By Lindsey Zousmer

As a teenage girl in high school, it breaks my heart to hear how much our appearances are topics of conversation. I can barely go a single day without hearing a peer complain about their body, talk about dieting for the wrong reasons, or criticize themselves for their perfectly healthy lifestyle. Disordered eating and body negativity is almost normalized; it’s more common to hear about someone restricting themselves from the foods that they love and working out obsessively than having a healthy relationship with their growing, changing, bodies. Regardless of what body type you have, how you take care of your body, or the foods that work for you, this fact is still valid: what our bodies do for us is absolutely incredible.

Focusing heavily on what your body looks like can often cause toxic thoughts and unhealthy, obsessive habits. Instead, let’s focus on the way our body functions, and all that it does for us. After all, in the long run, nobody is going to remember you for your thigh gap or flat stomach. I always like to remember that instead, I want to be known for the way I treat people, the impact I make on the world, and the goals I was able to accomplish. All of those aspects of you will matter significantly more than your outside appearance.

When we feel ourselves pointing out our insecurities and letting them interfere with our mood, we lose sight of the purpose of our bodies: all the places they take us, and the things they do. The hike last summer that my legs allowed me to complete, the “A” my brain received on my math test after all of its hard work, and the people that my heart has made smile. Everything our bodies do for us should be honored consistently, regardless of confidence in the mirror that day. Heck, our bodies even heal from sickness and have babies! Commend yourself for everything your body gets you through, it is your one and only body, and is going to take it through your entire life; you may as well treat it with love and respect!

So with this mindset, I have transitioned from beating myself up about the cellulite on the back of my legs and the (very normal) acne that covers my chest, to appreciating my body’s functions and therefore treating it with care. I go on walks and do yoga and dance instead of pushing myself too hard with exercise on days when I need a break. I am sure to incorporate all the food groups throughout the day in my meals and snacks, instead of counting calories and dieting. I also honor my mental health, get proper rest, and practice self care by spending time with my family, watching TV, and allowing myself to step back and take a break from studying, work, or my social life. I still like to do cardio to improve my heart’s health and order a salad instead of fried chicken sometimes, but that’s because I like the way that it makes me feel, and I am creating a healthy life for my body to live. I am doing all of these things for the right reasons with desire, not because I want to punish my body or change the way it looks, but because I want to celebrate everything it does for me.

I know how hard it can be to get past the negative physical comments we often have towards our bodies. But even on hard days, I encourage us to focus on what truly matters more. It will never be realistic to love everything about our bodies every single day of the week, but frankly, that’s not even what we need to do. Instead, let’s accept our bodies (and its flaws) and shift to value it’s impressive capabilities. Your body is the only thing that will stick with you your whole life, so you may as well learn to embrace all it has to offer, celebrate its accomplishments, and honor the hard work it does to keep you alive.