ano This picture was taken just over ten years ago, on my sixteenth birthday, in New York City.

I was meeting with every major modeling agency through a talent manager I had recently met at an open call modeling convention. I eventually signed on as a new talent for a company in Los Angeles, but I wasn't exactly happy about it. When the above photo was taken, I was 5'11" and about 130 pounds. Still, I believed I had more weight to lose... especially if I wanted to have a decent modeling career. I was consistently told to "lose another five pounds." I was also told that I had to quit swim team because it was broadening my shoulders, and leave the basketball team because of how muscular it was making my legs.

To say that I was not loving myself is a huge understatement. In fact, I had the most dysfunctional relationship with my self-image when I was my thinnest. I was compulsively counting calories and carbs as I lightly snacked throughout the day. I started "power walking" through my neighborhood in a sweat suit in an attempt to slim down my basketball butt. Every meal felt like torture; trying to keep myself satisfied while feeling guilty about every bite. I never thought I was thin enough. Exercise became a punishment for treating myself, and this eventually caused me to resent working out altogether.

It was the most unloving relationship I have ever been in.

My whole world revolved around trying to achieve a physical ideal that wasn't even my own, and I eventually became a stranger to myself. In my modeling-industry-warped mind, I was constantly criticizing and comparing myself to the the iconic images of famous models in magazines and on television. It was so much easier to be critical of myself and to pick myself apart than to feel good about my body...

I didn't pursue a modeling career for long.

Fast forward ten years and I am a much healthier, happier version of myself than I was at sixteen, but I still struggle with being self-conscious about my body. I've always been tall and athletic, but I've had a hard time embracing my "Amazonian" stature. I always wanted to know what it would be like to be small and petite. Even when people would compliment my height and tell me how lucky I was, it fell on deaf ears. There was another girl named Lauren on my basketball team in high school; because she was shorter than me, our coach decided to nickname her "Little Lauren" and... you guessed it, I was "Big Lauren."

It felt like getting punched in the face every time he said it.

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I know I'm not alone in struggling to find that happy place with my body, and perhaps everyone experiences a certain degree of self-body-shaming because of the amount of media content we are exposed to today. For every "Instagram model" that floods the internet with filtered bikini photos, there are women everywhere lamenting their own physique. Now, more than ever, it seems as though loving yourself—truly L-O-V-E-LOVING your body, your shape, and the way it moves, evolves, and changes—is one of the hardest things to do.

During a recent class, I asked my riders to come up with three things that they truly loved about who they are. As I started to make my own list, it was a clear reminder of how difficult this simple suggestion can be. I decided to focus on the things that my body can do, instead of what it looks like, and the list began to grow. I can teach upwards of twenty SoulCycle classes in one week. I give great hugs. My body is able to practice yoga on a regular basis. I have a beating heart and air in my lungs... there were so many more things I could do, or be grateful for, than things I wanted to change. That's when it clicked... maybe the concept of self-love isn't something that comes with an answer?

What if the answer is to challenge ourselves every single day to practice self-love?

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It's still a huge challenge for me to feel comfortable working out in just a sports bra, but maybe that's the whole point? Maybe we have to play an active role in developing a positive relationship with our bodies by doing things that remind us of what we love about ourselves? Creating that mental list of things that we are grateful for, exercising because it feels good to take care of ourselves instead of doing it because we're punishing ourselves for consuming calories... working out in clothes that help us embrace our bodies and appreciate the way that they move and flow; a seemingly small act, when practiced regularly, can have a huge impact on our overall self-esteem.

We must be relentless in our practice of self-love and body positivity.

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STRENGTH comes in many different shapes and forms. The more we practice embracing what makes us different, and the amazing things our bodies can do, instead of what they look like, the more we might be able to celebrate ourselves and move away from that overly critical mindset.

Yoga has always been something that makes me feel strong and connected to my physicality, so I decided to wear a new outfit from Lucy Activewear to Dolores Park and practice some poses that make me feel proud of what my body can do. I might not have the size-zero physique I once did, but my body is capable of things I never could have done in that condition. Today, my relationship with food is a balancing act: as an athlete, I need fuel and nutrients to supplement my active lifestyle, but when I have downtime, I am never one to say no to a treat. Instead of shaming myself for having a body with curves and texture, I am choosing to be proud of my shape and the many things I can do with it.

A little something, every day.

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What do you do to make yourself feel proud of  your body? What makes you feel strong? I propose we make a commitment to put these answers into action on a daily basis and continue practicing the self-love that we deserve. Please share your story, leave a comment and check out my SoulCycle schedule in San Francisco this week!

Check out the Lucy Activewear collection and post a photo of yourself doing something that makes you feel strong and confident with the hashtag, #lucyletsgo!

Photography by the brilliant soul that is Jennifer Brody. Find her at the new Calabasas SoulCycle studio soon!

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