Mind vs. Body
At my heaviest, I was a pants size 18 and an XL top. I was also a freshman in high school. My two closest friends were both strikingly beautiful and I was happy. There was no part of me that considered myself “too big”. Looking back on it, I know that there were physical indications that I was at an unhealthy weight, but I shook it off. It wasn’t a cause for concern. There was consistently raw skin on the bottom of my stomach from my belt rubbing against my belly. I remember complaining about “saggy butt problems” because the extra stretchy denim I loved would stretch out too much and drape around my butt where there was extra fabric but not enough booty. Nearly every outfit I wore included a sweatshirt. Not because I wanted to hide my body, but because that was as creative as I was willing to get as a teenager waking up at 6 AM. There would be no makeup, no real hairstyle. It was all me and I was happy with that. In fact, I wanted to help any woman who looked at their body and felt shame. I knew I was beautiful and I wanted to share that.
Skip to my freshman year of college and you’ll find me dramatically losing weight while I didn’t eat. Stress and anxiety had set in and I was struggling to manage my mental health while the effects began showing up on my body. At my thinnest, I was a size 4 pant and an xs top. And I was absolutely miserable. Crying was a daily activity and there were many moments I would find myself on the floor, begging God, the universe, whoever really to make things better. Of the two descriptions, both physically and mentally, which do you think received the most praise?
One summer, while I was living at home with my parents and working a part-time retail job, the mother of a high school friend walked into the store an immediately recognized me. Keep in mind, this was when I had lost a significant amount of weight after I had spent spring semester essentially living off the apples my dad bought me each week because he knew I could stomach the taste. We talked casually for a moment, updating her on my experience in college and learning what her daughter was up to. It was a pleasant conversation. Then, it took the turn that will forever live in my mind.
“You know, I have to ask. You look so great, what have you been doing?”
There was no way I was going to tell her the truth. For one thing, I didn’t want to tell this woman I barely knew that I had seriously struggled with eating anything for 4 months because of my stress level. Second, did she really “have” to ask? No. We could have parted ways without any discussion of my body.
Instead, I answered “oh, I’ve just been exercising more often.”
Her response? “Well you look fantastic! Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!”
There I was; receiving validation and celebration for the fact that I had lost weight. She had no way of knowing the pain or the stress or the desire to eat without being able to swallow food. It’s been years, but I still think of that conversation more often than I’d like.
This culture we live in celebrates a eurocentric standard of beauty that idolizes thinness and measures a woman’s worthiness based on the shape of her body. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs you know that I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and no longer struggle with eating. Despite this evolution into a healthier state of mind, the journey to get here was difficult. My body changed significantly in the process and I understand that the shape of my body now is a reflection of what I’ve learned.
All this to say, your body is your own and your mind is your own. The two are often directly related.
If you’re struggling with body image, self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, or anxiety, please know I’ve been there before. It takes work and time, but it IS possible to feel comfortable in your own skin and be at peace in your mind. Life is not supposed to be a daily war within yourself that leaves you feeling depleted and hopeless at the end of the day. You are worth every effort to build a positive relationship with yourself. You are strong and capable and Brave. I’m here to coach you, support you, and celebrate with you. It’s not supposed to be this hard. It doesn’t have to be. I’ve got you.