I can still hear their voices clearly, heckling me with, “No one will ever love you,” “You’ll never amount to anything,” and “You’re going to die alone.”

Everyone knows junior high is brutal and this was no exception. I’m almost 29 years old and those words still haunt me. When you hear those words at such a formative time in your life, it’s hard not to have them stick, drill down deep inside you, and bury themselves there. It’s so deep that you don’t even realize, years later, how much your life has been dictated by those words.

The fact that you may never see those people again doesn’t take away how bad those words hurt. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found the words for what I was feeling: body shame.

I didn’t like my body. In fact, I spent most of my young adult life wishing I had a different one. A body that was built like an athlete and one that was considered attractive. Instead, I was tall and skinny. Instead of having bulging biceps, people would say to me, “You need to put some meat on those bones” (as if I don’t eat on a regular basis, which I certainly do) or “We need to get you into the gym and bulk up.”

These words, though meant well or in jest, only brought shame and I often hid from people in the days that followed in order to recover. Over time, though still imperfectly, I learned some truths that have helped me walk towards a path of viewing my own body better.

Your body has a purpose

One of the dangers we can believe about our bodies is that they don’t matter, that they somehow just get in the way. For some, they may see their body as pointless, thinking if they had another kind of body, that’s where they could find a purposeful body.

The truth is, the body you have – that I have ­– matters, not simply the ones you and I wish we had. We are all different and that’s okay. Every body matters.

Another danger is to think we have no limits, which further feeds our drive to be someone else.

The truth is we have very real, physical limits and those vary from person to person. For example, I have a blood disorder in which I face symptoms of fatigue and weariness on a daily basis. For me, my limits require me to try and get more sleep than I do because if I don’t my body won’t function as well the next day.

For you, those may not be your limits, but you have others. These limitations should be reminders of how each person is unique, not a source of shame, but a source of insight into learning more about the purpose for which each of us is meant to live.

The body you have now matters and there is a greater purpose to you having it that is not incidental to your existence. It’s okay to be you and not someone else.

Your body is not their body

We find ourselves in dangerous territory when we allow other’s demands on our body become the standard for which we treat and view our body. Our bodies are not meant to be mistreated or selfishly exploited for others’ selfish desires.

I spent far too long trying to get people’s approval over my body. If I heard someone comment on the way my clothes looked, especially if spoken in front of a group of people, I would simply shut down in shame. I would spend hours looking at designer clothing and how the models dressed, trying to create for myself a different existence, one where people thought I looked great and whose body wasn’t the subject matter for people’s off-handed comments.

You shouldn’t tolerate it when people do not show dignity towards your body. It is not your fault and it’s uncalled for. You don’t have to be ashamed of your body. The ideal body myth that pervades the American cultural ethos is not the source for our identity and worth.

True beauty is deeper than that.

My view of my body often relates to other issues too

Over the past several years, as I have continued to think through all the sources of shame I have felt for my body, I noticed something I didn’t quite expect: It wasn’t just that I was ashamed of my body. I was also angry, bitter, disappointed, and lonely.

In other words, the issues were deeper than just my view of my body. In fact, I discovered quite surprisingly that once I began addressing these other emotions, little by little, I began to have a better view of myself. I became more comfortable in my own skin.

I experienced small victories, little moments of healing. I slowly began to realize that if someone didn’t approve of my body, it wasn’t my prerogative to please them. Sure, I want to take care of myself in a healthy and responsible way. At the same time, I chose to not let people’s words dictate my reality. It was exhausting trying to keep up trying to be someone I’m not.

But please hear me: This is a journey for me. I have not arrived, and some days are worse than others. Some days, it’s as if I can tangibly feel how much I don’t like the way I look. Other days, like today when I got a new T-Shirt, I rejoiced in being able to be myself.

Join me in the journey

Our bodies are complicated. They get sick, don’t always function like they should, and can frustrate us at times. I’m no stranger to that feeling.

But what I have learned is I don’t want a perfect body. Instead, I want to learn to live with the body I have and rejoice in the unique things that make my body what it is. I can take better care of it and see that it keeps strong, sure.

But even then, I will always and forever be me.