My Body & Me
*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 (email@example.com). I’m here to listen and help you remember all that you are outside of a fluctuating number.
Love & Sexy Calves,