It’s been a while bitches, mostly due to a crazy summer and other life activities. This blog is extremely personally, and does not have so much to do with race or gender as my usual posts do (though there are still some elements floating around). I have been feeling compelled to write about this subject and my struggles with it, and this felt like an appropriate medium.
One of my best friend’s got married in July. I had the amazing honor of being one of her bridesmaids, and participating in her beautifully special day. Last night, she sent me the photo album of the wedding photos. I took a deep breath before clicking the link, knowing that I would not like what I would see.
As some of you know, I am in recovery from an eating disorder. Sometime around my second year in undergrad, I decided that I was sick of being overweight. I was sick of being the fat friend, of untagging myself in Facebook photos, of crying in changing rooms at clothing stores. I was determined to change, and I took my goal to an unimaginable extreme. I lost over 100 pounds in a year – to the joy of many friends and family. They encouraged me along, telling me that my inside finally matched my outside.
Many, if not all, of my friends and family did not know the extreme lengths to which I went to lose that weight. The calorie counting, the obsessive exercise, the occasional (and fucking miserable) purging of meals. The more I lost, the more I found I hated myself. With each pound I lost, another flaw was revealed. To me, that weight loss became the most important thing. Happiness, relationships, school, rugby, hobbies, basically my entire identity took a complete back seat to that goal. While sitting alone one night in my dorm room in Paris, I finally realized that I had an issue. I was the smallest I had ever been, and realized it still was not enough. Despite this, I did not get help until that September, and did not take the help I received seriously until I landed in the hospital the following January.
From January 2013 until December 2014, I gained weight. First it was slowly, and then more rapidly, as I adjusted to certain anxiety medications, and eating again. I fought the urge to resent myself, and to relapse. I told myself that I couldn’t begin to lose weight again until I had fought off all of my demons. Until I had really figured myself out, and confronted what was within me.
I’ve been fat since I was a child. I hardly remember a time when I was a normal weight. I was bullied by my peers, and certain family members, but most of all by myself. Sometimes I still fight daily to remind myself that I am beautiful, that I am brave, that I am strong, and that above all else, I am worthy of happiness. For two whole years I’ve gone through therapy, and medication adjustments. And for the first time in my life I have reached peace, and some sort of mental clarity. I was finally able to address the horrors of my past, and my fears for the future. I have been able to maintain a beautiful, loving relationship with a man for the first time in my entire existence. I can truly say I am content.
This blog started as a rant railing against beauty ideals, and how people in general treat weight, and weight loss. And I still feel that way. I want people to celebrate their ugly, and to reject extrinsic bullshit like outward appearance.
However, when I saw the photos of myself I cringed. I felt an overwhelming sadness. There was no denying that I have gained all of that weight back. I battled the urge to belittle myself, to shit talk my recovery, and how hard I have battled my various mental illnesses. I felt an almost overwhelming sadness that I could not manage to be both mentally, and physically, fit. I was completely horrified at the thought of what others may be thinking, of their judgment. A voice inside taunted me, “once a fat girl, always a fat girl.” I thought angrily of all the cake and ice cream and chips I’ve eaten in the past two years, of the “progress” I had destroyed.
I was astounded at how quickly those negative voices creeped back into my head, and telling me that I am disgusting. How loud those voices can become. They always warned us of this in treatment – that the voices will never go away, that they’ll always be lurking, waiting for a trigger to cling onto. A large part of eating disorder is learning to confront that voice, and to deal with it in a positive way.
As horrifying as those feelings are, I realized two things yesterday. First, that in a way, my physical fitness had to be sacrificed for my mental health. If I had continued the way that I was going in 2012 and 2013, I would have died, or killed myself. There is no getting around that, and I’d hardly trade where I am today for where I was then. Second, I finally admitted to myself that it is time to confront one of my largest fears. Now that I have done the work, and established a healthy mind, it is time to do the work, and establish a healthy body. To truly do so means to begin yet another self-revolution.
I know now that to do this right, and in the healthiest way possible, it will probably take as much time and as much work as it did for me to create a healthy mind – at least two years. This makes me extremely uncomfortable. As a product of American weight-loss culture I am constantly told that a healthy body comes quickly. That fitness can come overnight, with a few extreme diets and workout plans. I have learned the hard way that this simply isn’t true. And it’s unbelievably scary to me.
For some reason, I’ve always fought the idea that it should take a long time for my negative habits to die hard. That I should be able to change instantly, and thus gain instant happiness. Almost everything in my life has shown me otherwise. The thought of being uncomfortable, of again confronting horrible habits that I have developed as a result of my upbringing and culture causes me great anxiety. But it is something that I know that I must do for myself in order to continue my newly content life. I want to develop healthy habits both mentally and otherwise for my future children, as well. I don’t ever want them to go through this sort of mental turmoil.
Admitting this is difficult, but something that I see as the first step. Change comes slowly, and can only continue with support. And I know now, from my previous experiences in weight-loss, that bodily change isn’t always what one expects. As a woman in America, in the 21st century, I am (and was) bombarded with images of the “ideal body.” As a teenager, this ideal body was tall and rail thin, with large breasts. This ideal, at least for me, had massive racial implications. For much of my childhood I wished to be white, and to have a “white” body. I felt that if I could somehow attain this, I would feel accepted, and again (almost ridiculously in retrospect) that many of my problems would go away, and that my self-esteem would rise. As an adult, this image is still my notion of the ideal (no matter how many asses I see in mainstream media today, that image of the thin, large-breasted, blonde teenager, still bops into my head). Worse yet, in my mind, fit equals thin. There is no room for muscular arms, an ass, or thighs that do not fit into size 2 jeans. But even at my lowest weight, I did not meet this ridiculous ideal. It is simply not possible for me.
I realize now what my body type is, and that fitness looks different for different people in different sizes. But my fear of this, and never actually reaching my ideal, has prevented me from taking the first step towards it. I’ve had an amazingly difficult time confronting that ideal mental image myself, the reality of what my body is, and what it can actually become. I almost feel that I am in mourning at the loss of that ideal when acknowledging that it is not a reality.
Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly reintroducing myself to exercise, and trying different activities. I have realized that I hate running – something I upheld as the most important physical exercise during my eating disorder. It dawned on me that I forced myself to do it because I believed that thin girls ran, and that the only way to be thin was to run. Running burns the most calories, so obviously, I had to do it. Instead, I’ve found playing tennis with Jack, and biking are the most fun. The same twisted logic applied to my rejection of strength training. There was no point in lifting weights, when all I wanted to do was shred calories quickly. So far, I have found weight lifting to be one of the most enjoyable activities, and definitely one that makes me feel powerful.
As an obvious and tangible part of my new fitness goals, I am striving to weight lift at least three times a week, and do some sort of cardio I find enjoyable two times a week. Food is always a challenge for me, and probably will be for the rest of my life. As of now, my only food-related goal is to end night time stress eating by doing other things that I’ve always done to destress, but have /somehow/ lost the time to do, like knitting and crocheting.
Today, I move a step closer to confronting these twisted logics and ideals. Because I am now mentally stable, because I now know my triggers, and because I know how to get help, I know that I must take the final plunge and take care of my body. To truly accept my body, care for it, and love for it via nourishment and fitness. My body has taken the back seat while my mind recovered, but now it is the time for my body to receive what it deserves.
I am writing this as a reminder to myself of how far I’ve come, and how much I deserve mental and physical well-being. I am also writing this to my friends, so they know where I am coming from, and where I am trying to go. This isn’t a relapse, or another attempt to lose weight quickly. I want this to be real, and long-lasting. I also know so many women who have the same struggles as me, who fight to have socially acceptable bodies, and who fight to also be happy. I want to prove to them, and myself, that it is completely possible, without having to conform to whatever body ideal may be floating around in our minds, and society. We are indoctrinated from a young age to only care about outward appearance, only to lose our true selves.
I do not want to see this new journey as something that is positive or negative. Valorizing weight loss got me into a large amount of trouble before, and I do not want to make the same mistake twice. It simply is what it is. My journey to being happy, and finding true balance in my life. I do not know what this will look like, and I do not care how much weight I lose, or how many inches I shred. All that I really care about is being able to look at a photo of myself, and say with confidence, “She truly loves herself, her mind, and her body.”