Like many girls growing up, I felt a lot of pressure to look pretty. I was a teenager when ultra-low-rise jeans were a trend and the Kardashians were just starting to become A Thing on TV. I was never above a size 6, but I still felt fat. Normal things that bodies do (such as my thighs spreading out when I sat down) disgusted me. I looked in the mirror and picked myself apart, sure that if I had less chub there or my nose didn’t look like that or I could go just one day without my skin breaking out, maybe I would see myself the same way I saw the other girls that I envied.
By the time I turned twenty, I had started doing jiu-jitsu as a hobby, never thinking it would become the staple in my life that it’s turned into. I gained muscle and lost fat, and I was also educating myself more about how to take better care of my skin and hair. I would still never land a modeling career, but I felt pretty.
Then, just as jiu-jitsu had made me feel beautiful, it started to make me feel ugly.
As I continued training and amping up my training, jiu-jitsu started taking away the beauty I felt I’d gained. My long hair was breaking, destroyed by friction on the mat or from being ripped out from underneath a teammate’s knee. My skin was breaking out despite my best efforts as other people’s sweat and bacteria made its way into my pores day after day, and my feet were scarred from mat burns. Pretty nails were out of the question, and many days, it didn’t seem worth it to wear makeup when I knew I’d be training in just a few hours anyway.
Sometime along the way, though, as I changed, so did my perception of my own appearance. Maybe it was the fact that high-waisted jeans were back in style, or maybe I just started seeing my body differently. I started loving my body for what it could do instead of what it looked like, but I also started loving what it looked like. I wore my bruises like medals and my muscles like armor. I wasn’t thrilled that it still looked like I had a double-chin if a photo was taken at a bad angle, but hey, my teammates had all tried standing to break out of my closed guard, so they’d seen all my chins anyway. I looked at the other women who trained with me and saw them in all their jiu-jitsu glory: red-faced, frizzy-haired, all smiles as they finished a tough training session. I thought they were beautiful, and so I started seeing myself the same way.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t get frustrated when I see my mat-damaged hair or get yet another giant training-related pimple despite being out of high school for a decade. There are still days when I wish I could strike a balance between training regularly and also looking like a perfectly posed and filtered Instagram influencer. But when it comes down to it, I’d rather look the way I do now: strong, a little beat-up, and happy.
Featured image by Trinity SP Photography