When I was a small girl, I loved playing outside. I was athletic and loved to climb trees and run fast with my brother. I liked to ride my bike and wander in the woods and jump rope and hula hoop. I liked to dive underneath waves and dance in the sand and search the seashore for mysterious shells or washed up jellyfish.

I also loved to read. I loved to write. I loved to sing and laugh and play pretend. I loved magic, I loved making things and I cherished my broad and mysterious imagination. I was a precocious child, a fast learner, an early reader.

Also, by the time I was 3 years old, I was told that I was “pretty.” And, that I was “cute.” These kinds of comments meant almost nothing to me as a small child, other than to irritate me (I didn’t want to be called cute! Who do you think you are that you get to call me pretty!). I was a strong girl with my own thoughts and ideas, and I didn’t like adults trying to tell me ANYTHING, at that age (certainly, not SILLY things like “cute” and “pretty”).

In first grade, a boy who sat behind me in class told me that he could see down the back of my shirt and down my pants (he could not), and that he could see my body. This made me uncomfortable, but I was too young to understand much about what he was doing, other than that he was trying to demonstrate some kind of power over me. I didn’t feel threatened, but I did feel angry, and I felt something else: NOTICED. Not for who I was, but for my body. I didn’t think I liked being noticed like this, but I was busy running, jumping, playing and being a brave little girl, so I ignored him (as I was instructed to do), and I didn’t pay him any mind.

Years later, my body began to change. I grew strong, big, muscular legs that led into wide hips. I didn’t notice my body developing, until a few kids at school began to call me thunder thighs. At first, I didn’t know whether to be hurt or to laugh. I wasn’t aware that my legs were wrong or bad or different or too big or too strong. They were my legs. They did things for me. I appreciated that. Period. Now, I wondered if something wasn’t quite right with my body. I didn’t mind my legs, when I thought about it, but I wasn’t sure about these comments and what they implied. Something started to feel not quite right. But, I kept running, jumping and playing, and I tried not to pay it any mind.

A year later, while shopping for a bathing suit, my mother commented on my developing, pre-pubescent body. I was almost 11, and my body was changing fast. I had entered that awkward stage of female development when things start growing in strange places and at unfortunate times. My butt and legs were strong and thick, while my chest and stomach remained flat. My face had filled out, my hair was suddenly frizzy and I realized I wasn’t the same “pretty little girl” I used to be.

I needed to work on my weight, my mother told me. I had to watch it, she reminded me. Up until then, I hadn’t thought much about my weight, or my body, and I certainly hadn’t been “watching it.” I knew something was terribly wrong in this equation, but I mistook the “wrong” thing as being ME.

That day was a turning point in my life. All the things I liked and loved began to shrink down beside this newfound idea that something was wrong, and that something was definitely my body, and my body was definitely ME. The girl I was became secondary to the girl I looked like. Mira on the inside became the runner up to Mira on the outside. While Mira on the inside was a brave, bold and clever girl, Mira on the outside was lumpy, frumpy and unfortunate looking. Too big. Too much. Too often.

My thunder thighs were now very bad news. People were looking at my body, and they were noticing it. People were noticing my body, and acting like my body was their business. This didn’t seem right, but then, an entire world of messaging was backing them up, so who was I to disagree? Magazines aimed directly at me (Teen Magazine, Seventeen Magazine) told me to pay a lot of attention to my weight, diet, hair, makeup, clothes and boys. Good looking girls grew into good looking women, and good looking women were rewarded on television, on the news and in life! In every direction I looked, there was an image of a woman and accompanying commentary to let me know what was right, wrong, good or bad.

Over time, I lost total and complete interest in the best parts of me, because if I didn’t look right, who cares? Why run, jump and play when the world wanted me to sit still and look pretty. Why stand tall when the world wanted to me to shrink down in size? I heard people tell me that a woman could do anything, but that was usually after they’d told me what to wear, eat and say while doing it.

By the time I got to college, I’d surrendered to the idea that if I didn’t look perfect, I would never have a life and never be happy and never be anyone worth anything. Something was wrong, and something had to change, and that “something” was me. I exercised constantly. I developed an eating disorder. I grew depressed. I struggled to have a social life. I was exhausted, I was broken and I didn’t even know what the hell I was doing anymore. I got so caught up in working on my outside, that I starved my inside, and lost all sense of who I was. I had changed outside Mira, but nothing was better. In fact, everything hurt and everything was wrong.

One day, when I was 23, I came home from work and wandered into my bathroom. I stood in that tiny room and caught my own eye in the mirror. For the first time in a long time, I realized that I didn’t recognize myself. Who was this person, I wondered? Where is Mira? Inside Mira? Outside Mira? Where is the girl who loves to climb trees and wander the woods and swim in the ocean and dance in the rain? Where is the girl who likes books and words and thoughts and ideas? Where is the girl who loves to run, jump and play?

I had turned into one of those one-dimensional images I’d seen in so many magazines, and I was empty. I was breathing, but I wasn’t ALIVE. I was entirely made up of activities designed to rid me of unwanted, exterior characteristics that meant NOTHING to me. I looked back at this face I was wearing, and I stared, through tears, for a long time. Finally, I looked at her, and I told her:

I am coming for you. I am right here, and I am coming, and I will bring you home.

And, for the next 10 years, that is exactly what I did. Along the way, I learned that I had been setup to fail from the very beginning. Because I am a woman. My very first memories include frequent commentary on my looks. Before I learned to read, I was “pretty.” I was still playing with Barbies, and boys were remarking on my body parts and discussing the size of my thighs. I was entering puberty, and the world (including those close to me) was waiting and ready to pounce on my vulnerability and innocence. Ready to show me what I was supposed to be. Ready to tell me what it needed from me. Ready to lead me far, far away from myself and into the arms of a prepackaged world designed to keep me small, powerless, quiet and dependent.

It took me 10 years to untangle myself from that briar patch, and now that I am out of it, it is my absolute responsibility to do my part to burn the damn thing down. Now that I know who I am, I can never stop telling the world, since the world worked very hard for a very long time to shut me up.

I tell you, I love being a woman, but not because it’s easy or because the world has paved a safe and nurturing road for me.

I love being a woman, because I’m so powerful that entire institutions and political parties want to keep me down (they’re scared of me!). I love being a woman, because I’m so big, entire continents want to try to keep me small (they’re afraid of me!). I’m so loud, that entire religions want to keep me quiet (they don’t know what I’ll say!). I’m so beautiful, so colorful and so vibrant that whole cultures want to change the way I look (because, I will blind them with this beautiful way I was made!)

Girl, woman, lady, friend. Don’t you ever, ever believe that you have to be anything but WHO YOU ARE. Big, small, wide, tall, thin, fat, loud, proud, quiet, bold, white, black, brown, yellow, red, PRECISE. You.

Go run, jump and play.

Go find yourself. Go. Bring yourself home.

Your body is your own. You never have to leave it again.