Friday, March 18, 2016

On Body Image

I have been debating this particular post since the day I created this blog almost two years ago. This is a sensitive subject for me. I want to preface this post by stating I am not writing about it for attention, for sympathy, or for any sort of recognition. This is something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. I am not proud of some of the things I've done, but I do not want to be ashamed anymore. I am writing this to hopefully bring comfort to anyone struggling with it. With that said, I'll begin discussing my battle with body image.

The lowest point in my life was also when I was at my lowest weight. Moving away from home at 18 was supposed to be exciting, but for me it caused a great deal of anxiety that eventually spun into the darkest thoughts I've ever had. I felt out of control of everything around me. I was insecure, timid, and frankly, lost. The one thing I knew I could control was what went into my body.

It began with the decision to become a vegetarian***. I was proud of myself for restricting my diet. The more restrictions I placed on myself, the more control I felt over my life. This pattern led to me barely eating, except maybe one thing a day. And if I did get something to eat, I would eat half of it and throw the rest away. I slept all of the time. I felt like shit. I have always been thin, but this weight loss was out of hand.

What kills me about reflecting on this point in my life is that I truly believed I didn't deserve to take up space. I literally shrunk myself down. I bought into what other people believed I should look like. I often received compliments on my long, slender frame. I don't blame anyone else for the problem I had. We do, after all, tend to value thinness. What makes me mad is that I didn't believe I was worth more than the way my body appeared to others.

As a kid, I remember looking down at my stomach and being repulsed by it. I liked my arms and my legs because they were thin, but my stomach? No, it was disgusting to me. How dare I have fleshy bits? Why couldn't my stomach be flat? I berated myself daily about it.

This vicious and poisonous cycle led to my disorderly eating, or lack of eating. This began about 8 years ago, and I feel I have made some huge strides since then. I will admit to not having a totally great relationship with food. I do not deprive myself of things, which is good. I still battle with negative thoughts and the whole "I've got to cover my stomach because it's horrible" thing.

What sparked my urge to write this post was a boudoir inspired photo shoot I did recently. The pictures are something I will always cherish, mostly because this particular shoot focused on the body I have grown into as a woman. I'm not as thin as I was at 18. I have put on a little weight over the last few years. Let me make it clear that it is not lost on me that I am still thin. I am aware that I have a long and slender frame. What's more important is that I have a healthy, functioning body. The weight I have gained reminds me that I am getting a little older, a little curvier. And that's what happens sometimes. We all have different bodies and there is no such thing as one being better than another.

There are still some days when I beat myself up about how I look, but then I remember all of the things I like about my body and I calm down a little. I hope that someday I can look in a mirror and be completely satisfied. It gets better and better every year, but I am working on making sure the toxic thoughts diminish completely.

I think that as young women, we are conditioned to tie our physical presence with our self worth. We are objectified regularly and relentlessly, which leads us to self-objectify. I am telling you about my struggles with my body image because I know for a fact that someone, somewhere reading this is going through a rough time with their own body image. And that is simply unacceptable to me. This constant battle is exhausting. I'm exhausted. I want to wrap my arms around any woman struggling with this right now. It doesn't really matter if other people call you beautiful if you don't believe it. The most beautiful women in the world still struggle with insecurities. This is so much more systematically complicated.

The media we give into is what influences our thought process. There is no such thing as a perfect body type. This "perfect body" concept is literally something our society creates. The good news is that since it's created, that also means it can be changed. So, I'll continue to work on my own body image. It's been a long and difficult process, but I'll never stop trying. I'm doing it for me and I'm doing it for every woman I know.  I'll be damned if my future daughter ever hates her body. She will always be told that her body is strong and capable. She will also always be told that she is worth more than what her body looks like. I will not allow her to be confined by the concept of being a "pretty girl". I will tell her that she is intelligent, she is thoughtful, she is hilarious, she is captivating, and she is the entire universe. Everything about her is perfectly enough.

I look at it like this: How would I talk to my five year old self? There's a quote that goes, "Be who you needed when you were younger." Would I body shame her? Of course not. So why should we be doing it now? I don't have all of the answers, but I know I'll never stop learning to accept and love myself exactly as I am. I hope the same for you.

Until next time,

***I do not blame vegetarian/vegan diets for my body image issues. I actually admire anyone with these lifestyles. Save the animals. :)