I am loving the presence of fuller-figured women looking hot and confident in the media lately. It makes me so happy to see. Having battled an eating disorder as a teen, it feels freeing.

After my last post featuring my own Before & After photos, I feel the urge to clarify something close to my heart. There’s an aspect about “Before & After” fitness or beauty photos that I don’t like. (And I do love them.) The photo pairing assumes that once you lose weight or get fit, you’re all better now. It can send the message that the fatter version of the person was inferior. Unacceptable.

I do enjoy looking at where people came from and reading how they transformed into someone healthier and happier. It makes them more relatable. But I don’t think the concept applies to everyone. Healthy and happy doesn’t come only in smaller packages.

Look at model and body activist Ashley Graham, one of the first curvy-sized models in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. She’s actually probably the same size as the average woman. Her website’s tagline is “Stand up for curves. Confidence is sexy.” Listen to her Tedx Talk, Plus-Size? More Like My Size.

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Model and body activist Ashley Graham

Then there’s yoga enthusiast and fat femme Jessamyn Stanley. She makes me so proud to be a woman.

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Yoga enthusiast and fat femme Jessamyn Stanley

If I had accepted and loved the larger version of myself, then I wouldn’t need an “after” photo. I don’t think everyone who is plump, round, curvy, fat, or whatever you want to call it, needs to lose weight. What matters is how you feel about yourself. Self acceptance. A healthy body image. Of course, if you’re dealing with high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, or other health issues that could be resolved or alleviated by losing weight, then that’s another matter.

But no matter how much weight I lose or how toned I get, I can still see myself as not enough (thin, pretty, smart, witty, successful, talented, you name it) — if I don’t work on my insides as well. Sometimes it seems like when I focus on my personal and spiritual growth, the outer appearance follows suit, as a byproduct. How I feel about myself shines through in how well I take care of myself.

It’s all about confidence. Being comfortable in your own skin. That’s what makes you attractive more than anything else, at least to other healthy people. That’s what I’m attracted to, in friendships and romantic relationships. (Like this one. Wink, wink.) I am in no way claiming to have reached this point, but I’ve improved. My self-confidence is a rollercoaster with dips and rises, but it’s gradually ascending. It doesn’t matter if you have more skin than the next person, if you’re a size 26 or 6. I’ve been both. I am close to neither one now. There are women who can’t gain weight and are self-conscious about being too stick thin. For many of us, that’s hard to imagine. Yet it’s just as hard for them, maybe harder, because other women are less sympathetic.

Confidence is sexy. It’s hotter than a woman who looks like a traditional model, yet oozes with insecurity. That’s something I didn’t understand for a long time. Even though I know it now, knowing and feeling can be worlds apart.

I remember when the concept first dawned on me. It was kind of a rude awakening. Years ago, my then-boyfriend and I were hanging out at a pool with one of my friends (it’s not you) who has never been what you would call skinny. She wasn’t overweight either. Either way, it didn’t matter. She glowed. She lived life to the fullest.

I remember swimming in a pool with the two of them, and I kept putting my hands and arms over my stomach whenever I was out of the water. I wasn’t comfortable with myself. I kept trying to cover up my middle, the target of my years-long unhealthy obsession.

That boyfriend (an ex for many years now) was sensitive about my weight gain, even pointing out the parts he liked larger. Ha. He said it doesn’t matter if a woman has a little extra. Or even a lot extra. If you’re accepting of yourself, if you like yourself, you are more appealing to others, he told me. It’s not extra. It’s just you. Even after I lost a bunch of weight, I still sometimes fidget and try to hide my less-than-perfect parts. Then I remember that slightly plump friend from long ago. She sat in her swimsuit like she didn’t think a thing of it based on her body language and attitude. She laughed and fooled around in the pool  — with bulges and pudge!

I want to be like her.

And that is an inside job. It’s something that no diet or fitness plan can fix. Does being thinner make me feel better about myself? Yes. I’m not gonna lie. But not all the way. I’ve had body dysmorphia before, in my early teens when I was under-eating. We, as women, are more than what we look like, a principle we have to fight to believe in a society that tells us otherwise. My self-worth doesn’t have to be tied to whether that scale ticks up or drops down. I can’t help but feel a little leap of joy though, when it drops a bit, and I’m working on loving myself regardless of the upticks. I mean, really, let’s value ourselves based on something else than that. (And yes, basing our self esteem on our job performance, parenting skills, or significant others can be just as dangerous.)

If you managed to stay with me this far, maybe you’d be interested in checking out this awesome Instagram page called #effyourbeautystandards. It was created by Tess Holliday, another model and body-positive activist. On my own lifelong fitness and wellness journey, I’m trying to focus on what my body can do rather than how it appears. I won’t achieve this goal perfectly. But imperfection is human. And we humans are beautiful.

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That’s me at a Color Run in Cape Coral, Florida, sometime between 2010-2013.

Have anything to add to this topic? Join the discussion with a comment or body-positive image below this post or on my pages on Instagram or Twitter.

Head photo: AshleyGraham.com.

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