Welcome to INSTALLMENT II in our Body Image Series!
This post was a very eye-opening and amazing post for me (as I'm sure all of the rest will be as well). I related to both of these stories in different ways, considering these are two very different tales from two very different perspectives: Sara and Abbey. These two young women have never met, and have struggled with different obstacles in their journeys, but they have BOTH had to courage to stand up to negative self-talk.
Warning: some triggers may be present for those recovering from any sort of self-harm or other disorder.
Maybe their words can speak to something you've run into on your path.
S A R A
I was 15 when I came into anorexia. I say "came into" because I'm not sure if it was a genetic predisposition from my mother's side of the family, or a subconscious development based on cultural factors, or a combination of both. It's interesting, being a teenage girl in Western society, especially when you're not the definition of large nor the definition of small-- just kind of in the middle, average, not off the charts in either direction, nothing to distinguish yourself on the spectrum. At 5'3" with a healthy frame, I starved & over-exercised myself and even after multiple traditional recovery efforts and getting my weight back up to a "normal" range, the little monsters have never gone away. I continue to deal with them every day.
I turned 28 earlier this month. In February, I moved across the country on a whim from my native NYC to Los Angeles, in pursuit of a calmer life-- sunnier, warmer, more open. Everything fell into place incredibly quickly-- I was offered my dream job at an organization that I have cared about for over half of my life, I signed the lease on my dream apartment (my first solo living experience ever!), I purchased my dream car. While in the past I would have waited to pursue those things until I was at the "right weight," I finally refused to delay my happiness anymore, and the universe responded with support & abundance. Despite these ticks in the positive column, despite finally feeling at peace with the divine flow & my destiny, despite knowing that I can now live a life of service to a cause that I care so much about, the little monsters continue to creep up.
To which I say: "F*ck that!" You know what's actually true, what actually counts? I have strong, naturally muscular legs that allow me to drive to the beach, that allow me to kick ass on the elliptical machine, that carry me to caffeinated bliss down the street every morning, that bring me through the doors of my dream job to make the world a safer place for animals. I have a short, compact, strong body that allows me to move with ease, that I feel the power of during my meditation practice, that was created by two loving parents who show me nothing but love and support on a daily basis, that allows me to engage in beautiful sensory experiences. I have a brain & a heart that are filled with borderline-monastic obsession over books, music, films, travel, loving relationships, and the occasional root beer. I have a spirit that longs for adventure, connection, exploration, and the otherworldly. My body is not the measure of my worth. I am committed to being kind to my body & to reaching a place of comfort within my own skin, but that is not the total of my worth. And while the monsters may never disappear, it is well within my ability to receive them with equal parts grace & hostility, to do a system override, and to tell them that *they* actually mean nothing, not me.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to eating disorders; "you have to be a thin, caucasian, young woman to have an eating disorder," or the ever-popular, "An eating disorder is something you choose."
There is a definite stigma and weight bias that this culture applies to individuals, but the truth is, studies show that eating disorders don't discriminate. People of all shapes, sizes, races, cultural backgrounds, family histories, are proven to have struggled with eating disorders.
Sadly, the misconception that an individual must be thin to have an eating disorder can put those at an "ideal and healthy weight" at a greater risk for further anxiety and depression related to their disorder. Take Sara, for instance. Not only is she aware of the fact that her eating disorder took her captive, but that her body was "kind of in the middle" and not in either extreme of the weight-mosphere.
Oftentimes, this can also be a place where individuals get stuck in the recovery process. If the individual who is suffering from an eating disorder has gained a noticeable amount of weight back, loved ones tend to turn their heads and think the issue is out the door. However, this can be a very complicated and difficult stage to get past.
As Sara mentioned, in the recovery process, things can be going stunningly and then "the little monsters continue to creep up," possibly resulting in a daily battle for health and harmony. Personally, I completely relate to this situation. When I finally hit my body's comfortable weight, it was supremely overwhelming. Sometimes, I still struggle with the "little monsters" when I'm trying on clothes or looking through photos of myself.
The healthiest thing to do is to combat these negative thoughts with positive self-talk, just like Sara says! Your body is NOT the measure of your worth, but merely a part of you that experiences the physical life and allows you to reap the emotional benefits and loving experiences that shape you into being YOU!
If you find yourself silently (or outwardly) bullying specific parts of your body, take a second to assess why you love those parts! I know that I sometimes have trouble with my cellulite, stretch-marks and skin folds on my body from being overweight, and then I just remember all the beautiful experiences I've had throughout my life, and how my body has been there for me through all of it. Every laugh line, every mole, freckle, sun spot, dimple, they're all proof that I have LIVED, and I have nothing but gratefulness for the vessel that has allowed me to do so.
A B B E Y
I'm 19 and I've had a little bit of a rough journey. My journey is a little different than others, because I had a stroke when I was born. A lot of the insecurities I have are because of what the stroke caused; it made the right side of my body significantly weaker than my left, and I've had to have a few surgeries to correct a limp I have. I have scars from those surgeries and I try not to let them show, because they're the biggest thing I dislike about myself.
Growing up, I was always a little overweight and I ended up being a little more bustier than girls my age; although some girls would say they're envious of that, I've always been sort of self-conscious about it. I'm self-conscious about my arms as well because they're bigger than I'd want them to be, comparing them to what society thinks the "perfect body" is.
One day I woke up, stood to the side, and looked at myself in the mirror.
I remember thinking "Whoa, I really don't look that bad." and within five minutes of standing there, looking at myself doing different poses, I thought "Dude, I look GREAT!"
I have gotten a lot of hate on tumblr and other social media sites talking about my size, but I've just ignored it; it's taken me a very long time to love myself, including my disabilities, because honestly, if I hadn't had the stroke and ended up the way I am, I don't think I'd have this particular outlook on life.
Is this story not truly inspiring?! I don't know about you but as soon as I read the word "stroke," I was absolutely astounded.
Abbey's story is not only miraculous, but also incredibly wise. To be only nineteen and be able to have honest and positive self-talk when looking in the mirror is absolutely stunning. Reading Abbey's journey and willingness to share such a warm and uplifting perspective is very refreshing and eye-opening, especially because it's something we could all use a chunk of.
I practice this sort of gratefulness, and oftentimes, so does my husband, Collin. We lay in bed and talk about the little things that made our day distinctly quirky and wonderful and then we move onto the goals we've accomplished. It may be something rather small ("We did all the laundry!"), or it could be something rather huge ("We stood up for someone who was being bullied, and we didn't back down!").
Maybe take a moment each morning to take a look in the mirror and tell yourself, "Dude, I look great! I'm beautiful just the way I am!" Smile, turn around, and then hug yourself and say, "Dude, I feel great! I'm grateful and I'm going to do everything to make today the best day of my life."