Growing up, I didn’t really care about what I looked like. Or rather, I didn’t care enough to do anything about it. I was confident but not exactly in shape, and I practically ate my way through the drive-thru for the better part of my teen and early twenty-something years.
Then, the first day of my senior year in college, I suddenly keeled over from a sharp pain in my stomach. I couldn’t even stand, and I had to go to the emergency room...where they ran tests and found out my digestive system and G.I. systems were barely functional. (I guess years of eating fast food will do that to you.)
I saw my belly hanging over my workout pants—and I felt disgusted.
The weird thing is, no one asked me about my diet during any of those exams—I was just given a prescription to help with my digestion. After a few months of taking it, I could tell that something still wasn’t working—the medicine wasn’t really addressing the root cause.
Enter: my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Luca. He immediately could see what was causing my health problems: my poor diet and lack of activity. After some nudges from him, I started out on my quest to improve my health in 2013.
'I felt like I couldn't compare to other women on Instagram.'
I joined Instagram in the early days of the app as an outlet for sharing my health and fitness journey—and to keep myself accountable. But after using the app for a few months, I started feeling “less than.”
My feed seemed like it was just picture after picture of beautiful women—girls with the flattest tummies you could ever imagine, the most perfectly toned legs and booties, and gorgeous faces to match.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these photos on their own. Every woman should be able to post photos that make her feel beautiful and confident.
But these photos of women who had the most enviable bodies were so plentiful, and seemingly never-ending. Despite all my workouts, I felt I didn’t even come close to comparing to these crazy-gorgeous women. The fact that my tummy, with its little pooch, wasn’t getting anywhere near as flat as seemingly every other woman's tummy on Instagram was disheartening.
'I realised I was part of the problem.'
Then, one day in January 2016, I was foam rolling in my living room in front of a mirror. In the reflection of the mirror, I saw my belly hanging over my workout pants—and I felt disgusted.
How did I still have this belly pooch after working out regularly for two years? I thought.
Despite how strong I was, how much better I felt than I did when I started working out, those tummy rolls still really got to me.
I imagined how disappointed my more than 1 million followers would feel if they knew how the “real” me, the un-posed me, had these rolls and not the flat, toned tummy I showed off in my carefully curated photos.
But then I realised something. I felt “less than” because of photos of women with seemingly perfect bodies, yet I had women commenting on my photos saying things like “#goals” or “I wish my tummy looked like yours.”
They were only seeing was the perfectly posed body I allowed them to see. They might have been feeling just as discouraged as I was—yet I was posting same kind of images that made me feel so down about myself.
So, in that moment, I took my very first “relaxed” selfie, sitting there in the living room in front of that mirror. The same mirror I was so annoyed to look at, that made me so frustrated because it showed me my stomach rolls.
'I no longer felt that pressure to be perfect.'
To my relief, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The comments I received ranged from people thanking me for showing my non-posed side, to women sharing that my photo helped them with their body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, and other disorders that were fed by this unattainable idea of perfection.
I had been scared and nervous to share that photo. I had no idea how people would react. But after putting it out there—and seeing how my followers responded—I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. The pressure to be and look perfect had disappeared, just by posting that photo of my real self.
That experience showed me that “perfection” was too great a burden to bear. I don’t want to be seen as flawless, and I don’t want to put out this image that I am perfect. It's exhausting—and frankly, it's as bad for me as it is for anyone seeing my pictures. I'm not perfect—no body is. And that's okay.
'What I see in the mirror doesn't scare me anymore.'
Of course, I still do share posed photos and beautiful moments in my life. They don't represent all of the ups and downs I experience, but they are moments in which I feel beautiful, confident, and happy. And I encourage others to do the same! But I still (and always will) share the non-posed photos, too.
I faced my insecurity by dealing with it head-on. I looked at the belly pooch that used to make me cringe, and instead of hiding it, I shared it with the world. And by confronting that fear, I overcame it.
Now, what I see in the mirror—posed or unposed—doesn't scare me. I love it all.
Here's the thing: I am not pretending to be perfect anymore. I want to stay in my own lane—my own, imperfectly perfect lane. I’m not trying to be anything but a stronger, healthier version of myself—no matter what that looks like.
And I hope to inspire every person who follows me to strive to do the same.
This article originally appeared in Women's Health US