Healthy, Happy and Brave

A few years ago, I saw a picture of myself from vacation. I was by the pool…in a swimsuit but covered up. I saw an unhealthy person's physical traits but worse than that, I saw the pain and mental anguish I had been putting myself through for years because of how I felt about my body and my poor self-image.

I was disgusted and sad over how I looked.

I remember thinking, "Look at that fat lady."

I remember thinking, "Why would my husband want to be with her? What have you done to yourself? How are you ever going to change? How did you let yourself get this way?"

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with my self-image. I have always believed I was fat. I knew I had a pretty face. I would joke and say, "Well, I can't be fat and UGLY."

However, looking back over the years, and I mean way back before I was even a teen, I thought I was fat. I wasn't. I was nowhere near fat. That was the belief I held. That was what I thought I was supposed to be.

I remember my mom telling me one day when I was maybe 10 -12 years old, "You grow up, get married, have babies, and you get fat. That’s just what you do.” Now, bless my mom, I'm sure at that moment she was probably dealing with her own demons, and in her mind, she was wrestling with her own self-worth as a mother raising four kids. I'm sure I caught her in one of those “moments.” Her words stuck with me though.

As time went on, I continued to believe I was fat and unhealthy, and that was my destiny, although deep inside I fought it. I looked at magazines, models, movie stars, and people I knew who were not fat. I thought, “If I could be like them… if I could be skinny like them, smart like them, famous like them, and if I could be confident like them, then I'd be okay.” However, the words "I am fat" and "I will be fat" were rooted so DEEPLY in my subconscious and my conscious thoughts, there was no escaping them.

I spent years trying different diets, exercise plans, diet pills, toxic relationships, and making bad decisions in life and businesses. There was so much negative self-talk that I ended up fat and unhealthy just like I’d taught myself to be…just like I believed I was supposed to be.

Let's go back to the picture of "The Fat Lady" on my vacation. I decided not long after I saw the photo to begin changing my way of thinking. I wrote 2 letters to myself. One was to the fat lady on vacation, and the other was to the healthy lady on vacation the following year.

I read those letters the other day.

You see, I have been on a journey over the past few years to not only become healthier but to become nicer to myself and to appreciate myself just the way I am. It has taken me more than a year to be the "healthy lady" in the letter, and that’s okay. I have enjoyed my journey over the years, learning to love myself.

I love everything about myself now, including every inch of my body. Each and every stretch mark, dimple, and wrinkle are loved. I love how my body moves, feels, has increasingly defined muscles and is filled with energy.

Yes, I said I had to be brave to wear a two-piece swimsuit. I also had to be brave to walk in it. In the past, I wore the cute skirted swimsuits that covered me up with an additional cover on top of that. I used to sit in my beach chair and watch people. I watched them laugh, play, and not worry about what others thought of them in a swimsuit.

I had to be brave on this year's vacation just to get up from my chair and walk to the water in a two-piece swimsuit without a cover-up. I literally had to talk myself into going in the water. I remember sitting there reading a book, thinking, "Okay… I'm going to go in after this chapter. Okay, after this chapter, okay, after this chapter…"

Finally, I said, "Just go!"

But I didn't just go. I had to do the pep talk again.

"You are in a foreign country. No one knows you. No one cares. No one is watching. The water will feel good."

Next, I thought, "Okay, on the count of three, I'm going to get up and go…1...2…3…no…I can't… yes I can…1…2…3…go."

Finally, I got up, and walked 30 feet in a two-piece swimsuit, down to the water. It took everything I had.

I played and floated, but then I had to walk back. It wasn’t so bad. I mean, I had already walked the 30 feet to get in. So, I did my countdown again. "1…2…3…go…"

And I went. This time, I held my head up with confidence.

I am brave.

I was brave on my next vacation over this summer. This trip was to Mexico with my friend and personal trainer. She’s daring and adventurous and she loves to keep active on vacation.

Me? Well, I've never considered myself an active or adventurous type. Why? Because I've been scared. Scared of the adventure? No. Scared of falling or harming myself? No.

The truth is I never allowed myself to have adventures because I believed I was too fat.

I believed I was too fat to jump, paddle-board, kayak, zip line, or even snorkel. You see, when you snorkel, you have to wear a lifejacket and climb in and out of the boat. I was too embarrassed the life jacket wouldn't fit or that people would laugh at the fat lady trying to get in and out of the boat. It wasn’t that I was afraid of hurting myself physically but emotionally? Yes.

For so many years, I have been hurting myself mentally by worrying about what others think. I was so busy beating myself up that I missed out on fun and adventure.

This time, I let myself be brave again. I went paddle-boarding. I didn't make it to a standing position because of the wind and current, but that's okay.

I jumped into a cold fresh body of water. I held my nose and wore a lifejacket, but I JUMPED! I zip-lined into the water and was exhilarated. I snorkeled in a cave with bats flying around. I wasn't afraid. They counted for before I jumped. "1-2-3" and I was ready! I did it.

Then, I did the bravest thing of all; I had a photo taken standing next to my friend. I was wearing my red two-piece swimsuit again and she wore her bikini. Remember, I told you she's also my personal trainer and is very fit. I would have never been brave enough to do this before. She is one of the reasons I've become so brave. Not only has she helped me lose weight and get into shape on this journey, but she’s helped me believe in myself.


By no means do I take this term lightly or mean any disrespect to anyone who is brave in their jobs fighting fires and crime, or those being brave while dealing with a life-threatening disease. Bravery comes in many forms and many levels.

Bravery for some people is quitting their job to start their own business, dining alone in a restaurant, leaving a toxic relationship, running for political office, or wearing a two-piece red swimsuit and walking confidently on the beach.

Bravery is overcoming something that makes you feel uncomfortable and conquering the fear.

Bravery is believing in yourself.

I am brave.

I am bold.

I am scared, and I am still unsure sometimes, but I know I am comfortable being uncomfortable because that is what takes me to the next level. Being brave is also being vulnerable and sharing my journey. My journey is far from over. I will always have new goals and I will continue to be brave and move forward.

Perhaps most of all, bravery is sharing a picture of myself in a red two-piece swimsuit and not worrying about who will see it. I won’t ever look back at this photo and see pain and anguish. I’ll see the memories of the wonderful adventures I had and how daring and brave I am. I’m the healthy lady now.

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Shannon Cunningham

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