I was at my lowest low. With tears in my eyes, I stared up into the starlit sky above me, the dew on the grass soaking through my vintage high-school volleyball sweatshirt. How did I get here? I wondered. Quite literally, I had sprinted about 100 yards down the street from my college dorm in Connecticut until I collapsed into the grass, contemplating throwing up. But the bigger “here,” was me being 204 pounds. Standing at 5-foot-4. I had just weighed myself for the first time in months. I was unhappy. Unsure. Alone. Obese.
Fast forward three years, and with hard work and dedication my situation had changed—drastically. Through learning how to A. Control my portion sizes (read: not eat banana chocolate chip ice cream at every meal) and B. Love running, I had gained some positive ground. Not only was I down 70 pounds, but I was finally feeling confident in what I had to bring to the table. Confident that this reinvigorated Emily could chase after her dreams, which—as a graduating college senior—involved making a name for herself as a journalist in New York City.
Which brings us to now. Almost 10 years later, and my entire career is based off of the decision I made lying under the stars that night to make a shift. These days, I spend a bulk of my time between writing and editing health and fitness content as a freelance journalist and working on my podcast, Hurdle, where I chat with everyone from elite athletes to top CEOs about everything from their big wins and toughest moments. I have literally found a way to combine my passions for health, genuine connection, and content into a career, and I couldn’t feel more fortunate.
Am I proud of how far I've come? Of course. These legs have now carried me across eight different marathon finish lines. They’ve helped me traverse the streets from New York City to Los Angeles in pursuit of stories worth telling.
Still, there are days I look in the mirror and feel frustrated.
If only my jeans fit a certain way, I think.
If my thighs weren’t so large, I’d feel more comfortable wearing shorts on my run.
I feel guilty admitting that. Because 2007 Emily? She’d have killed for this body. She also would’ve killed to see someone, anyone, that looked like her in advertisements when she walked around the mall. Seventy pounds ago, I felt isolated, as if I were the only one who looked in the mirror and saw someone of that size staring back. I couldn’t find workout clothes in my size, aside from black cotton leggings from Target and oversized Hanes white V-necks. There was no Ashley Graham. Iskra Lawrence. Charli Howard. Lizzo.
These days, though, body positivity and examples of that are as rampant as string lights on Christmas trees during the holidays. Brands like Universal Standard, Adidas, Nike, and Old Navy are making clothing in sizes 0 to 44 for a wide array of women. They’re sending a message that at any size, a woman can be confident, fabulous, and beautiful.
It’s my hope that, in large part, thanks to the body positivity movement, less young women feel the way that I did. But just because there’s more inclusivity, it’s not a fix- all for body image. Regardless of size, we all have to learn the lesson that self-love stems from within. Just because I lost weight in college, that doesn’t mean that I love my body unconditionally. It takes a lot of work, and admittedly time, to go from a place of resentment and discomfort to adoration. Even though I look different now, that doesn’t mean that there’s still not work to do.
It’s deeper than what’s on the outside.
It’s beautiful to see more and more women embracing their body at all sizes, something I felt incapable of doing then and am constantly working on now. But when body positivity stops us from talking about the underlying factors that can lead to weight gain in the first place—whether that’s something like a difficult family environment or a troubling relationship—that’s an issue. Regardless of what you look like, I encourage you to get honest. To talk about how you feel.
In 2007, a huge part of the reason that I was overweight was because I felt like no one understood what it was like to be me. My parents split up the year before, and I leaned into food maybe more so than ever as a crutch for my emotions. Instead of talking things out, I’d seclude myself inside the confines of a study room in my college library with snacks for days.
I can’t help but think: What if I talked about it more? What if someone helped me get out of my box? Outside of my comfort zone. Tried something new.
I no longer isolate myself in times of distress, instead I look to connect with others. It’s why I do what I do. Regardless of shape, size, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I talk to people from all walks of life on the regular and help share their stories. My overarching goal: to help someone somewhere feel less alone. For so long growing up, whether it be because what was sold to me by popular culture or how I was made to feel by the opposite sex, I questioned my worth because of my weight.
I’m here to tell you that it’s OK to struggle, because others do, too (myself, included). While everyone praises body positivity, I’m here to talk about the importance of body acceptance. Maybe that’s what we should all be striving for instead.
I will forever need to apply the love I have for others to myself and remember that no one’s worth comes from their pants size.
Emily Abbate is a freelance health and fitness writer, penning words everywhere from Health to GQ. She’s also the creator of Hurdle, a wellness-focused podcast that talks to everyone from top CEOs to elite athletes about their biggest wins, toughest moments, and everything in between.