By: Maria Pascucci, Founder & President, Campus Calm

Because I want to help increase body confidence in female college students, I decided to share this very personal article about my body confidence journey:

Several years ago, I sat on the sidelines and watched other women light up rooms. They weren’t stunning in the way that women are supposed to be, but they had this beauty about them that I just couldn’t pinpoint. All I knew was that I was lacking in it. It was body confidence, I later found out – a confidence I embrace today, knowing full well how long it took me to find.

When I was 13 years old, something as minor as a pimple could leave me moping for hours. I wore heavy makeup to conceal my acne – so much so that I could spend an hour in the bathroom before school to make sure every blotch on my face was hidden. ‘Friends’ at school called me “zit face”; I tried to ignore them, but I knew it was true. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a pale comparison of the girl I used to be.

That year, our school took a three-day field trip to Washington D.C., where we stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool. I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen in a swimsuit, but I always wore a t-shirt to hide the acne that scattered my arms and back. As my right foot skimmed the cool water, the lifeguard yelled, “Sorry, it’s against hotel policy to wear t-shirts in the pool.” I watched my friends splash around, confident with their flawless skin and knew I could never expose myself. I faked a stomachache and bolted for the privacy of my hotel bathroom. Outraged, I peeled off my t-shirt to unmask scabbed, irritated skin. I cursed the imperfect reflection in the bathroom mirror. I screamed, “I HATE you! You’re SO ugly!”

By the time I turned 15, the acne had healed. Eventually, the scars faded to the background. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a face that was pretty again, but a body that was all wrong. I discovered in a dressing room that I was “too fat” for my 5’2” body.

“I’m hideous!” I moaned to my mother, creaking the dressing room door open so she could see my seemingly fat thighs in the sparkly black mini.

“No you’re not,” she reassured, smiling sadly. She suggested that exercise might make me feel better. I bought exercise videos and gave up ice cream and chocolate, those sinful foods women aren’t supposed to eat. In the high school cafeteria, I ate dry turkey subs (the cafeteria didn’t offer low-fat mayo packets), skim milk, and cups of pineapples. My taller and thinner girlfriend enjoyed chocolate milk, fries, and Doritos. She also went to bed at night with her makeup on and never saw a pimple in her life. Talk about fairness.

By age 20, I maintained a healthy weight and accepted my short legs. I then obsessed about my too-small chest! At a small 34B (okay, maybe an A if I get real and become an honest shopper), I felt my body would be better if only my breasts were larger like women on magazine covers and on television. I’d never been a sucker for gimmicks, never chanted, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” while squeezing my pecks but an obsession had taken hold. I bought padded bras, gel-filled inserts, and pills promising to increase bust-size (they didn’t). I contemplated breast augmentation. Small breasts signified something was missing – a scaled down version of femininity, I was sure.

Then in college, I devoured books about America’s obsessive quest for physical beauty and how impossible standards hurt women and girls. Something as insignificant as a mirror holds the power to control our self-image. A piece of glass can determine how we feel about ourselves. I had enough. Finally!

I stood before my bedroom mirror, stripped of clothing, exposed to myself. I studied my body slowly, trying to see beyond the pain and insecurity to find what remained–just me.

I saw my father’s deep brown eyes, my mother’s thick brown hair, and full lips that reveal a fantastic smile when I’m happy enough to show it off. I saw thin, shapely arms sprinkled with nineteen beauty marks, a flat stomach, and small breasts proportional to my body. I turned around. Sure, my behind was a teensy bit bigger than I would have liked, but it certainly wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. My legs were short, but I liked how toned they looked. They were petite and curvy. At that moment, I finally just saw me. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I accepted myself as a beautifully flawed young woman.

When I was a teenager, one of my best friends had a beautiful dancer’s body. She flaunted long graceful legs, small hips, and a flat bottom – everything I had always wanted. Imagine my surprise when she confided that she was jealous of me!

“Are you SERIOUS?” I gasped, inspecting myself in her dresser mirror. “You’re tall and can eat anything you want and never gain a pound. Your legs are so thin.”

“But you’re curvy,” she responded. “Guys look at you.” She tried to hide it, but I’m almost certain I saw a tear glide down her left cheek as she pulled her long legs close to her chest. She grabbed her favorite teddy bear from her bed and ran her fingers through its soft white fur, careful to avert my gaze. I didn’t have the courage to tell her the truth, so I let the silence hang between us until she changed the subject. We eventually drifted apart.

I should have told her, “Imagine how amazing we both could feel if we saw in ourselves what others have seen all along.” My younger self never did, and my older self wishes I would have.

Today, I find loving my body means accepting that it will NEVER be perfect. No matter how much I work out, I accept that my behind will never look flawless, like bronzed goddesses on television. I’ll never look like a supermodel, but I don’t care. I’m real and when I brush past a mirror, I’m finally comfortable with everything I see.

Thankfully, my surrendered battle with the mirror empowers me to focus on more important aspects of my life … like realizing my dreams.

With love,