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Mirror Mirror

Body Image. I'll be honest, this is a subject that I've debated whether or not to blog about. Why? Because most everyone on planet Earth seems to have already blogged or posted very strong opinions on this subject. At the end of the day though, it remains a very real, raw struggle for me. So if right now you're thinking "Good grief, not another blog on body image," it's probably best to stop reading now. Hopefully you at least got a kick out of the first paragraph because you ain't gonna wanna keep going. If you don't mind bearing with me for a bit longer, however, I would ask that you continue and even give me your feedback!

It’s no secret that our culture makes it nearly impossible for anyone, guys or girls, to look in a mirror and feel positively about themselves. We are constantly bombarded with images of ideal body types, personalities, clothing brands, social statuses, and more. We’re told what we should look like and how we should act in order to get attention and adoration. Furthermore, it’s easy to watch a TV show or hear someone criticize seemingly minute flaws in another person and be left feeling inadequate. Far too often I let my mind wander down the path of, “If that guy doesn’t find that girl attractive because of the length of her hair, how the heck do I stand a chance in the dating world? Imma’ just bow out now and save whatever dignity I have left.”

As much as my self-confidence has improved since, let’s say, middle school, I would still say that maintaining a positive body image remains one of my most difficult internal struggles. It’s easy to look at myself in a mirror and see a body that is incomplete and unattractive. I can dress the “right” way (whatever that means), wear the best makeup, have an angelic personality, and work out every day for the rest of my life: not one of those things is going to change the fact that I’m missing a limb. Because of that, I’ve had to discover a confidence in myself that goes beyond the physical. It’s been a journey, but one I honestly wouldn’t trade.

When I was in grade school, I never gave boys and relationships much thought. My group of friends never sat around gossiping about who was dating who, and quite frankly, I didn’t care about my small-town high school's dating scene. When the rare occurrence did come along that I had a crush on some boy (and let me tell you, it was rare), I'd always imagine that he might somehow like me back if I had two legs. It never even crossed my mind that it was possible for him to be interested in me just as I was.

Reality is, that kind of thinking is not only irrational, but the extreme lack of self-confidence undoubtedly radiated from my persona even when I thought I was hiding my insecurities well. Regardless, I held tightly to my self-doubt, assuming any show of interest from my side would only end in rejection.

Enter Luis Maxwell, my brother-in-law. Lui is a Marine, a computer-hacking ninja, and my own personal Yoda. He is loving and caring, and also probably the most straightforward person I've ever met. When my sister Megan first brought him home to meet our family, I wasn't sure quite how to take him. The more I got to know him, the more I realized how wonderful and encouraging he is, and he’s been my personal self-confidence expert ever since.

On one particular family vacation, we took a trip to Ocean City, Maryland. It was the first family beach trip Lui was a part of, and he quickly learned how we Breams love to shop. On one of those evening shopping trips, Lui decided to pause and give me a pep-talk. I remember exactly where we stood on the beach boardwalk, right outside of one of those terribly overpriced boutiques that asks you to pay $60 for a sorry excuse of a bikini. I was waiting outside with some of my family members, because, let's be real, I wasn't paying $60 for some string and 2 triangles.

Lui looked at me and started asking me questions, like, "So Amy, why do you never wear shorts?" (I was so self-conscious at this point that I refused to wear legit shorts…only capris or long pants). I blubbered some self-deprecating answer about how it was pointless because they wouldn't look good anyway, blah blah blah. This series of questions went on for a few minutes before he paused and stared off into the distance to think about his words (like any respectable Yoda would). He then said thoughtfully, “It's like....you're this beautiful swan, but you've been living like you're an ugly duckling. It's time to stop being the ugly duckling, and start seeing yourself as the swan."

Now in that moment, I responded immediately with how I always do when I'm feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable: I laughed and turned the sarcasm levels up. But for the first time in my life, I felt true hope that maybe me having one leg didn't have to dictate how I viewed myself and how men would view me. I have never forgotten that moment, and I’m positive I never will.

I should clarify in all of this that my family consistently assured me of all of these things. They loved me, encouraged me, and said all of the same types of things that Lui said (albeit a little differently...I don't recall the ugly duckling analogy being used before.). But there's something about hearing truth from someone outside of your immediate family, who is under no obligation to give you compliments, and who also is known for speaking his mind in sometimes brutal honesty, that allowed this conversation to finally seem to shake me and sink in after many, many years of not believing what people told me.

It was after that moment that I first started to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I bought a pair of shorts, I started to look boys in the eye rather than assume they always looked past me, and I stopped thinking self-deprecating thoughts every time I looked in a full-length mirror. I even started a ritual of verbally reciting “positive affirmations” about myself. As tacky as it sounds, I find the moments that I feel the most vulnerable and unattractive are when it’s most important to look myself in the mirror and speak loving truth to the face that stares back. I may not believe what I say in that moment, but the habit stops my negative thoughts and cuts short the downward spiral that is so tempting to go down when I’m feeling insecure.

Maybe all of this is nothing new for you to hear. Maybe you weren't blown out of the water by what I had to say (“What? She's got one leg and struggles with body insecurities?!"). But regardless, it's a huge part of my story. I'm proud of how far I've come, and I'm aware that I have further strides to make. It's a daily inward struggle that I have to consciously choose to take control of and think positively about each day, as I suspect everyone else does in their own way. Even this week I vocalized insecurities to my roommate about how I thought a guy may see me, and she simply said, "Stop it. If you're going to blog about this stuff, you need to live it also." (She's known me since I was born and is basically like a sister, so she has a tendency to kick me in the butt right when I need it.)

So, as I ask in almost every blog post, why is this so important? Why did I choose to write about body image and give you the chance to see a very vulnerable part of myself that I typically don’t share with anyone, let alone the internet world? Well, because having a poor body image doesn’t stop at the physical level. It’s a reflection of a far deeper internal struggle that affects every aspect of life. When I allow myself to think that my leg makes me less beautiful and unworthy of attention, I’m subconsciously giving the impression that every person needs to look a certain way in order to deserve love and attention. And THAT is a bunch of crap. When I believe lies about my physical worth, I keep myself from trying new activities, getting to know people who have the potential to be incredible friends, and I’m too inward-focused to look around and encourage someone else who may be struggling with the very same thing. I can’t even begin to serve a broken world if I’m too busy feeling broken about myself.

If you resonate with this struggle, know that you’re not alone. The worst thing you can do is to bottle up your fears and refuse to share them with anyone. Instead, find yourself a “Lui” - share your struggle with someone who can be sensitive to your pain but loves you too much to allow you to wallow in it. I’ve found sometimes the best way to overcome your deepest fears is to face them head-on; speak self-love over self-loathing, even when you don’t feel like it. Not only will this change your life, it has the potential to better the world around you. And that’s worth every bit of the pain that may come in the process.