As an American woman, I swore the oath of a military officer and served in our Armed Forces. During my time in the military, I learned what it meant to fight for my identity as a woman, and an American. I learned about victory, and I learned about defeat. I learned that victory doesn’t always look and feel like victory, and that defeat is not always absolute.

SOURCE: INSTAGRAM, @MELPARRISHPLUS  Photo by Nick Suarez, styling and hair / make-up by Georgia Mitropoulos.


Photo by Nick Suarez, styling and hair / make-up by Georgia Mitropoulos.

Outright, clear-cut victory happens, on occasion, but not very often in today’s world. Sometimes the victory is not in the outcome, but in the almost imperceptible shifts that occur in the minds of our opponents. Sometimes, we are our own opponent.

I thought I had suffered defeat, in a very permanent and unalterable way, when I was medically discharged from the Navy. I had two major back surgeries during my Senior Year at the U.S. Naval Academy, and I was medically discharged from the Navy 1.5 years after graduating and being commissioned as an officer. It felt like my life was over.

“I have lost my opportunity to serve my country,” I thought. “Who and what can I possibly become that will ever measure up to what I thought I was? How will I ever be able to make an impact for America, and for women?”

The recovery from my second surgery took much longer than the first. It felt like I was learning to walk and use my muscles all over again. I had been an athlete my entire life and was used to being able to command my body to do just about anything I wanted it to, but that completely changed. 

In addition to the physical challenges of recovery, I was dealing with the mental and emotional complications of having my identity snatched away from me. Who was I if I wasn’t Melinda Parrish, badass, VERY physically fit, Naval Officer? I didn’t know. I also didn’t know how I was going to do things like get a job, pay my bills, and pick out a different outfit every day.

There was a mourning period. I drew inward, I gained weight as (in the words of Shonda Rhimes) “I piled food on top of feelings,” I let my commitment to regularly moving my body go. I stopped reading newspapers and listening to NPR and started immersing myself in reality shows and television dramas. I focused on finding work, romance, earning a salary, and attending to my insular world, rather than finding ways to serve and looking outside myself for purpose.

But eventually, I emerged from that state of hibernation. I noted how different the woman I had become was from the woman I wanted to be. I accepted my identity as a civilian, and eventually, I was able to forgive myself and my body for what had transpired. I began to take care of myself again.

I had to reframe my relationship with exercise and fitness and learn how to show my body love instead of pushing it to extremes all the time. I had to learn to pay attention to the food I was eating, and how it made me feel. I started to pay attention to the feelings previously masked by food, rather than using food as a way to avoid those feelings. And I had to learn what those feelings had to teach me about the woman that I wanted to be, and just how little of my full, potential amplitude I was projecting in my current state. It felt like another defeat to admit that I wasn’t who I wanted to be as an American woman.

But I kept showing up for that process of self-discovery, and allowing the things I was learning by listening to my body and processing my feelings to guide me through what amounted to a complete transformation of my life. A transformation from a chubby, grouchy communications consultant to a plus size model and body positivity advocate in less than two years. 

Now, I work with fashion clients all around the world, and as a body positivity advocate I create content to inspire and empower women to embrace their bodies as they are, so they can experience these life-changing effects of body love as well! 

I realize now, looking back, that every time I thought I was defeated, I was actually one step closer to victory.  The key to being an American woman living at full amplitude is to find a group of people to serve. I’ve made serving women not only in America, but around the world, the  focus of my life. 

I am an American woman. I live at full amplitude every single day. There is nothing, and no one, that can defeat me, and I make it my life’s mission to help other women feel this way as well.

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