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I was called fat for the first time when I was 5: My friends and I were playing dress up, and one of them said “Maggie, you’re fat.” I was old enough to know that fat meant ugly, so from then on I was acutely aware of my body. Since I was actually chubby, my mother did her best to make me feel good about myself: When I had to buy a women’s size large coat in grade 2, she praised me for having a “big girl’s body.”

That was the same year I started getting bullied. Two boys started calling me “Mrs. Fatty” and chased me around the playground hurling rocks and insults. This lasted for all of elementary and middle school; the night before a new school year, I would think: This year I’m not going to let anybody call me fat.

Once I got to high school, I started experimenting with yo-yo diets and weight loss pills to no avail; even though I was exercising six times a week and trying to eat less than 800 calories a day, I couldn’t lose enough weight to be the size 6 I craved so badly. People would say “You have such a pretty face!”, which to me meant “You’d look better if you were skinny.”

At 17, my doctor told me I was healthy and didn’t need to lose weight, something that shocked the hell out of me. I was huge, how could he say I didn’t need to lose weight? But I kept exercising and eating healthily, and eventually got a boyfriend, which for me was validation that I was pretty.

My first year of university, I gained the freshman weight, and it snowballed from there. I ignored mirrors and allowed people to treat me badly, because having no self-esteem does that to you. Finally, my then-boyfriend’s mom asked me to join a fitness/weight loss bootcamp with her, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. With the help of a trainer and a very supportive family, I lost 45 lbs. I’ve kept the weight off for 2 and a half years, give or take 5 pounds here and there.

Most important, though, is something my trainer told me: At my first weigh-in, I started bawling right there in front of her. After I calmed down, she asked me if I liked myself. I said “No.”

She looked me in the eye and said “In life, there are going to be a lot of tough situations that you will have to get through, and the only way you can get through them is if you love yourself. You are your #1 support system, so if you don’t love yourself you’ll keep getting knocked down, and eventually you won’t be able to get up again. Do you want to be able to get back up again?”

I really did. So I worked my ass off, lost the weight, and I finally felt okay with myself. I’m not implying that losing weight is the solution to every problem, but for me it was the catalyst; I felt right in my own skin for the first time, and I was able to start loving myself. I’m very proud to say that today, and from here on out, I love myself. I remind myself every day that I am beautiful, and that I am worthy of everything I have.

I regret that I wasn’t able to love myself sooner. I can’t imagine how much better my life would have been if I hadn’t been afraid to put myself out there. Sometimes I wonder if I might be somewhere else in life now, had I started being the confident, outgoing person I am now… at a younger age. I missed out on so much because I hated my body, and by extension, myself.

I regret hating myself for so long, because it sticks with you. There are still days where I look at myself and see the overweight 13-year-old looking back. I think a small part of me will always feel like “the fat girl,” but thankfully I’ve realized that being skinny is not what’s important: what’s important is being okay with me, and loving the junk in my trunk that contributes to who I am. I want to go back and hug that little girl crying on the playground so she can know that who she is… is enough. It’s for her, and for my future daughter if I’m so lucky, that I love every bit of myself.