(I should probably mention that this post contains words about body image, eating disorders and the like. If you find anything like this triggering, I recommend that you give it a little skip.)
When did our self worth become tied up in the size of our bodies?
I can remember the first body image comment I made very vividly. I was about 11 years old and I was shopping in Topshop with my Mum. I remember saying something very positive like, “I don’t know why everyone worries about their weight, I am never going to be like that”. Oh the innocence of my 11 year old self… So what changed? How did I go from an innocent 11 year old who positively loved her body, to the majority of my self worth becoming tied up into what I looked like and the size of my body?
Besides the outrageous orange make up I wouldn’t leave the house without having on as a teenager (Matte mousse anyone!?), I became increasingly aware of my size and how I “should” look. I remember going into high school and being aware I was not like the skinny and slim girls (even though I wasn’t exactly “fat”…). I had a little puppy fat as I grew into puberty and as my womanly shape began to grow. I remember never wanting to wear a skirt to school past year 7, because I thought my legs were too fat. I remember when I was about 14 years old, I had a pair of size 8 jeans on (american size 4) and my Dad pointed out that they were a little too tight for me. I also remember one of my sisters friends commenting that I’d put on weight once when I went to get a snack out of the cupboard in my early teens. These comments hurt me, and I felt like a freak.
Throughout my teens I was learning that being skinny meant getting attention (or so I thought). It seemed the pretty and skinny girls got the attention from boys and that they were the most liked. I attempted diets left, right and centre, constantly telling my Mum I couldn’t eat this or that or that I was “starting a diet this week”, much to her dismay (she wasn’t a dieter). I would constantly want to lose weight as a dancer so that I would look skinny for the shows. Still, I never stuck them out because I loved my food. I remember once praying in the shower and begging God to help me become skinny (how fucked up is that!?….). Still my love for food was bigger than my yearn to be thinner, so I remained a completely normal and healthy size (which is a good thing!!).
It wasn’t until a break up before my 18th birthday that I completely thought my self worth was aligned to my body size. I thought that if I became really skinny and was thinner, then my ex boyfriend would want to be with me again. I started to “diet” and I went on all these awful websites that told me how not to eat. I began counting calories and I once didn’t eat for three days just to see if I could do it. I remember planning that I would sit in the library every lunchtime and study so I didn’t have to eat for the rest of my last year of school (luckily I never went through with that…). I lost a little bit of weight, but nothing major, and I still had awful self esteem because I equated my self worth to my body size.
When I went to University that next year, my disordered eating completely flipped direction and I became an emotional binge eater. I would eat huge portions to make myself feel good and along with binge drinking and a lack of exercise, I put on around 28 pounds in 4 months. I was very unhappy with my size but I couldn’t stop emotional eating. When I returned home, I remember my Dad coming to have a chat with me about how unhappy I was about my size and that he could help me get back to my normal weight. This talk reiterated to me that fat was bad and thin was good. I then got countless comments from acquaintances in my home town about how big I had got and this shamed me massively into a desperate want to be thin again. Because thin meant love and acceptance and fat meant rejection and non acceptance? Right….?
I mean just look at this insanity. I may not have been super healthy emotionally eating and binge drinking, but did my size make me less loveable!? Apparently so. This was the time that I really committed to “dieting”, even though I had no idea what I was really doing. Between me and the dieting world of the internet, I developed an eating disorder where I flitted between anorexic and bulimic tendancies. It was a cycle that went on for around 18 months, and it left me 50 pounds lighter, malnourished and very sick. That sick and twisted teenage wish finally came true and it was all because, in my mind, the size and shape of my body meant self worth, acceptance from others and being loved. It took over my entire life and I became a zombie of myself.
Why is it that the many of our peers, as well as our own minds, equate self worth to body size and being thin? And the frightening and sad thing, is that it is getting younger and younger and children are worrying about their weight and it is stealing childhoods as well as adolescences and adulthood. This is not OK.
It is everywhere in the media that being thin, toned and slim is the key to happiness and acceptance. It is in so many magazines and all over the news. It is just, quite simply, INSANE. Our size should not equate to how worthy we are of love and acceptance.
Why don’t we instead teach acceptance for all sizes?
If you are generally healthy and happy, why does it matter what your size is? When did our collective consciousness become one of “thin is in”?
Why must we all try and manipulate our bodies into something they are not so we mould into what society expects from us?
Let me tell you something… becoming thin does not equate to having higher self esteem (that is, if it is not your natural size) in my experience. The thinner I got, the more unhappy I was, because I had no life apart from being totally consumed by the awful, self depreciating thoughts in my own mind.
Self worth and self esteem does not need to come from how we look on the outside, in my opinion. Self worth and esteem needs to come from within. Because we are SO MUCH MORE than what we look like and our body type and shape. We all have beautiful gifts and talents to share and help this world and if we are focussed on our body size and manipulating that to “one day be happy”, it is a complete waste of time and of life itself. The thing we think will give us more life actually steals more of our life the more we try to do it.
We need to embrace our natural body shapes and types, whether that is skinny, thin, fat, big, small, wide, tall, short, stout, thick, slim – WHATEVER.
Our body shapes may change over time too and at different times of the year and thats ok too. Maybe you’re on holiday and you’re not moving as much, maybe you’ve decided to run a marathon so you may get a bit smaller and more toned, maybe you are pregnant and growing ANOTHER HUMAN inside of you, maybe you’ve been sick and in bed for a week so you lose some muscle and weight. Our bodies will change and that’s ok.
But what about health you say? Not trying to change your body also doesn’t mean you won’t be healthy. If you are intuitively eating foods that YOUR body likes and you intuitively eat foods that make you feel mentally and physically well, coincided with moving your body how it loves to be moved for exercise, sleeping well, having rest etc, your body will keep at a natural shape and weight for whatever is right for YOU, no matter what that ends up as.
Everyone’s healthy shape will be different.
Am I perfect? NO, obviously. Sometimes I will have a bad body day as I am human and I am in a world that mostly places huge importance on being slim. BUT, the difference now is that I will move past that so much quicker and almost laugh at it. I remind myself that I am MORE than what I look like and the size of me and I keep myself focussed on being healthy, happy and enjoying life too. Whatever shape I end up at when I shoot for mostly healthy and happy is whatever I am meant to be in this life and this can change throughout my life.
Life is so much more fun when you’re satiated and not obsessed with your weight. Trust me.
No questions, just thoughts.