Trigger warning : discussion of body image & disordered eating
My body changed throughout the day, molded like clay into however my brain told me to perceive it at any given moment. I never really knew what my body looked like.
When I was in middle school, I thought my body looked like the celebrities who I had been surrounded with growing up – tall, slender, flat-stomached, without any curves. I was never exposed to any other bodies – bodies with curves, tummy chub, acne, etc – so I figured that my body as it was had to be inherently wrong, and instead I simply had change it to look like the celebrities whose images I had ingrained into my brain as the “right” bodies. I would get frustrated when I looked in the mirror and my body didn’t actually look like those celebrities. Frustration led to desperate attempts to make my physical body look like the mental conception of my body. I forced myself to exercise in an attempt to change my body, running on the elliptical in my basement almost every day. I used exercising as a way to dictate how much I could eat in a day, in a twisted math equation I could never seem to satisfactorily solve. I restricted my eating too – I wrote down everything I ate and I guilted myself when I ate more than I was “supposed to”, I read snack wrappers and boxes seeking for the little number in the corner that would determine whether or not I could eat it, and I hyper fixated on the shifting, upward moving numbers in an ominous red light on the scale on my parent’s bathroom floor. I engaged in these disordered habits for years. It felt so impossible at times to break out of these habits, when everything surrounding me seemed to encourage it – exercise channels on YouTube centered around calorie-burning, ad campaigns for snacks based around the idea of “guilt-free” snacks, clothing that claimed to shape your body so it looked slimmer.
My body felt everchanging. When I woke up in the morning, I liked my body. It looked how I thought it “should.” When I ate lunch. I hated my body. It looked wrong – my stomach looked bigger and nothing felt right any more. When I put on my jeans on Monday, I didn’t notice anything about my body or the way the jeans fit. When I put the same jeans on on Wednesday, I called my best friend breaking down in frenzied tears because the waistband cut into my stomach when it didn’t last week and I didn’t understand what was so “wrong” with me. My body was constantly changing in my mind day to day and hour to hour. I felt so out of control which would only make me double down on my disordered eating and exercising habits.
I’m not always sure how I managed to pull out of all of these horrible habits, especially because society rewards these habits, reinforcing them under the guise of “fitness” and “being healthy.” I only know that I had some caring friends and family who helped me unlearn my disordered habits, and read some wonderful books that helped me to start reframing how I thought about my body and subsequently, eating and exercise. I was able to unlearn the false equations of thinness = attractiveness, health, and goodness, and exercise = a way to change your body. Instead, I learned all bodies = good bodies, exercise = a way to relieve stress, and eating = both a way to fuel your body and a way to enjoy delicious food. I did some research about the ineffective harm of diet culture, learned about the idea of intuitive eating, and perhaps most impactfully for me personally, body neutrality.
If you’ll permit me to get on my soap box for a moment – body neutrality is the idea that we have inherent worth beyond our physical bodies, and can then accept our bodies as vessels that carry us through our lives, rather than attaching positive and negative feelings towards them. This was revolutionary to me!! Especially as a female identifying individual, I was always under this implication that my body was the most important thing about me. But it’s not! Your body is not the most important thing about you! You are the most important thing about your body! My body changed throughout the day because that’s what bodies do, and it wasn’t a bad thing that I often felt somewhat full after I ate, and that my jeans fit differently on different days. It’s okay not to feel great about your body, It’s also okay to feel incredible about your body.
Candidly, I still have days where I struggle with my relationships with my body, eating, and exercise. But, it’s helpful to know that my body isn’t the only thing about me that matters. I included photos in this blog that capture me at some of my most genuinely joyful moments. While these photos include my body, they aren’t about my body – they are representations of the joy I find in my hobbies, the creative self-expression of my clothing, and how loved I am by friends and family. And that’s what matters.
This Girls Story Editor
Instagram – @riley.tomes and @cherrycolacosmos (poetry account!)
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