, need to take frequent breaks to rest and ice, type of dude.

And I watched him as he made dinner, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, folded laundry, and cleaned up the house.

All with my big, bloated, full-of-sugary-junk-belly.

A few weeks later, I caved and tried this program. I figured at the very least, it would offer me a healthy snack while I was on the road for work, making my days a bit more convenient.

The Results

Never in my life did I expect to lose 13 pounds – OVER THE HOLIDAY SEASON.

Not once did I ever have the thought that it would curb my sugar cravings.

Nor did I expect that I would bounce around the house in my sports bra and yoga pants with excitement over how I felt.

And lastly, when I announced to Tyler one afternoon:

“I can’t wait for bathing suit season!”

I was shocked. Couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth.

It isn’t about the weight loss. It isn’t that I have the perfect body now – because I don’t. And that wasn’t the goal.  

It is about the fact that I FEEL amazing. I feel healthy. I no longer experience that dreaded bloat at the end of the day. I crave healthy. I want vegetables. I want healthy meals.

Before and After Pics

I want to wear a bathing suit.

I can slide on a pair of jeans without needing to sumo-wrestle squat around my bedroom (although, Tyler is missing the comic relief of said daily squatting).

I feel good in my skin.

And I exude happiness and boundless energy.

There’s a famous quote floating around that says something along the lines of “A confident woman is the most beautiful woman.”

I probably don’t have that quote exactly right – that might not even be a quote. But I’m saying it.

You don’t have to be a size 0. You don’t have to have six-pack abs or rock solid muscles.

You need to find your confidence. Because in your confidence is where you will find beauty.


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