I didn’t particularly enjoy high school and I know that sounds pretty cliché, but it’s true. For the most part, my friends were supportive, but high school was tough because I was ill for most of it. My illness eventually wore down my self-esteem. I started to dress badly, and that worsened my mental health.
When I was in the ninth grade, I joined the school dance club, and after just a day of dancing, I felt aches in my joints. A quick trip to the doctor told me that I had arthritis – as a 14-year-old. I was officially diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and it was a very difficult, very long two years. Throughout ninth and tenth grade, I was on heavy medication, and my condition got worse— at one point, I was on crutches because my knees couldn’t take my body weight. I felt like an old, broken woman.
When I eventually recovered in tenth grade, I didn’t like the way I looked. Objectively speaking, I didn’t gain that much weight, however, I hated myself for gaining the weight, being ill, letting myself go, and looking this way. I started wearing baggier clothes to hide my body, and I wore oversized graphic tees and sweatpants exclusively for months on end. I disliked looking at myself in the mirror, and baggy clothes made me look bigger, which further distorted my body image. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t handle myself well.
It still hurt to exercise, so I started to skip meals and count calories. I started to hate food, and I hated that I needed to eat to survive. It was difficult to break this habit and to build a healthy relationship with food. I gradually unlearned a lot of toxic habits and started listening to my body instead of punishing it for wanting to survive.
In 11th grade, I finally started choosing my outfits intentionally, thanks to a good friend of mine. She forced me to go shopping with her, and I let her dress me. I was more open to her opinion than my mom’s (oh, the fickle nature of a 15-year-old). But, I was genuinely shocked when I realized that I looked good. She helped me buy clothes that I felt complimented my shape.
It was surreal to realize that I didn’t have to be ashamed of how I looked because I didn’t look that bad. Honestly, my friend made me fall in love with shopping and helped me realize that I didn’t have to hide behind massive t-shirts and sweatpants. I learned about contrasting colors, loose clothing that still looked good, and about dressing for my size. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to wear tight, petite clothing. I could dress well and stay covered up.
Juvenile arthritis and the resulting medication sparked a series of body image issues that I still struggle with today.
I’ve learned to approach my body from a healthier viewpoint. I’ve learned that I look good and that (shallow as it may be) helps me feel good. Self-confidence is affected by a myriad of things, including the clothes you wear. Multiple studies have been done on how your clothes can change the way you see yourself, and how you dress impacts your self-esteem.
I chose to wear baggy clothing because I was ashamed of my body, and I didn’t think my body deserved love. What helped was my friend showing me that I could look good, and my mom supporting me along the way. I remember how happy she was to see me expressing my personal style. It lifted me out of a two-year-long funk when I needed it the most.
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