*Trigger warning: this post is about body image and weight. As someone in forever-recovery from an eating disorder, I know sometimes we are just not ready to talk or hear about this subject.
“Well what in the fuckity fuck fuck!”
I say this with exasperation as I pull yet another outfit off my now-sweating bod. Overnight, like dark magic, none of my clothes fit and I’m suddenly obsessed with the size of my upper arms. Damn. I only just formed a healthy and loving relationship with my stomach. No one told me body-love would feel like playing wack-a-mole.
“Well at least you’re not alone?”
I say this to try and talk myself off the cliff where I might jump to delusions and negative self-talk. Commiserating over weight-gain during a pandemic is the new small talk. But Edith, the bitch who sublets my brain from time to time, doesn’t wanna hear it. As Edith puts it: “Cool, you’re not alone. You’re still fat.” Edith drops the mic and dances around like she’s won the internal debate.
(In case your confused, Edith is a personification of my negative self-talk and disillusioned beliefs which eventually double-downed into a full-blown eating disorder. Some may find this weird. I’m quite tickled by it. Besides, it helps with the whole “you are not your thoughts” realization.)
Falling Off The Wagon
It’s official. Clothes are the devil and I’m ripe and ready for a mid-morning panic attack. What I decided to do next is going to sound bat-shit crazy. A calculated risk. An unorthodox plan to my body discomfort dilemma. (Spoiler alert: this blog post is evidence that the plan succeeded.)
I mean this seriously: Please don’t try this at home unless you have a plan, support and the song ‘Tempo’ by Lizzo on stand-by.
I weighed myself.
I broke an eight year streak.
I kicked the scale to the curb when I was 22. A gesture I gifted myself after graduating from an outpatient clinic for bulimia. When I go to the doctors I ask to stand backwards on the scale. The manic need to know the number faded over time. Leaving me with more space in my bathroom and brain.
I mean this seriously: Do try saying ‘hasta la pasta’ to your scale. You don’t have to ceremoniously smash it with a hammer in your driveway. But from personal experience, it’s one of the best ways to give a juicy ‘fuck you’ to the meanest cult leader out there: Diet Culture.
So why in all that is Beyonce did I creep into my mom’s bathroom and step onto the square of ‘nothing good can come of this’?
As someone whose experienced severe bouts of body dysmorphia, I needed confirmation. I took inventory of my current mental state. Put one hand over my heart and the other softly over my stomach. I paused and promised that I would not abandon my body or self no matter the number. And I meant it. A personal victory hard-earned after eight years of self-discovery and therapy.
My biggest beef with the sudden weight gain was less about the way my clothes fit and more about not feeling at home in my own body. Have you ever tried running from your own body? It’s a whole game of crazy-making one too many girls try to play once puberty hits. I didn’t notice the tightness of my dress first. I noticed how I stopped moving my arms wildly. I curled inward and felt apologetic for the size of my legs. The woman who gleefully shakes every inch of her naked body while waiting for the bath to fill abruptly disappeared. I feared, like times before, that she would never return.
I weighed myself and read the number. I’ve gained some weight. I figured as much. Now I know that my physical body has changed. Now I know that my brain isn’t trying any funny business and I can trust my reflection and more resolutely tell Edith to ‘eff off’.
A Promise is a Promise
When I stepped off the scale I held true to the promise I made to myself and my body. Not because I have herculean willpower. But because I set myself up with tried-and-true methods hold off Edith until I remembered how to love this 5’3 smoke-stack of a body.
Here is some of the ways I’ve said ‘oh hell no’ to body shame and ‘don’t even right now’ to Edith. I’m not an expert or doctor. As my resume glaringly points out, I’m not licensed or certified in anything. I’m just a human-shaped bean with experiences and a blog. Maybe you’re in the thick of a similar struggle and just need some fresh ideas. Maybe one of these ideas will stick. Or, maybe, just maybe, they will inspire you to develop your own ways of saying ‘you’re message is trite and tired’ to your own Edith.
Body Drawing Activity:
Allow me to explain this with an anecdote:
The first time I did this exercise I did not participate enthusiastically. In fact, I evaded my therapist for two weeks by bursting into tears every time she insisted ‘you’re ready’. Then one day she pulled me out of group in the afternoon instead of the morning. She put it plainly: this activity is a part of the process and a pre-requisite to graduate from the program.
“I know you’re scared. I also know you are ready. But I can’t actually force you. This is up to you.”
She said this as we walked into a room already set up for the activity. A giant sheet of parchment paper on the floor. A tub of markers at it’s side. The dreaded black sharpie
I laid down. Spreading my arms and legs out enough so she could trace the length of my body. As she created my crime-scene outline, she called attention to how the sharpie touched my body. This is to discredit the body dysmorphic “you’re pulling a trick on me!” response. Body dysmorphia is a straight up bitch and traps you in a purgatory of fun-house mirrors. Logic is pulverized and purged from your brain. This activity pulls out the rug of distortion and delusion by revealing the truth: your body is perfectly normal without decent proportions and no deformities.
I stood up, held my breath and opened my eyes. I started crying (again). Quiet tears and an overwhelming lightness in my chest.
You never quite know how lost you are until your found.
A two-dimensional outline of my body made the arms and legs and soft waist look so innocent. Not at all the inflated and prickly and offensive shape I ran from.
My therapist broke the silence: “What are your seeing and thinking?”
I smiled and spoke honestly: “My arms and legs are so different than I imagined. Smaller. I’m not entirely surprised that my mid-section is a curve-less square. But for two weeks I had convinced myself that my waist wouldn’t even fit the width of the paper. Also, I’ve never even considered my calves. I have nice calves.”
The tracing was part one of the activity. The second part involved filling in the outline with all the things my body gives and earns and creates. With markers, paints, magazine scraps, feathers, whatever medium available, I focused on all the parts I loved about my body. After 2 years, I was starving for words of affirmation. I indulged in the newness unexpected grace and empowerment.
I drew an oak tree up from my heels to burst out in lush green leaves at my chest. I used a red marker to make curls so free and wild they continued off the page. I used the word ‘strong’ for the first time when describing my body.
Recalling this experience was one of the reasons why I knew I could handle weighing myself after 8 years. I ordered large parchment paper off Amazon before stepping on the scale.
Your Body Has Weight – Now What?
I’m fresh off the scale. The temptation is real. The digital numbers flashing behind my eyelids. I prepared for this. Time to initiate plan “Accept & Move Forward”. Starting with some articles from Psychology Today. I read and take notes with the seriousness of an avid student. This part of the plan encourages me to think logically vs. irrationally. Here are two I found particularly helpful:
- “Stressed About Your Body During Quarantine” by Paula Freedman, Psy.D.
- “Why Are You Anxious About Gaining Weight?” by Tara Deliberto, Ph.D .
Education over Restriction
After confirming the extent of my weight gain I sit myself down for an honest and compassionate conversation:
The chapters of quarantine where I ordered uber eats twice a day and ate to discomfort while keeping the blinds closed may have something to do with this. Well, good, less uber eats means more money in the savings account. Turns out Smashburger and a whole box of rugelach doesn’t mend a broken heart. Good to know. Does overeating too soothe hurt feelings make me a monster? A resounding: NO. Let’s ease our way out of this cycle of binging by still eating breakfast the next day and take it one step at a time.
I download “The Rules of ‘Normal Eating'” by Karen R. Kroenig on audible. When Edith begins to chirp “you eat to live, not live to eat” I turned the volume up.
Parting Words: Remember Who You Are
Which is not your weight. You are so much more than that cute muffin top. Your body is not something to ignore, punish or run from. It’s the maker of babies, the vessel of sexuality, the powerhouse that takes you to the top of mountains. Bodies enable us to hug and twerk.
When my bones feel heavy I take to dancing. I set a simple goal: dance and don’t stop dancing for one complete song. Go fucking nuts.
A few of my go-to’s:
- “Make Me Feel” – Janelle Monae
- “Good As Hell” – Lizzo
- “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels” – Todrick Hall
- “Ayo” – Lady Gaga
- “Move Your Body” – Sia
- “No Roots” – Alice Merton
After performing movement art, sweaty, flushed and feelin’ myself, I bring the self-love party home with one of my favorite favorite favorite poems:
If you are struggling with your body and/or weight and need a friend – I’m here (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’m here to listen and help you remember all that you are outside of a fluctuating number.
Love & Sexy Calves,
A new quarantine past time involves flipping through Garrison Keller’s book “Good Poems”. Everyday I pick a page at random and read the poem. I discover new words and sometimes fall into a google rabbit hole learning about the poet. Sometimes I read the poem twice. Today I read “The Dance” by C.K. Williams three times.
By C.K. Williams
A middle-aged woman, quite plain, to be polite about it, and
somewhat stout, to be more courteous still,
but when she and the rather good-looking, much younger man
she’s with get up to dance,
her forearm descends with such delicate lightness, such restrained
but confident ardor athwart his shoulder,
drawing him to her with such a firm, compelling warmth, and
moving him with effortless grace
into the union she’s instantly established with the not at all
rhythmically solid music in this second-rate cafe,
that something in the rest of us, some doubt about ourselves, some
sad conjecture, seems to be allayed,
nothing that we’d ever thought of as real lack, nothing not to be
admired or be repentant for,
but something to which we’ve ever adequately given credence,
which might have consoling implications about how we misbe-
lieve ourselves, and so the world,
that world beyond us which so often disappoints, but which
sometimes shows us, lovely, what we are.
Sometimes, despite the pesky pride, you need to sit down and write a letter to your ten year old self. To be transparent, I’ve cringed away from this assignment in the past. When I was 22, a therapist asked me to give it a go. She suggested I look at some photos of myself at age 10. To aid the writing and remind me.
I found a few photos and then closed my notebook and capped my pen. I felt weird. Like I swallowed one too many watermelon seeds. The round-faced girl in the photo embarrassed me. Shame. I felt a slow-sword-stab to the stomach kind of sadness. I knew that girl in the photo was innocent. But at that time, I didn’t know how to love her. The shame double-downed. This split, this abandonment of self didn’t feel right. But I couldn’t see anything beyond the Shame Mountains.
Now I’m 30. I gave the writing prompt another go. The words leap-frogged out. I knew what to say. I felt a warm first-sip-of-hot-chocolate kind of love. Turns out there is a lush green forest just beyond the Shame Mountains. Under the canopy of tall trees I felt something quite revelatory: Hope.
Dear 10 year old Megan,
You are in fourth grade. You’re in Mr. Boone’s 4th/5th combo class to be exact. Get used to being the youngest in the group. It’s awesome. You will discover that your wisdom surpasses your age. You are quiet and an observer. Which will help you learn from those older than you. You will learn so much and our life is incredibly rich. Why? Because we have a super power: our self-awareness. At 30 years old I’m making progress at putting this self-awareness to task. But for you, and for now, just keep noticing.
Look, we are different. Not in a super obvious way. But we feel our feelings on a profound level. Which will be put to use when you start writing. You are special. It’s hard to accept or even want that at 10 years old. You want to fit in…well…let’s be honest, you want to be invisible. Your physical body is beginning to change. If I could help you or guide you through one thing it would be this: your body is not your enemy. Your weight does not define you. I know you feel so uncomfortable in it. I know. Hold on and with grace. Because a body fluctuates. And you are so, so much more than what the scale says. You are an artist, a writer, an empath, a good friend, a kind person, a good citizen of the world. I love you just the way you are right in this 10 year old moment. I hope you can feel it.
Take a moment to notice your streak of curiosity and bravery. Before starting 4th grade you never saw an iguana. But Mr. Boone asked if you wanted to hold the iguana and your curiosity beat out your fear. You are a bad-ass.
Someday soon, I truly believe, I will reunite with you. 10 year old Megan. This is the age of eating juicy watermelon in your bathing suit. Before the world seeps in. I’m working everyday to get back to you. So we can combine wisdom. Leave our freckled cheeks without makeup and jump in the pool. Lay out on the grass, laughing until our faces turn red. I will show you how capable we are to do adult things. You will show me how much love we had for the world since day one.
Next year you are going to have the urge to cut your own bangs a week before 5th grade graduation. I would say ‘DON’T!”…but this is one of many experiments and experiences that will build character. Plus, this will be the last year you obsessively use butterfly clips. So let that freak flag fly. Besides, this is our small penance to pay. We eventually stop trying to straighten, suck in, cover up. We stop trying to be something else. We see a bra for what it really is -> material for the bonfire. And girrrrrl – that’s the moment the magic begins.
It takes a minute to fully embrace the natural curls. But then one day you let out some wild. Fiery-free curls let loose. You upgrade from butterfly clips to real daisies just-plucked. For a while you will use make up and cardigans to cover up. This is because suddenly the world has something to say about your fair features and “fat arms”. Listen, you’re going to have a lot of word-wounds for a while. Follow your instinct and keep using your own words to build others up.
One day you will wear sundresses with no sleeves. Tennis shoes on your feet and no make up on your face. You will strip down at a nude beach and eat a sandwich before jumping into the waves. Yes, you grow up to be G D mermaid who eats carbs. Hallelujah!
So keep that chin up. You will one day turn 30 and feel passionate about the idea of creating space for other girls and women to be their own kind of beautiful.
P.S. When Brandon makes a stupid comment about your butt being too big for your shorts – punch him. Any boy who disrespects something as magnificent as a big butt in shorts deserves a firm and fast-fist awakening.
P.P.S. Don’t repeat any of the curse words in this letter. Grandma is not fronting. She will wash your mouth out with soup. And that shit is gross.
By Megan Posner
my roar is the tree
bursting from a shell of bark
flesh the color of burnt sienna
leaves of crystal blue
Check out For Women Who Roar, a storytelling movement. This poem was inspired by one of their free writing prompts. Be brave and roar. You’re worth it.