Over a decade ago I was in the best shape of my life. It was my senior year in college. Shortly after my season was over, I began thinking about “getting in shape” for the next phase of life. There was an image I grew to believe I needed to fit into for the lifestyle I was in and I was determined to fit the mold. Thanks to Facebook memories I got to see a picture of myself on my college graduation day. As I did I struggled - one side of my brain said, “whoa, too thin. Not healthy.” And the other side said, “yes, exactly. That’s where you should be now.” It then trailed into how did I get where I am today? I’m a solid 35 pounds more today. Reality is the Ashley who looked “good” in those photos was starving. I would go days without eating something so that when I was with people it was OK to eat, making it appear like everything was okay. In between that, I would go for long runs, and continue doing rigorous exercises so that I could maintain the image I wanted to portray. I’ve never talked about it. Up until now, as I struggle with the same thoughts of what “wedding day perfect” looks like. I have considered stepping back into some of the bad habits that I lived by for too long. One of my greatest struggles in life is my physical appearance. From a young age, the first tension was the fact that I towered over everyone. I felt awkward and out of place. It was great on the court, but it was terrible when it came to the crush you had on the boy in 5th grade who maybe reached your navel. I didn’t believe tall was beautiful. Furthermore, being “mixed” or bi-racial brought with it a lot of other (in my mind) less than favorable traits...my hair: too thick, too big, and incapable of staying really straight. I always felt like I had really big facial features, basically...”too BIG” was a common theme. I could go on, I’ve had a lot of practice in ripping myself a part, bit by bit, of every less than desirable trait. And no, I’m not fishing for compliments. To be honest, I can’t hear them anyways. Instead I’m really hoping we can encourage one another. Encourage each other to choose to celebrate “healthy” over some unrealistic version of perfect. Reality is our bodies change as we age, we can try to continually fight it, or we can do the best we can to eat whole foods (I know a really good nutritional therapist if you need one), go for a long walk, manage stress, sleep and do things that bring us joy! I believe as women, we are masters at comparison. We can see one ad, a photo of a friend, or our favorite celebrity and instantly have remorse, disgust, or grief over what we aren’t. If we are honest, we aren’t even able to celebrate with our people, because we are too busy trying to see what we aren’t, through someone else’s lens. We have to stop. And I’ll be the first to say that’s easier said than done. I think we can begin to help with this though by sharing more of the real moments. Maybe cut out the filter, perfect stance to hide the undesirable areas or any other “trick” that further perpetuates - we must be perfect. Over a decade ago I went from being in the best shape of my life to the least healthy I have ever been. The “praise” encouraged me for too long, and it eventually led to a pretty dark place. As I’ve shared this tension with Taylor, he had a really helpful comment in response to my desire to be “perfect”: Or maybe what you have chosen to be “perfect” isn’t actually perfect. I spend a lot of time teaching women how important it is to remember that we were created in His likeness and image, that we are His Beloved and it’s not because of anything that we do or don’t do. It’s a gift. Our bodies are a gift, we have been tasked with caring for them, and honoring God with them - but most of all to love them. I’m still figuring out what that looks like on any given day, but I trust as I continue to fill my brain with more of what is true and less of the scrolling through Instagram, Pinterest, shopping online etc...that His truth can drown out the lies. I don’t know what everyone else’s journey has looked like, but I’m just here to say, I see you. On my best day, I’m anxious to walk into a room - and on my worst I’m comparing myself to you...but I desperately want to celebrate who God made you, so that I can stay on track with celebrating who He made me. Live loved. Because you are.