My entire life I have felt disconnected from my physical being. I just didn’t see it as part of me. Instead, I looked at myself with disgust and criticism. I used words to talk to myself that can only be described as cruel and bullying. I did all of this because I didn’t meet my perception of what beautiful looked like: model-thin, flawless skin, and thick, straight hair.

My weight has often been a standing agenda item in the circle of my friends and family — regardless of my wishes. Mostly driven by concern, people would share their vision of how I should look and how I am at risk of health problems as a medically obese woman. Few have acknowledged my strength, cardiovascular health, and the near sixty-pound weight loss in my journey toward health and wellness.

I should be clear that none of these conversations have been borne of the desire to criticize me; they have been out of love. Nonetheless, they indirectly hurt me, because I don’t want to talk about my weight. Their message, that I need to change how I look, made me feel inferior, less than, and unworthy of love. It said to me that in order to be accepted, I needed to change who I was. Of course, they didn’t say that directly, but that is how their message was perceived.

As my wellness journey evolved, I developed my own philosophy, choosing health over size. My approach has become body positive and that has been crucial to developing self-esteem and confidence. From that place, I started to respect myself. And when we respect something, we show it love, care, and compassion. But it took me a long time to get there and some very uncomfortable discussions and boundary setting.

By setting boundaries, I send a powerful message to myself: I am my protector, I respect my values and boundaries, and I choose me over someone’s perception of how I should look. Whether comments about my body are said with love or concern, my body is my business.

I get to decide what I do and do not want to talk about. That means telling my friends and family that I don’t want to talk about my weight. Sometimes that boundary is well received. Other times people have reacted badly — some even took offence. My greatest challenge was learning to sit with the uncomfortable feelings of setting boundaries and resisting the urge to soothe the other person’s unease. Frankly, that is not my responsibility.

The body positive movement is transformative in terms of societal norms. Although we still have a long way to go, we are becoming more accepting of women of all shapes and sizes. My hope is that we can all begin to accept ourselves exactly as we are and that any changes we want to make are based in the motivation of living a healthier and more fulfilling life — not to attain unrealistic beauty standards.

Honouring myself has been transformative. I stopped treating my body as a part of me that I detested and instead treat myself with the respect, love, and compassion I emanate as the woman I have become. (There is nothing sexier and more empowering than a woman unapologetically owning who she is.) Most of all, I realized just how strong, determined, and resilient I am. This is where my journey of believing anything was possible was born.

Writer and wellness advocate Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery writers and bloggers, published on websites such as Recovery.Org, The Fix, Intervene, Workit Health, iExhale, Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, Transformation is Real, Sanford House, Winward Way and Casa Capri.