My story begins 16 years ago.
I was 12 years old and enjoying my summer vacation with my sister at the local city pool. We would ride our bikes down the block and spend our summer days splashing around with other kids, even on days when we had softball games. We were such rebels.
While I have many happy memories at that small town pool, I have many sad memories too.
I’ve struggled with my weight for as LONG as I can remember. I was always chubby as a kid and then I got REALLY chubby as I hit middle school. Being taller than EVERYONE in my class (as a female) and being overweight wasn’t the best combination for an awkward little kid like me.
Looking back, I love my chubby, quirky self. But at the time, I was so insecure.Those insecurities didn’t blossom from the blue, though.
I remember walking past other kids at the pool and they would call me a whale.
I would jump off the diving board and they would say things like, “She’s going to make all the water come out of the pool!”
“Don’t get stuck going down the slide,” others would say.
I was mortified.
Some days, I wouldn’t use the diving board or slide simply because I couldn’t stand the horrible and negative comments that could come my way. I would hide in the water and feel ashamed of my body.
Thankfully, I had my sister there who always reminded me that I’m beautiful and I shouldn’t care what other people said about me. Sarah would even stand up for me at times. My little sister. She was sassy as ever and always defending me.
Flash forward two weeks ago. My friend and owner of local fashion bus, retro 101, asked me if I wanted to be a swimsuit model for her upcoming segment on LIVE TV. She said she is looking for women of all sizes. She also thought this would be a great opportunity to celebrate my weight loss and everything I have accomplished in the past 18 months. On a good day, I’m 75 lbs down! Today, I am 20 lbs lighter than BEFORE I got pregnant.
Without hesitation, I said yes.
I mean, I literally text her back within 2 seconds and said, “YES! I am in!”
I am not ashamed of this body anymore.
I am not afraid of what others think about me anymore.
I am not going to hide my body in fear of what others will say as I walk past them.
I always find myself asking, “Why not?”
I can do this no problem.
What’s stopping me?
Who is holding me back?
Nothing and no one can stop me when my mind is made up on something great!
I wanted to do this segment on LIVE TV for me, but I also wanted to do it for all the Little Ashley’s in the world. Or even the Big Ashley’s who need an extra boast of confidence in their life.
I wanted to prove to both the bullies and the people being bullied that people with confidence and a positive outlook can do ANYTHING in this entire world.
You are unstoppable, if only you believe in yourself and forget about the nay-sayers. Surround yourself with encouraging and uplifting people and you’ll never be the same person again.
Last week, Heather and I went to breakfast to discuss our swimsuit game plan. We shared a bacon, spinach, tomato, and Gouda cheese omelet…because who doesn’t eat bacon and cheese before trying on swimsuits?
I didn’t know what I expected, but part of me was thinking we would roll around to a few local stores and maybe even Target to check out the selection. But as we were walking, Heather grabbed my arm and said, “Ok, you’re doing to die. Are you ready for me to tell you what’s going to happen?”
“UM, YES!” I said.
“You are getting a custom swimsuit made,” she said with the biggest smile on her face.
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to cry. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to cry again. I felt so special.
“She is a local swimsuit designer and she designs retro and vintage swimsuits,” Heather said.
She pulled up her phone and said, “Seriously, just look at these swimsuits! Isn’t she so badass? This one is SO YOU!”
I hugged her and thanked her probably a million times. I started stalking the designer, Collective Hearts. I was in LOVE with everything she designed.
When I finally got to meet Ashley, she was everything I expected and more! She had a cute, retro style as her everyday look. We quickly bonded about our middle names being the same (Marie). We both went to Ball State. We both graduated in 2010. We both met our husbands at college. It was an instant connection.
Ashley told me that her company, Collective Hearts, is named after a song that reminds her of her in-laws. She almost had tears in her eyes talking about how much she loved them. Her love and appreciation for them reminded me of Justin’s parents, who I absolutely adore as well.
She measured me, felt me up, and then we spent the afternoon eating lunch.
When I tried on the swimsuit at her house over the weekend, I walked out of the bedroom and looked in the mirror. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I wanted to cry.
I’ve NEVER in my entire life felt this comfortable and confident in any swimsuit or piece of clothing for that matter.
“Do you love it?” Ashley asked. “You look awesome in it.”
I was at a loss of words.
Not only did I love it, I wanted to sleep in it. I truly felt like my body matched how I felt on the inside….for the first time, in a VERY long time.
Swimsuit shopping has always been a horrifying experience. I have big curves, a small waist, and an even smaller chest. Nothing ever seemed to flatter these qualities of my body.
I have broken down and cried in a fitting room (or 50) while trying to find a swimsuit that made me feel comfortable and flattered my body.
Finally, someone who gets it.
Someone who understands a woman’s body.
Someone who has a mission to celebrate every woman’s body.
Someone who believes ALL women should have a swimsuit that flatters their body – size 2 to 32, it doesn’t matter.
When I arrived in the Indy Style studio this morning, I hardly felt nervous. It was a odd feeling. I definitely thought I would be a hot mess.
But I was content and happy. I was ready to celebrate all of my hard work.
I was ready to encourage other women to stop caring so much about their bodies and just celebrate them.
I got my make-up done by a professional. Thank goodness because I wasn’t prepared at all! I had no foundation or concealer that matched my new spray-tanned skin.
A few minutes later, Heather came walking toward me with a mic.
“We are mic’ing you up, girl!” she said.
“WHAT? I am talking?!” I said and laughed. “Ok, I’m in!”
The producer walked into the room and said, “WOW! You look incredible. How do you feel?”
“I feel amazing,” I said. “I feel so great. I’ve never felt this comfortable in my own skin and I’ve always hated swimsuit shopping, but now…I just feel incredible!”
“You’re going to make me cry!” the producer said.
“Save it for the live segment, girl!” Heather said.
We walked toward the set and everything else is a blur.
All I know is that I awkwardly waved at the camera at least 2 times.
I also raised the roof (twice) during my interview.
And I had the absolute BEST time.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about today and everything leading up to this moment.
Before I go, I just want to remind you that it’s easy to let other people get into your head. You can easily let them suck the joy and happiness straight from your soul.
But I have a secret…they can’t do that to you when you’re happy, confident, and believe in yourself.
They can’t bring you down when YOU 100% know you’re better than what they say.
I’m not a whale.
I’m not going to let all the water escape the pool during my AWESOME cannon ball.
I’m definitely not going to get stuck in the slide.
And neither will you.
Live in the moment without worrying what others think about you and your body. I promise, you care more than they do anyway!
I had so many insane fears leading up to this moment.
What if people see my razor burn? Why didn’t I get a bikini wax?
What if I start my period and then my tampon string hangs out from my swimsuit?
What if I trip while walking on stage?
What do I do with my hand while I am posing and holding this bag? SERIOUSLY, someone help – what do I do with my hand?!? (Insert me awkwardly waving and raising the roof – that’s what you do with your hand, I suppose).
But the best part is that out of all the fears, I never once feared looking fat.
I never once feared how people would judge my body.
Thank you again to Heather for this amazing opportunity to support retro 101 and everything that you do. You’re an amazing business woman and an inspiration to me!
Thank you to Emily at Indy Air Tan, who made me feel super comfortable even when I was wearing the smallest paper thong known to mankind.
Thank you to the make-up artist who made me feel like a TRUE super model.
Thank you to the other models for making me laugh and telling me I should be on TV more often. Is the world ready for that?
Thank you to my husband, who has been my biggest supporter and cheerleader for the past 9 years. Also, when people ask what your wife does for a living, you can say: “She is a swimsuit model.” BOOM.
Thank you to Coop, who makes me laugh on a daily basis and reminds me that life truly is about the simplest and smallest moments.
Thanks to my family for always believing in me and encouraging me to follow my dreams! And to Sarah, who defended on all those days at the city pool! 🙂
Thanks to my friends who encouraged me along the way and sent me text messages inspiring me to be great today (and everyday, really)! You know who you are, xoxo!
Thank you to all of YOU for making me feel like a million bucks today!
And last but not least, thank you to my new friend and talented swimsuit designer, Ashley from Collective Hearts, who encourages ALL of us to just be ourselves. No matter our size or style.
Don’t waste your energy and time in this world feeling unhappy and negative.
If you don’t like something about your body, work to improve or enhance it. Hit the gym. Do those squats. Work on those abs. Skip those tater tots (easier said than done, I know).
Take charge of your life. And yourself!
P.S. I am not taking off this headband ever again.
P.P.S. If Ellen calls and wants me on her TV show, as a model or a guest in general – this will be my reaction: