I never labeled myself as a person with an eating disorder. I never said the word anorexic.
Maybe I do have an eating disorder, maybe I am anorexic, but I will never use those words to describe myself.
I will say this: I have a misguided, distorted, and unrealistic vision of myself. When I look in the mirror, all I see is fat. I see huge thighs, a big butt, and a fat stomach. I know they aren’t really like that, but I feel like they are, and that’s what I see.
I don’t understand it.
The reality: My stomach is not fat. My thighs are not huge. My butt is not big. I know these things, but my mind sees differently.
I feel that my eyes send my mind awful images of my body. I can’t explain it and it’s hard to understand. If my clothes start to feel even the slightest bit tight, I barely eat: just small portions until my clothes feel loose again. Then I can be happy with my body.
This has been a struggle for me as long as I can remember. I don’t know how or when this all happened.
Growing up, I took ballet, gymnastics, and dance classes. I enjoyed learning how to move my body in these different forms, but there was a constant emphasis on weight. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my ballet teacher told me she was disappointed in my weight gain. She said it would throw me off balance, and more importantly, “No one wants to see a fat dancer.”
I never weighed over 100 pounds. Ever.
As a young woman, I remember comparing myself to models in magazines. They were tall. I was not. I loved how they looked so perfect. In my early twenties, I became a model myself. I wasn’t tall, but I was thin. That was the priority.
So much emphasis on weight…
The only times in my life that I accepted gaining weight were during pregnancy. I made sure to have a healthy diet, despite six months of morning sickness. I ate well, took vitamins, and followed all of my doctor’s advice. I enjoyed being pregnant. The changes to my body and the added weight didn’t bother me. If I didn’t mind putting on weight while I was pregnant, how could I be anorexic?
As soon as the baby was born, I was mortified when I looked in the mirror. I was disgusted with how I looked. I didn’t recognize that girl’s reflection. The weight needed to go.
With my first child, I lost 33 pounds in less than two weeks. I didn’t eat. I fasted the entire time. I was 17. What I saw in the mirror was an enormous, disgusting person with a sagging belly staring back at me. Who the hell was she? I didn’t care. She sickened me. She had to go away, and fast.
I’ve given birth to six babies. The weight always came off so quickly that I’d leave the hospital wearing my pre-pregnancy clothes. With my last three children, I wore my non-pregnant clothes throughout my entire pregnancies. With my last child, no one knew I was pregnant until the last month.
My extreme low weight was 83 pounds. At the time, my doctor threatened to admit me into the hospital with an IV if I didn’t gain weight.
My body was unhealthy and run down. I developed mono. Three weeks later, I came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare illness that starts with a tingling and weakness in the feet and legs that travels to the upper body. In about 10 percent of people, symptoms begin in the arms or face. As it progresses, muscle weakness can evolve into paralysis. Most people need oxygen because they cannot breathe on their own, and this may last for months. Everyone with Guillain-Barre Syndrome must be hospitalized and monitored.
For weeks, my arms and legs felt heavy. I couldn’t walk up stairs. I couldn’t lift my feet; I just dragged them. I had two small kids and no one to watch them. I couldn’t stay in the hospital. I visited my doctor daily to monitor my breathing.
Within weeks, I fully recovered. I was lucky. I was told that it may come back. It’s one of those weird illnesses that not much is known about. Could it have been caused by my eating habits? Maybe. The possibility hasn’t been ruled out.
This was a turning point. But I continue to struggle.
I don’t get hungry. I don’t think about food. I have to be conscious of my weight. I have to force myself to eat. I manage to eat a healthy diet. But sometimes the fat person is still looking back at me in the mirror.
Yoga and meditation have provided me with immense relief. Through Yoga, I found my self-worth. I began to change my self-image. Through meditation, I went deeply inside my mind, gaining a better grasp on my thoughts.
I believe that our society creates eating disorders. “Fat is ugly.” We drill that message into the minds of young, impressionable girls. We bombard them with photo-shopped images of “perfect” women who are devoid of wrinkles, fat, and flaws of any kind. We create an expectation that leads many girls and women to feel insecure. The result is a society filled with women who feel low self-esteem and little self-worth, and have poor self-images and lack in self-love.
We must consciously and collectively effect change.
I call for an end to photoshopping of models, actresses, and other celebrities in fashion magazines and advertisements. Let’s show women as they are. Will they appeal less to us if we do so? Or will we respect them more for their more honest portrayal of themselves?
I call for the design of educational programs geared particularly toward young girls and teenagers, who are impressionable and undergoing drastic change to their bodies and hormones.
Ultimately, I call for the change to start with each conscious individual woman. Look into the mirror with loving eyes. Do not look for flaws. If you see an imperfection, do not focus on it. Do not criticize your body.
Embrace your imperfect and flawed self. Everyone has flaws. No one is perfect. Our bodies will constantly change. Accept it. Welcome the change.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse. I had a poor self-image, low self-esteem, no self-love, and no self-worth. When a woman does not feel good about herself, she cannot stand up for herself, and she will always remain a victim. When a woman feels good about herself, she will make better choices. When a woman is confident and knows her self-worth, she does not allow someone to dominate or control her. She will not allow someone else to affect how she feels about herself.
We are not our bodies. Whatever our outside appearance, our outer shell, may be, it is not who we are. What matters is who we are on the inside. It may sound cliché, but that is the ultimate truth. Before we can love others, we must first love and appreciate ourselves.
Author: Marylou Webb
Apprentice Editor: NV Randall / Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Benjamin Watson