TW: Discussion of disordered eating and weight issues.
To say that I’ve hated my body my entire life is technically true, but it also feels too generic. I’ve despised my stomach, made peace with my stretch marks and then gone back to war again, picked apart my hair, my nose, my fingers, my cellulite — a darkly humorous moment came in seventh grade when I decided I had an unsightly mustache and covered my mouth with my hand when I talked. I did not know a life where I looked in the mirror without feeling bad, let alone good. I still often smile through gritted teeth when taking pictures for body positivity. Such is life.
I understand why people want to blame magazines and moms when it comes to women and body image. Surely, these are powerful forces — but in my case, it’s never been that simple. My mother told me I was beautiful every day; I read Seventeen and Cosmo Girl but never felt particularly affected by them. The self-hatred arrived before middle school, before puberty, before I even knew what self-hatred really was. I don’t dwell on what caused it, just like I try not to obsess over the causes of my depressive and anxiety disorders. Whatever the trigger, they’re here now.
The story is predictable. When I started restricting calories and purging food at 12 years old, it felt right. I read pro-ana boards after my parents went to bed. I wrote down strategies and thought about my soft stomach and embarrassingly large chest, even though I was wearing a B cup bra at the time. I wanted to lose weight, but I wanted to punish my awkward body. I wondered who would be stupid enough to fall in love with me. I eventually wrote a suicide note at the end of seventh grade.
Even now, with all of the motivational speaking and therapy and Objectively Good Life, I do not know that I love my body. I say that I do, but I worry that I’m jinxing myself. Is it loving my body to weigh myself without writing the number down and looking at it when I feel hungry? Have I recovered if I can try on clothes without having a breakdown? I’m eating healthy foods and exercising without restricting — am I better? I don’t know. I don’t know.
But I take comfort in small victories. I have a husband who has loved me at every size, a closet full of clothing that fits instead of “goal items” — future me can buy new things if she needs to, whether that’s because of weight gain loss or gain — and I’m able to go to the pool without breaking down beforehand. Self-doubt still rears its ugly head. I suspect it always will. But I do not want to punish my body today, and that is enough. Perhaps I’ll unequivocally love myself soon — the “shout it from the rooftops, I want everyone to know about this” kind of love. It’s always been a journey. The only noticeable difference, I think, is that I’m starting to feel equipped to finish it.