When I look at pictures of my younger self, I see a happy, little girl absolutely rocking tiny shorts with sleeveless tops while not caring about what others thought.

I was happy with how I looked, and I didn’t think about how others saw me. My body was just my body and not the key to my happiness–or lack thereof.

This all started to change after my ninth birthday, which I had to wear a bathing suit for.

I remember going to the store with my mother and trying to pick out something cute (gotta impress those 4th grade boys, am I right?).

At first, I only glanced at the cute polka-dotted bikinis, but then gathering up all my courage, I went over and picked one up. My mother immediately snatched the suit out of my hands, and she looked at me saying sympathetically saying, “You don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of all of your friends and family by wearing something that doesn’t show off your good parts do you?”

Initially, I didn’t really understand what she meant. Then I started thinking that if the cute bikini wasn’t showing off my good parts, what bad parts was it showing?

Regardless, the damage was done, and I was no longer comfortable with myself. My body somehow felt wrong–something I should be ashamed of.

Unsure of my looks, I decided the best path was to completely cover my body constantly so no one could see it. For what seemed like forever, my go-to outfit was a sweatshirt and jeans.

My mother didn’t support this baggy phase, and when I was about 12, she told me that I just needed to figure out what would compliment my good parts.

In a fit of pre-teen rage, I angrily questioned, “Well what are my good parts, huh? If someone would tell me I would try!”

That’s when the “you have such a pretty face!” stage started.

When no one could find anything to compliment about my physical features, they automatically went with a “pretty face,” “nice personality” or “great sense of humor.”

As a result, I became disgusted with myself–both physically and mentally. I couldn’t look in the mirror and see anything I loved.

My mother did not help this phase, even though I think she tried in the only way she knew how.

My mother struggled with her own body image and projected her anxieties on me. She constantly reminded me that my body was imperfect in more ways than one, but not on purpose.

While I know my dad didn’t agree with her, he didn’t speak up, which hurt just as much. Soon the word fat and bad became synonymous in my house.

On holidays I would always expect my mother to buy me a diet plan or a diet pill that she thought would help me. She would leave exercise plans or health tips in my room with the reminder that something was wrong with me. . .that I needed to fix myself.

Going shopping soon became a thing of nightmares because I could never find anything that fit and looked good.

Not only did I chastise myself for this problem, but others would insult the clothes I wore or how they looked: even though it was all I could find.

My mother would always try to help me find clothes, but in the end, she could never help, which made me feel even worse.

These constant insults and helpless feelings made me hate myself, and my self-hatred turned my friends away from me because I was always insecure about what they thought of me.

Ironically enough, all these insecurities made me eat even more.

Instead of going out, I channeled all my energies into my studies. I succeeded in most things I attempted, but these triumphs didn’t make me happy.

The summer before my eighth grade year, my mother signed me up for weight watchers (again), but was determined, this time, to help me lose weight.

I ate “thin bread” (bread that is thinner than a Victoria Secret model) and more fruit and veggies than I could possible imagine (I basically bought the whole produce section of Kroger).

I remember at summer camps feeling very insecure about my lunches because when I saw the people around me I knew they were thinking, “You can’t get that big by just eating fruit and thin bread sandwiches. You must be dieting. Guess you finally realized how fat you were.”

Now, this most likely is not what the people were thinking, but my mind twisted their thoughts.

My mother’s plan succeeded, and I lost about 55 lbs. When I went back to school no one could believe I was even the same person.

While this did bring me some happiness, it was not the feeling I thought it would be. I always assumed once I lost weight I would finally be happy with myself. I thought I would fall completely in-love with myself and start going out and accepting compliments (that were not about my “pretty face” and “sense on humor”), but instead I still hated myself, and this confused me.

This was the point when I (finally) started thinking about what was making me sad. Then it came to me (still the best lightbulb moment ever in my opinion):

I was stressing so much about what others thought of me that I never stopped to figure out what I thought about myself.

All my opinions of myself were what others had told me about myself. I thought, “How stupid is that? Shouldn’t I be to one to know myself best; after all, I am myself?”

For about three months, maybe more, I tried to figure out how to make myself happier. Then I figured it out: I needed to stop caring. Stop caring about what others thought of me, and start caring more about how I thought of myself.

Once I stopped caring about others, most of my weight came back (maybe even a little more). I embraced my curves, and I’ve gotta say I can look hotter than hell if I want.

When people tell me that I’m “too fat” to wear that short skirt or “too fat” to wear baby doll dresses, I simply tell them they’re wrong.

Sometimes people have looked shocked or horrified at my response, but other times people have looked proud. I started shopping for clothes that would actually fit me now instead of clothes that would fit me once I lost weight.

I embraced my fat face with no cheekbones, and now you rarely see me on the weekend without red lips (BEST confidence booster in the world).

Still, the biggest challenge is loving myself, and I think this will always be an ongoing battle. To help me get through hard times I have a list of everything I love about myself, both physical and mental: I’m a caring friend, a good artist and a smart cookie.

Why shouldn’t I love myself? Huh? No answers to that question? That’s what I thought.

There is no reason why anyone should not love themselves.

So, I am calling all my fellow GrrlPunchers to begin their journey of self-love and to stop caring about what others think of you. After all, your opinion about yourself is the only opinion that matters.