Free to Be Me

In the spring of 2018 my mom and I signed up for a women’s retreat in the Pocono Mountains called Rise Gatherings.


In the spring of 2018 my mom and I signed up for a women’s retreat in the Pocono Mountains called Rise Gatherings. We spent the weekend with women ages 15 – 75 from all over the country.

The days were filled with workshops that challenged me to paint my wildest dreams, practice Buti Yoga, and engage in meditation. As I went through the workshops, I was astounded by the people with whom I was talking, and felt free. In my last workshop, we discussed healthy sexuality and empowerment. People shared their struggles with many issues such as sexual assault and body image.  I met a woman four years older than me, a sophomore at Columbia University who ran a “body-posi” account on Instagram. I had never heard of this term, but she explained that it meant “body positive,” and shared her history of disordered eating. For the first time, I was told that belly rolls were something to be embraced instead of hidden, that “fat” was not a bad word, and that I didn’t have to hate the way my body looked. I immediately followed her account, as well as a host of other accounts like hers, and read through all of her posts. It was validating to see some of my own thoughts and insecurities reflected in her posts.

During the dance party that night as I danced in leggings and a sports bra, I felt embarrassed, but quickly remembered the woman’s comments. My body was allowing me to dance freely and move well, and I was grateful for it. My stomach allowed me to eat good food, my thighs let me run and were also perfect for my dog to sit on and cuddle all of which made me feel blessed. I danced with grandmothers with wrinkled skin and kind eyes, with tan, fit young women, with fat and happy women, and in my eyes they glowed. I saw the beauty in self-love and I will never go back. Weight doesn’t define health, and you don’t owe it to the world to be healthy. Today I scroll through my instagram feed and see posts about my favorite shows, my friends, and my passions, but I also see posts about the beauty of femininity, recovering from eating disorders, and fat-positivity. I have come so far in the process of learning to love myself and be grateful to my body for all that it can do. There’s always work to be done, but I know that I never would have begun this journey if not for this retreat.

About the Author: Leah is a sophomore in high school. She enjoys horseback riding, reading, lacrosse and playing the ukulele. She attended Rise Gatherings 2018 Weekend Getaway and had a transformative experience.