Sailor Brinkley Cook shares her journey to loving herself.

February 13, 2018

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Every day I feel further and further away from the dark thoughts and notions that once tried to occupy my head. I no longer dread the thing that gives me energy and life. I no longer hide myself away in the fear of breaking the little rules I created for myself in an attempt to feel in control of the world around me.

Growing up as a young girl in this world is not easy. Glossy magazines filled with glowing, sculpted women I’d scan through while in the waiting room of my pediatrician’s office. Beauty ads blarring on the television screen after my favorite show takes a commercial break. Walking the streets of New York at age 12 eating an ice cream cone, and looking up to see the long, thin legs of a supermodel dancing across a 10-story billboard. There is no escaping our society's ideas on perfection and beauty in this image-driven world.

Taylor Ballantyne

I don’t remember a time in my youth when I felt like the body I had was good enough. I had a family that loved and supported me, I had friends I could rely on who made me laugh, I was so fortunate. So lucky. Yet there was always a fog over the beauty of my life because of my relationship with myself. Summer days by the pool were prepared for by an hour in front of my mirror carefully assessing the perfect cover-up that concealed my puffy stomach and muscular legs. Squeezing my lower stomach wondering why the universe cursed me with this body. Cursed. Me. I was a preteen with no knowledge of my health and my body and thus I felt I had no control.

Midway through high school, I found a way to take control. I became overly involved in the idea of being just like those girls in those images. I wanted to be everything I wasn’t. I wanted to have a 23-inch waist and fit into a D cup bra from Victoria's Secret. I wanted to eat the way I thought those girls ate; steamed vegetables, no salt, no oil. I became so involved in this goal, this goal to be “perfection.” I quickly fell into making this goal and these routines my entire life. Friends would wonder why I wasn’t eating anything at our 7:30 dinner party, and I would reply strongly with, “Eating after 5:00 p.m. is not good for you.” I disappeared for hours at the gym and hours in the kitchen constructing the perfect “healthy” meal. I barely spent any time with the people who loved me and lost sight of the things I once loved doing. My attempt to gain control ended up controlling the entirety of who I was.

Taylor Ballantyne

Over time I released the reins. I slowly stopped being unhealthily concerned with my exercise routines. If I’m too tired, I give myself the day off and don’t think twice about it. I slowly started learning how to eat healthily and consciously, but not obsessively. I try to eat clean but if I want something I will listen to my body and eat it. If you told me at my darkest time that I would soon start eating dinner whenever I wanted to eat dinner, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. I realized through months and months of arguments with my inner thoughts and ideals how much more there is to life than myself. I looked further than the “perfection” I felt I needed to have and saw the beauty of the world. I spent more time outside with nature listening to the sounds of the Earth and staring at the clouds in the sky. I became a better friend, a better daughter and most importantly I was kinder and more understanding to myself and who I have always been. All through letting myself lose control over something so trivial as my appearance.

Once I felt strong enough I brought myself into an industry dictated by appearances. Funny, right? You would think after years of inner struggle with my outer self I would be the furthest away from a beauty industry. But hear me out. Our culture is not going to change overnight. Our image-driven society is one of the aspects of our world that make it so beautiful, if the contexts behind the images are mindful of the connotations the image can hold alone. The industry is changing for the better. I see that every day and I want to be a part of that change. I am seeing people on billboards that a wider range of human beings can identify with. I am reading important messages that go along with those beauty commercials that come on in between TV shows. I open up a magazine and there is emotional, social or political context to these images that have such a strong impact on our world.

Taylor Ballantyne

I then got lucky. I got invited to be a part of the change. I got to work with a magazine and people that I have admired my entire life, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. Joining a group of women that represent not only one body type, not only one skin tone, not only one culture is an honor beyond my years. Not only did I get lucky enough to create sexy, fun, empowering images on a beautiful beach in Aruba, but I get to share my story and my voice with the world. And you know what the best part of that is? I got to do it on my own terms and IN MY OWN WORDS.

I feel now I have almost entirely given myself the allowance to live imperfectly and enjoy it all. I feel now that I am more understanding toward my choices and mistakes. I want anyone struggling with their bodies, or with eating, or with themselves, to look around at the world. Take a deep breath. There is so much more out there than a measurement. There is so much more out there than what you see in the mirror. Treat yourself with the respect you would treat someone you love. Give yourself enough love to want to take care of your health, but also be mindful that you are only human. There is so much beauty in the mistakes, in the fight. There is so much beauty in the uncontrollable. 

I am a fighter.

I am strong.

I am romantic.

I am creative.

I am optimistic.

I am natural.

I am a work in progress.

See all of Sailor's stunning photos form SI Swimsuit 2018:

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