So I go online this morning and the “top news” story trending is this story about a celebrity’s breasts (although I applaud her speaking out about the negatives of breast implants): https://gma.yahoo.com/melissa-gilbert-feels-going-size-dd-just-average-134014073–abc-news-celebrities.html
I look forward to a day when women’s bodies are no longer “breaking news” and instead our minds, hearts, spirits, professional accomplishments and philanthropy are the “top stories”. Amazing things are happening in this world! Flowers are breaking through the hardened sidewalk of society. Stories like this one: http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/24/living/feat-humans-of-new-york-harvard-fundraiser/
How are we in 2015 and still women’s bodies are not only fair game for commentary, news stories, judgment, etc. but these stories overshadow stories about exemplary women who are making a difference in the world every day in ways that have nothing to do with appearance? How many news articles do you see discussing a male politician’s new hair-do or fashion choices? How many male actors are plastered on a magazine shamed for gaining weight? No matter how accomplished or dignified a woman is, her body is still subject to the gauntlet of public opinion. News stories about women’s bodies or fashion choices trend, while other stories get overlooked. Why is that?
It’s no wonder we women are so dang messed up and every woman I talk with has some kind of body image issue. Some part of her body she hates. Instead of seeing herself as a whole woman with inner and outer beauty, a woman will take issue with her breast size or shape, how big or small her butt is, or how big her nose is. Why can’t we all rise up and just buck this trend? Because it is all around us. It is pervasive. We can’t dig a hole, crawl in and escape it.
I am an accomplished, professional woman who has received numerous kind and crass comments about my body over the years (especially during my stint waiting tables and during my dating days) from women and men alike. I just want to tell all of them “please don’t comment on my body; its mine you know. I’ll ask if I want your opinion.” I hate how every time we are at the park with my father-in-law he comments on women’s appearances. I hate how one of my best friends slipped and called me fat the other day joking around…even though she knows my struggles…and she struggles too. I hate when I try to open up about my insecurities to a friend and she offers me diet advice instead of advice on how to love myself…
The worst thing for someone like me is when all of a sudden I start receiving a lot of compliments about how good I look when I’ve lost weight. You see, I don’t ever let myself get “scary skinny”. This is a common misconception about eating disorders. That only people who look skeletal have one. Not true. These people who complimented my slim physique were well-meaning, but they were complimenting my eating disorder. They are positively reinforcing my anorexia. When I slip back into my patterns of restricting food and compulsively exercising, I am literally flooded with all of these comments about my body from women and men alike “oh you look so good! What are you doing?” I’m starving myself eating an apple, a yogurt, and a salad everyday….I’m exercising for hours at a time hating myself….I don’t recommend it. It’s a pretty miserable existence. No one compliments you when you gain weight, even if on the inside you are psychologically the most healthy and happy you’ve ever been. In our society, weight loss and uber-fitness is lauded as the pinnacle of success. “She has it all” yeah…including an eating disorder and self-loathing….no I don’t have it all. For Pete’s sake, I don’t even have dessert! Have you tried living like that?
If I’m about 10 pounds overweight I’m in my happy place with my eating disorder and food. If I’m skinny again, I’m losing. Losing and risking my life. I’m having heart palpitations and my stomach is screaming for food and I’m not listening. But I sure do get a lot of compliments….
For the past two years, I’ve been in the best place of my life. I have felt like I was in full recovery and have started to love myself as-is instead of constantly trying to change myself. My husband and my counselor have both helped me start to love myself even with a little extra weight on me that comes from….you know…eating and not compulsively exercising. My husband is the only person who tells me I look better the way I am today than when I was 100 pounds. Even my friends remind me that I looked “so great” back then. Sigh…they can’t help it. They are women and they have been acculturated just like I have.
So I’ve been doing well with this thing, but yesterday….I saw a picture of myself and was horrified. Utterly disgusted. I broke down crying. It triggered something in me that I couldn’t talk myself down from. I couldn’t see the sweet moment I was having with my children in that picture. I couldn’t see the smile on my face. All I could see was fat. FAT. FAT. FAT. DISGUSTING. LET MYSELF GO. NEVER GOOD ENOUGH. I cried and cried and then I had to go to work. I didn’t eat all day. I felt dizzy.
There are three precious little girls at work. They asked me why I was only eating a small piece of chicken and a small salad for dinner as I sat with them. They knew I normally ate more and enjoyed dessert. These girls tell me they love me every day. Over and over. They smile and run to hug me when they see me. They want to be around me 24/7. They want to play games and eat with me. I couldn’t bear to tell them the truth. I lied to them. I told them I had a late lunch and my stomach wasn’t feeling so good today. But it wasn’t my stomach that was hurting. My heart was breaking. My mind was racing and at a loss. I don’t want to go back down the road of misery, but I don’t want to look at pictures of myself and feel horror.
When I start focusing on doing the “Paleo diet” or whatever other “eat this, not that” diet people tell me to try, it spirals out of control into orthorexia then anorexia. Honestly, I’d rather just not eat than eat food that I don’t like and get no pleasure from eating. I don’t like being in a deprivation mindset. It feels icky. It feels wrong to me. The only way I have overcome anorexia is trying to eat healthy foods, but not put too much thought into it. As long as it doesn’t contain MSG, artificial sweeteners, or anything else that is just plain toxic, its ok by me. Carbs are ok. Desserts are ok. I don’t count calories (counting calories always becomes a game to me of how little I can eat and survive). I just focus on moderation and healthy choices as my goal.
But, look where “not thinking too much about it and just eating normally” has gotten me? To the point where I am horrified by a picture of myself. Obviously this “eating like a normal person” thing isn’t working either. I don’t know what to do but turn back to my old ways…nothing I’ve learned in counseling school works for me. No advice my healthy friends give me works. Mindful eating? Nope. I enjoy it too much and fixate on the pleasure of food to the point where I binge. “Healthy eating” turns into a contest to see how I can use fruits and veggies to drastically reduce calorie intake. Treating my body like a temple? Then I start feeling guilty for not being able to eat perfectly (I hate smoothies and I can’t stay on a “30 day challenge” of any kind) and I get depressed because I am a failure and my temple will never be good enough.
Food and I have such a messed up relationship. I don’t understand how some people just go about their lives eating and not having this love-hate, starve-binge, freak out if their pants are tight, freak out when they see a bad pic where they look fat issues….I wish I could just be normal. But I’ve struggled with this since I was 9 years old. I am a highly sensitive, perceptive, and intelligent woman who grew up in this culture where women’s bodies are always the subject of commentary and news stories. My mom would go on and on about how much she hated her stomach and how fat she was (she wasn’t actually ever overweight). Family members would praise me when I was starving to be thin. This stuff has deep roots.
My natural body type is curvy with wide, child-bearin’ hips and thick thighs. I am short. I have never had a perfectly flat stomach even before kids. I’m stronger than many men. My biceps are bigger than my husband’s. That’s just how God made me. I am still living in a culture which floods my mind with photoshopped images of women who look nothing like me and I can’t even scroll through my Facebook newsfeed without someone posting pictures of scantily clad women or their “before and after” weight loss pics (they usually look better in the before though). I wonder how my husband could want me when there is so much (real or fake) “perfection” out there. But he does. He is so good to me. He always says the right thing and he is so atypical.
I would never want this for these little girls I was sitting and eating dinner with. I would never want to model food restriction to these beautiful, perfect angels. I would want them to know that they don’t have to be what the magazines try to tell them they need to be. They are wonderfully made by the Creator who made the stars. I want to be a role model for them…but I’m back-sliding….it feels like I’m sliding down the mountain and I’m grabbing onto it, but my fingernails are breaking off and I know I can’t hold on. I pray and pray and cry and cry. I don’t want them to see me fall. All I can do is hide from them how I really feel. And that is not who I am. Of all things, I never want to be a liar again. Authentic is my goal, my mantra. But tonight, I can’t.
I can look at any other person who is overweight or normal weight and not ever think a judgmental thought. I actually think women who are “thick” are so beautiful, so sexy. But not me. I see me at a normal weight, maybe 15 pounds overweight and think “Oh my God what have I done! I’ve let myself go and pretty soon the next picture I see of myself I will look obese and then…..”(down the rabbit hole I go with all of the awful things that will happen to me if I don’t look good enough). Why can’t I just love myself when I am able to love every other person on this Earth just the way God made them? My whole life has been chasing “good enough”. I’m still chasing it. Why can’t I find it? Intellectually, I understand that God made me perfect, whole, loved, accepted, cherished. But in my heart I know that this world doesn’t run according to how God sees me. And, as much as I hate it, I have to live in this world.
We have to live in a society that tears women apart with subtle things like every single magazine having articles like “How to stay slim without feeling hungry”. Women compliment each other on weight loss and eat fat-free Nutrasweet laden yogurt for lunch. Men download porn and view women as 2-dimensional objects who exist solely for their guilty pleasure. They don’t wonder who these women are…what they think…what their lives are like…if they are sad or addicted or contracting AIDS. They don’t wonder if maybe when she was a little girl she really wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, but she’s doing this instead because she has 3 kids to feed and they have a deadbeat daddy. They don’t know that a lot of abused girls grow up trying to take their power back by claiming to “enjoy” doing this for a living. They don’t realize that girls who are posting naked pictures of themselves online seeking attention are feeling empty and insecure. They don’t care.
There is so much sickness in our society. Even women who have fulfilling careers, who excel academically, who earn professional degrees and hold our heads high as our strong bodies walk down the street know eyes are looking at us. Not at the whole woman, not wondering who we are, what we do, what brings us joy, what good we are doing for the world….those eyes are looking at our body parts… undressing us with their eyes. Other eyes are comparing our waistlines to their waistlines. We women are all trying to answer the question, “Am I ok? Am I good enough?”
I hope the women in my life I love dearly have found their answer and that it is “yes, I’m wonderful.” However, based on what clients tell me in counseling sessions, most girls lose that confident assurance around the same age they go through puberty and start looking outside into the world asking the world that question and receiving a resounding, “NO. Not good enough” everywhere they look.
I’m gonna fight this thing. I am determined not to slip as far down as I once was. Today, I may still be sliding down the mountain. Yesterday, I lost the battle of my mind. Today, I’m going to try again. I’m going to try and make peace with food, with bad pictures. I’m going to try to “love myself as my mama loved my baby feet” (thanks Mary Lambert). I’m going to try and see myself how I see those precious girls at work. “You don’t have to try so hard, you don’t have to try try try try, you just have to get up get up get up you don’t have to change a single thing” my Pandora radio sings to me as I write this.
Today I’m going to make a Youtube playlist and listen to songs like these over and over, winging it until something sinks in…are you winging it through a messed up relationship with food? Are you a woman who is just trying to figure out how to live in a world which tells us only certain body types are acceptable or attractive? Share your wisdom, struggles and thoughts with me please.