I’ve spent most of my life obsessed with my size. For a long time, I wanted to get rid of all of it. It felt disgusting and wrong to be big. It felt like I was failing at being beautiful.

I wanted to be tiny and adorable. I had this image in my head that I should be this little waif-like thing that boys could easily swing around. More profoundly, I thought becoming this little-bitty person would make me worthy of love.

Many years of soul work later, I no longer believe that narrative. In my own journey toward finding both fitness and myself, I have lived in many different body sizes. Armed with the information I need about exercise, nutrition, and my own body to lose weight, gain muscle, and achieve the results that I truly want for myself, I feel empowered. I’m not obsessed with numbers on the scale or numbers on the bar anymore. And from this much healthier, neutral place, I have fallen in love with being big.

I realize what people consider “big” is relative. But I feel big. So this isn’t related to anyone else’s definition of the word. It’s how I refer to my own body. I also want to be clear that praising my own bigness is in no way an attack on thin or lean women. I don’t support messages that lift up one type of body while ridiculing another. That wouldn’t be empowerment. That would be bullying.

There are so many ways to be beautiful, to be strong, and to be happy in your skin. Since I let go of my own damaging self-talk, I have found so many things to love and celebrate about my body at every size. But here is what I enjoy about being big:

It feels rebellious.

There are so many ways women are asked to be small that being proud of being big feels wonderfully radical. It’s a tiny victory in a lifetime of feeling shame over my size.

With ad campaigns and weight-loss commercials constantly talking about “losing the jiggle,” loving mine feels pretty rebellious. I (not so) secretly love to watch my thighs jiggle when I do plyos at the gym. I love watching the playback of training videos that involve seeing them move in slow motion. It’s simultaneously silly and sexy to me.

It’s comfortable.

One of the things I didn’t enjoy when I was at my leanest was that I suddenly found sitting down less comfortable. Having always had plenty of “cushion” back there, it was odd to sit down and feel hardness. Having gained back some weight is like adding a nice cozy layer of pillows. What I used to squeeze and cry about in the mirror, I now find ease and comfort in. It’s like cuddling with myself.

I feel soft.

I’ll be the first one to get angry about any messages concerning what a woman is supposed to look or feel like. All of those are damaging. But in my big body, I like feeling soft. I like the way my softness fills out clothing. I love my big, pillowy breasts (which are the first things I lose when I get leaner). It feels sexy to me to have softness to my body. I enjoy it.

I’m the biggest in photos.

This is especially true when I’m with my fitness pro friends at conferences. Maybe I love it because, in the past, being the biggest person in photos would send me into tears. But my hips take up more space than everyone else’s, and I love it. It’s not that I’m judging anyone else or measuring myself against anyone else in a ranking sort of way. It’s just a cathartic experience for me to look at a photo and immediately see I’m the “big” one and not feel sad. I’m happy to be. It’s beautiful.

My abilities are often underestimated.

Not being lean or having particularly defined muscles often leads to people dismissing my athletic abilities. Strangers underestimate my strength, endurance, and speed. There is something really satisfying about recognizing that small slight and breezing right through it. You cannot tell by looking at someone what they are capable of, and I love reminding people of that fact.

My body isn’t validated—I have to do that myself.

Because big bodies are not what women are told to have, I don’t have people regularly complimenting my physique. My body doesn’t look anything like a model you’d see on a runway or fitness magazine cover. In terms of Western beauty standards, I’m an outlier.

I look in the mirror and see nothing that I’m “supposed” to love and love it anyway. That kind of self-validation is powerful, and it’s something we all need to give ourselves.

The wonderful thing about this is that I’m deciding I’m beautiful for myself. I look in the mirror and see nothing that I’m “supposed” to love and love it anyway. That kind of self-validation is powerful, and it’s something we all need to give ourselves. Not getting any outside validation for my body forces a kind of self-love I don’t know that I’d have otherwise. I can’t look to others to tell me I’m OK. I have to do that for myself. And I do. Proudly.

It feels powerful.

Mostly, it just feels powerful to take up space without apology. Instead of crossing my legs and ankles and sucking in to try to be as compact as possible, I like to spread out. Power pose. I like that my bigness can be physically imposing if I need it to be. I love how dominant I feel stepping up to a deadlift. I just love taking up space. Not over others or more than others, but I take up all of the space I need.

I don’t know where my fitness journey will take me. My leanest times involved a kind of training I’m not currently interested in pursuing. Perhaps my interests will change. If they do, my body will follow. I will love and appreciate my body wherever it goes. But for now, for today, I love being big.

This article originally appeared on Girls Gone Strong and was republished with the author’s permission. Erin Brown is an author, speaker, and activist focusing on broadening the narrative of what it means to be a woman. Together with GGS, she produced A Conversation About Self Confidence. The views expressed herein are hers. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.