I lived my whole life in search of love and acceptance. Growing up, I was often bullied – mostly for how I looked. I wasn’t a beautiful teenage girl by societal standards: A chubbier-than-average girl with short hair and bushy eyebrows. When my body started to change through adolescence, my life changed along with it. And not for the better.

I got a new nickname at school, The Monkey, branded for my newly grown leg hair. While boys at school enjoyed talking with my pretty friends, most of them got their real kicks by drawing pictures of apes on notes they would pass along at the school lunch table, laughing when they reached me at the end of the row. Then when I was 13 and my breasts started to develop, a friend’s mother told everyone I was stuffing my bra.

There are more moments like this that I can remember… moments where I felt like my body was just not acceptable as it was. I was sexually assaulted a year before high school,and having a body I was already ashamed of, my insecurities only grew. I believed that being beautiful would solve all my problems. It would make me feel good about myself. It would protect me from ever being hurt by someone else again.

“Who could ever hurt someone who is really beautiful and perfect?” I thought. It was my life’s mission: To love my body, and to love myself.

But the problem with my mission, and what was different about it, was that my approach to reaching that goal was completely backwards. Not only did I believe that my body needed to change in order for me to love it, but what’s worse, was that I believed love for myself and for my body were only capable when OTHER people loved those things first. So my mission became an impossible dream – one that I obsessed with my whole entire life: Changing my body so that I could finally feel good about it.

Through the years of my eating disorder, my love for who I was halted at an emotional standstill. “I need to change the physical me first,” I thought. My weight, on the other hand, fluctuated like a rollercoaster.  Starving my body to feel good about it never worked. I’d reach a goal, feel no change emotionally, and then give up on my dream for a few weeks while I binge ate everything in the house. When self-loathing came, I would start all over. Nowhere in there was I being kind or loving to my body. Instead, it was all about the alterations that would LEAD to love. Why did I carry that ridiculous belief that finding happiness was all about changing my body? Some things are hard to let go of.

No matter what change I made, my body was never good enough to love it. It was a life of insanity.

Here’s the thing no one tells you about body image and loving yourself: Changing your body does not make ANY of those feelings you are longing for suddenly pop up out of magic land and into reality. There is no fairy godmother that comes down to sprinkle confidence dust all over you the minute you weigh in at whatever number you are so focused on reaching. There is no warrior that suddenly transforms inside you after you fit into the pair of jeans you are dying to fit into. I’ve been there. I reached those ridiculous quantifiers I set for myself… multiple times. You know what happened inside me? Nothing.

The moment I took a step back from the diets and the calorie journals I kept all those years, I was able to try and transform something else, something more important: My SOUL.

My eating disorder was all about finding more joy in my life; More self-love, More confidence. I found all of those things. But I didn’t find them by getting the body I wanted. I didn’t find them through suddenly being sexy or thin. I found them through being kind to myself, forgiving myself, loving myself, and caring for the body I live in.

When I learned to love myself from the inside out — loving myself for who I was first — loving my body then became a possibility. It didn’t matter what size my jeans were. It didn’t matter what the scale said. What mattered (and what will always matter) is that in my heart of hearts I truly love who I am. And I live a life that reflects that love every single day. I value myself enough to make that love unconditional. And suddenly, loving my body is unconditional, too. There is no number attached. There is no size listed. It’s just me.

About the author

Lauren Cioffi is a happiness guru, blogger, and creator of What is Perfection – the website dedicated to making women feel happy, confident and beautiful. In addition to inspiring women to find self love through her various e-guides and blog posts, Lauren loves fulfilling her photography obsession, trying new fun workouts, and spending cozy nights on the couch with her two puppies, and her Netflix.