Me vs. Me
Too many carbs. Too much sugar. Those give you cellulite. Did you see the baby weight she put on? Did you see how much weight she lost? Oh my God, she’s way too skinny. Oh my God, she’s way too fat. She would be pretty if she just lost some weight. Her butt is too flat. Too big. Too small.
It sometimes seems like this is the world we are caught in. A whirlwind of criticism for anything deemed as an imperfection. We drive to work and look up to billboards painted with computer modified humans, advertising everything from hamburgers to pool supplies.
There has been a positive media movement encouraging body positivity and acceptance. However, despite these efforts, we are still bombarded with messages and images that say otherwise. It can be confusing to draw the line between pursuing personal health versus trying to change our bodies, and when both can be healthily intermingled.
While my own personal battle came to fruition in high school, the roots developed much earlier. As a young girl, I watched my mother jump from one diet to the next, constantly unsatisfied with her body. Girls at elementary school would talk about how the chubbier girls would be prettier if they just “got skinnier,” and in the shows on television, the main character was always thin and beautiful.
When I entered high school, I also entered the world of social media. Before long, I was surrounded by talk of calories and bikini-ready bodies. I began to follow models on Instagram, and each night would lie in bed, chastising myself as lazy for not having the same body that the women on my screen did.
I decided that I wanted to try and “be healthier.” It was easy. My mom was dieting, so I just started to help her cook meals. I began to develop anxiety about eating certain foods that didn’t fall into my category as “acceptable.” I became addicted to seeing the number on the scale drop, and found pride in how few calories I could consume in a day. 800 calories. 600 on a mediocre day. Only 300? 200? That would be a success.
When I turned 16, I found myself in rehab for anorexia.
I was in outpatient rehab for a little less than a year. Even when I was released after having reached my target weight, I still carried the anxiety of eating certain foods. Each day was a battle of politely finding excuses to avoid situations that might force me to eat pizza or ice cream. I would only be calm when I knew I could be alone, in complete control of what entered my body.
This mental battle continued until I was 18. After graduating high school, I flew to the other side of the country to work as a camp counselor. I was put in charge of a group of 14 year old girls. I would take them canoeing, rock climbing, camping, and rafting. They were in the same stage of life I was when I began to develop my eating disorder, and I could see remnants of my own journey reflected in them. There was a moment that summer when I was sitting around the campfire, hearing the struggles and concerns of these young girls. We sat in a circle around
the flickering embers, wearing flannels and dirt stained shorts. The Milky Way danced with the velvet night through the tapestry of pine trees, and I suddenly felt overcome with truth. And in
that moment, I called myself out on all the lies I had been telling myself. Lies that my body was only beautiful if it looked a certain way.
Lies that I was healthy.
Lies that I would have to live like this forever.
Lies that my thighs reflected my worth.
Lies that I was ugly.
Lies that I was fine.
Just like that, I changed. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Recovering from my eating disorder was a multi-year process. It is one I continue to fight. Sometimes, I see myself slipping back into those old habits, as a means to control something when everything else in life seems like chaos. The difference is that now, I can recognize these tendencies, and stop them before they spiral.
That night in the forest, I chose truth. I began to challenge myself, to understand and respect my body in different ways than I ever had. To view life as more than just an intake and output of calorie expenditure. And in that moment, I faced myself with all my hidden lies, brought them to the surface, and decided to do something about them.
Instead of pursuing a thigh gap, I started to pursue new hobbies. I took up hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing. These were the activities that not only challenged me emotionally, but showed me the strength of our bodies. I might have some cellulite, but I can spend a week backpacking miles and miles, sleeping on the ground and watching sunrises. Any legs that can carry everything I need for a week through rain and snow deserve some respect. I might not have perfectly sculpted abs, but I can hold the life of my best friend in my hand as I
belay her up sheer cliffs studded with rock climbing routes.
Spending time in the outdoors revolutionized the way I understood my body. It was a tool for adventure, a vehicle for pursuing activities that enhanced my emotional and mental growth. Food was not evil, but a means to gather people together and share in the beauty of life.
When we feel healthy and strong, our bodies might look different than how they are painted in fitness magazines. Body positivity should not be an excuse to ignore our health. It should be the opposite. We should pursue being healthy and strong individuals, because we open a lot of doors in life when we are able to use our bodies in such positive ways. However our bodies look when we are able to climb rocks and hike mountains is simply how our bodies look. And that is okay. Instead of pursuing health for the sake of image, let’s encourage each other and ourselves to pursue health for the sake of living with passion.