photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

In the eyes of fashion brands, magazines, advertising campaigns, and even my parents, my body is far from perfect or even desirable. I have a big butt, squidgy thighs, ox-like shoulders, long feet, thick hands, and a lower belly pooch, to name just a few body parts I've had beef with since birth.

I've spent the better part of my adolescence and adulthood accepting that my body won't ever change much; it's plain genetics. And though I've heightened my self-esteem greatly in my 20s and write about body positivity for a living, I still have days when I look in the mirror and can't find anything worth celebrating.

There's always a lot of hard work to be done when it comes to loving your own body. These are all the small steps I'm taking to further unpack my own body issues this year. They might not work for everyone, and they won't work immediately, but we all deserve to feel valid in our own bodies, even in the tiniest of ways.

I'm addressing the body privileges I do have.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

Sitting just below the American national average at a size 14, with an hourglass-shaped body, I still have a whole ton of options when it comes to shopping for clothes. On another note, the recent mainstream body-positivity movement included women like myself far before it was willing to accept women above a size 18 — in fact, women above my size are still rarely seen in media.

With the popularity of models such as Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence, I feel far more represented than a lot of other plus-size women. For that, I'm privileged. It makes me think twice any time I feel the need to complain about my body or how difficult it has made my life.

I'm donating all the too-small clothes I've been hoarding in the hopes that I'll shrink somehow.

photo: Giphy

We have all either accidentally bought an item that was too small or kept clothes that shrunk over time, thinking they'll "motivate us" to lose weight. But, uh, has that actually ever worked? Most likely not.

In fact, keeping clothes you don't and can't wear will not only waste space you could be saving for well-fitted items you'll actually use — those clothes will only make you feel worse and convince you that you've "failed" to give yourself a different, smaller body.

I might not fit into a size 10 or 12 ever again, and making sure I'm only keeping clothes that fit me has eliminated the idea in my mind that I should be any other size.

I'm biting my tongue, taking a deep breath, and swallowing my guilt whenever I'm about to say something bad about myself.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

I've noticed in the past 10 or so years that when I've had a really great week, month, or even year, it's mostly because I've gradually stopped myself from talking when I'm about to make a complaint that won't have any positive effect on me or the others around me.

This takes a lot of willpower, and it's definitely a "fake it until you make it" approach to life, but it works better than anything for me. When you don't verbalize negative thoughts about your own body, sometimes you just stop having them altogether.

It's also important that you don't speak ill of your own body around your friends and family — a simple "I'm feeling fat today," or "I wish my stomach looked more like so-and-so's" causes everyone in the room to immediately start comparing and ranking bodies, and that's not good for anyone.

I'm brainstorming gentle ways to shut down body shaming (either intended or accidental) from close friends and family.

photo: Giphy

I'm extremely lucky to be constantly surrounded by people who are supportive regardless of body type, but that wasn't always the case. Body shaming, especially around people of other generations, is a reality of life for most women, and it's imperative that we learn how to communicate how certain comments make us feel.

Let me recall a recent encounter with my own mom. Long story short, we were shopping; I picked out something she said "made my shoulders look big." She knew that had always been an insecurity of mine and was probably just trying to look out for me. I simply said, "They are big, and I still want it." She hasn't made a comment like that since, and our relationship has strongly benefited from it.

I'm writing myself reminders to celebrate achievements that have nothing to do with how I look.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

I came a long way professionally and personally in 2018, and all of those accomplishments have literally nothing to do with my body, my face, my hair, or any facet of my physical appearance. And now that the year is coming to an end, I feel like I haven't embraced or celebrated those experiences enough, maybe because I was too wrapped up in how I looked when those big moments happened.

From now on, when I accomplish something big or simply endure a major milestone in life, I'm stopping to celebrate with friends. This, I think, will help me feel validation that doesn't come from what other people think about my body.

I'm letting myself eat junk food when I crave it and using exercise as a stress-coping tool rather than a means of weight loss.

photo: Giphy

Don't get me wrong, I eat a lot. But I'll often go to a restaurant or order food, and think, "I should be good today," and pick something I perceive as healthier for me. Instead of using food as another way to police my own body, I think I'm better off just letting my tastebuds and brain decide what they want — to an extent. Eating greasy foods, as much as I love them, saps my energy when I've had too much.

I've also learned the hard way this year that I, personally, need constant exercise to keep my mind clear and to de-stress. But I have a hard time hitting the gym without thinking about the consequences it could have for my body. For me, 2019 will be the year of finding a good balance of nutrition and exercise.

I'm getting! More! Tattoos!

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

I clearly can't convince all of you to cover yourself in permanent ink — it's both painful and expensive — but my tattoos are such a big part of the reason I've learned to love and show off my body unashamedly. 

When your body is plastered in literal art, you also start to see your body as ... well, literal art. I also spend hundreds of dollars per tattoo, so they better get seen, dammit.

I'm sticking only to clothing brands that I know cater to my size and up.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

First of all, I like knowing that when I buy clothes online, or go into a brick-and-mortar to try stuff on, that they're going to fit. Screw the shame and guilt that plus-size women have been forced to feel over and over again in poorly lit dressing rooms with unflattering lighting, unhelpful sales assistants, and comically small clothes with little size consistency. You know what kinds of stores I'm talking about, and I'm staying the hell away from them this year.

Second of all, by supporting plus-size brands and straying from stores that barely cater to me (and don't cater to women above my size), I'm telling them with my purchasing power that things need to change.

I'm determining my size by my body measurements and not the made-up numbers women's fashion retailers have created to enforce stupid image standards.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

This one takes a lot of unlearning. Though most men's clothing is based on unyielding, objective body measurements, women's clothing has been sized using made-up numbers that are not universal or enforced by any government body or organization. There's a reason for that, and it's — spoiler alert — misogyny! 

In 2018, I finally learned to love that two-digit number that determines what clothes I will and won't fit into. But in 2019, I'm throwing that number out of my mind completely, focusing solely on my measurements, and cross-referencing them with size charts instead of restricting myself to one number that means nothing.

Will I still be ordering a size 14 most of the time? Probably. But with my measurements and size charts on hand, I can better prevent the feeling of inadequacy when something that should be my size is still to small. That transfers the blame onto the retailer, not my body.

I'm looking in the mirror more, especially when I'm naked.

photo: Giphy

Forcing yourself to study your own body might not be the best thing for you, I know. If it stresses you out, don't feel like you have to do it (or any of these things, for that matter).

I find that when I go for a really long time without looking at myself, I have a harder time liking what I see. If I stare at my body long enough, I begin to see it not as something to be desired but merely as a vessel with the sole function of carrying my brain around. It's kind of like when you say a word too many times and it starts to sound funny. Vessel. Vessel. Vessel. Vessel. Vessel.

I'm verbally complimenting my friends of all body types at every chance I get.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

You really do get what you give in this world, and that's why it's never a bad idea to tell your friends they're lookin' really, really good today — every day. Us mortal humans are just like those jabberjays from The Hunger Games; whether or not we realize we're doing it, we repeat things we hear often.

It's an endless cycle: You compliment your loved ones, they compliment you back, you compliment yourself. It's a win-win for everyone. I've been slacking on affirming my friends and family, and it's time I get out of that slump.

I'm diversifying my social media feeds by following women with bodies both similar and drastically different from mine — and interacting with those women directly.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

You don't just magically wake up one day and decide that your specific body is perfect. Years and years of exposure to a singular body type (thin, flat-stomached, thigh-gapped) "taught" us what bodies were acceptable for women to have, and we have to expose ourselves to other body types in order to unlearn that.

The quickest and most effective way to do that, I think, is to follow fashion influencers who have thick thighs, round bellies, muscular arms, chubby faces, or what-have-you instead of restricting yourself to what you've been told is an "aspirational" body type.

It's refreshing to go on the internet every day and see women I never would've seen in magazines growing up and discovering just how many gorgeous bodies exist among all of us. Due to my profession, I'm already following a lot of these women, but there is always room for more.

I'm just saying thank you when someone compliments me, rather than the defensive "That's not true, but thanks."

photo: Giphy

It's so incredibly easy to clam up when you get a really sincere compliment, especially when it's one you might not hear too often. It's also reflex for people (particularly women) to deny things that are good about themselves in an effort to appear modest.

But that's just one more way we can sell ourselves short in the self-esteem department. Make your response brief, with a curt and happy "thank you." You don't have to say anything else, but you're still letting your appreciation be known — and giving yourself time to chew on something really nice about yourself you might not have noticed before.

Also, it's just plain rude to turn down a compliment. When you turn down a compliment, you're telling someone that their opinion is invalid. You wouldn't like that, would you?

I'm posting all the photos I pose for, even if I'm mortified by the camera angle or how a certain part of my body looks.

photo: Instagram/nicoladallasen

I am constantly asking my friends to take photos of me when I like my outfit or am having a big party or something of the like. But most of the time, I just don't like how I look in a photo, and it's usually completely due to my own hangups about double chins, violin hips, and jiggly stomachs.

But here's the thing — people on the internet want to see things that are real, and I in no way want to contribute to the same ideal of perfection I'm trying to defeat. I'm working hard to remember that when I post a picture of myself with a belly roll or visible hip dips or even a second chin, I'm telling my friends and followers that those things are totally normal and OK to have.

And anyone who says otherwise is getting their ass blocked by me in 2019.