I gained 40 pounds, and this is why I’m happy about it.

Recently, a dear friend of mine who hadn’t seen me in a while affectionately smacked the side of my thigh and said: “Look at those thunder thighs!”

Thunder thighs? This was a first.

It was one of those moments where I realized my body had changed in a recognizable way. There was a split second where I considered feeling offended by this comment, but then I thought: I like my new thunder thighs, these babies are sexy!

The fact is I am ridiculously fascinated with this recent thicker version of myself, or as I like to call it:

My lady body.

I like the way my breasts jiggle when I walk. I like when my thighs rub together because I don’t have a thigh gap. I like my belly pooch and refuse to make it a problem. I like having a little extra junk in the trunk.  I like the feeling of taking up more physical space on the planet and I like my feet being more firmly planted on the ground.

I don’t fit a size 2 anymore, probably never will, and I’m at peace with that. In fact, I’ve never felt more yummy.

But let me back up so this makes a little more sense. Growing up, I was teased and bullied incessantly for being too skinny. I used to layer my leggings to create a thicker look, hoping to blend in and be left alone. As I got older, women would remark about my size (when you’re thin they do this freely and candidly) and it always made me feel uncomfortable.

I never knew how to respond when they would smile and say things like: “You’re so skinny you bitch!” Um…thank you? It seemed like it was supposed to be funny or complimentary,  but it always felt like there was just a hint of venom beneath the surface.

It felt the subtext was because I was thin, I had no hangups about my body, and was living in some kind of privileged, problem-free skinny girl utopia…and how dare I.

I used to feel like I should apologize, or at the very least explain why I looked like I did. I wasn’t trying to be thin. I didn’t want to insult anyone. I certainly didn’t want to perpetuate impossible body size expectations. I didn’t see my body as more desirable or beautiful than anyone else’s. I just happened to be born with a small frame and never gained weight easily, no matter how much I ate. I didn’t even know I was skinny until people started pointing it out. I was just me.

Regardless of anyone’s intentions which, admittedly, were probably not as mean spirited as they seemed,  I got the message over and over again: “How I look is not OK. There’s something wrong with me.” Suffice it to say, I developed a negative association to the word “skinny” as being shameful, unhealthy, unshapely, invisible, undesirable, unwomanly, hated, wrong, scorn worthy, and bad.

It took me years of therapy to even begin to scratch the surface of these patterns routed in a deep lack of self-acceptance. But, these patterns weren’t just about my body. That was only one symptom of a much deeper issue.

I never learned how or what it meant to truly love myself.

Sure, I had some ideas. I took some pole dancing classes, I meditated, I did affirmations, I got Reiki sessions, I expressed myself through dance and music, I had breakthroughs in therapy, and I left boyfriends that weren’t good for me. But, because I didn’t grow up with strong models of healthy self-esteem, I really didn’t learn to truly be at home in my own skin until much later in life.

I was always searching outside of myself for that right medicine to make me feel OK.

Four years ago I had what could be diagnosed as a nervous breakdown, but now I think of it more as a spiritual awakening. I was just out of a long term relationship and swimming in self-loathing depression, dealing with daily panic attacks, and ptsd symptoms . Fun, right?

I was alone in a way I had never been before, facing my demons head on, and let me tell you: it sucked. I could barely eat or sleep and was losing weight I really couldn’t afford to lose. It was a dark and scary time to say the least but ultimately the beginning of new life, and relationship with myself.

I remember one particular evening during this challenging time, I was taking a bath and looking down at my slight and water frame. I had lost about 15 pounds (from my usual 118) and looked really small. I noticed the familiar shameful thinking on deck ready to be of “service” as I quietly observed myself in the tub. But then…something happened.

I decided to stop.

I felt a wave of compassion come over me for this precious human that was in so much pain, and I wanted to do right by her. I wanted to be kind, gentle, and merciful. She was starving for my love, and I couldn’t afford to deny her any longer.

I didn’t know it yet, but that night was the beginning of my new curriculum to learn how to unconditionally love myself AS IS, no matter what. Whether it felt sincere or not, it didn’t matter because anything that was me, not being mean to me was worth a try.

I taught myself to praise instead of criticize. I practiced building up my strengths instead of focusing on flaws. I treated my body as if it were sacred and holy. I told myself I was beautiful, gorgeous, worthy, deserving, lovable, and strong. I didn’t feel it at first, but I knew enough about the way the mind works to know that if I stayed with it, eventually I would.

I visualized what life would be like when I was healthy, happy, confident, and free. I held that vision in my mind’s eye as much as possible.

I learned to love myself, albeit awkward and imperfect at times, and consequently a different body began to emerge. I started gaining back healthy weight, and rejoiced in every pound. I eventually outgrew my entire wardrobe but I didn’t mind at all, because I knew it meant I was healing. I was finally finding my medicine.

This was the beginning of a love affair like I’ve never known, which brings me back to why I feel it’s crucial to celebrate every inch of this now 150 pound healthy “lady body” that I am creepily in love with.

I don’t want to be a wrinkly old woman looking back on my life regretting that I squandered my time, gifts, and talents worrying that my body was “too this” or  “too that”- all the while missing the beauty that was already there if I would only notice. I see women do this to themselves every day, and it’s such a waste.

I’ve learned that self-love and body acceptance doesn’t come from having a perfect ass, or getting approval from others, or a romantic relationship, or a certain number on the scale. It comes when you decide you are ready to start giving it to yourself, right now.

I look back on the thinner version of myself with nostalgia and much kinder eyes now. Jeez. There was never anything wrong with that girl.  She was beautiful and perfect just as she was and it’s a little heart breaking that she didn’t know it.

But, I can know it for the both of us now.