When I was 6, a kid on the playground called me fat and I haven’t been the same since.
I was six.
Then in fourth grade, someone took a picture of me during my history presentation and I learned how to look at myself with disgust.
“Ew, I look so fat.”
“That’s such a bad angle.”
And at that point? I was 8 and I was at swim team 4 days a week.
This back and forth with my body, being concerned what size I was wearing, or how I looked compared to my friends continued for almost my entire life. It still happens today even though I am more aware of what’s happening.
And it’s not just weight. It’s my light skin, my freckles, stretch marks, wide feet, etc.
In high school, I was told by a substitute dance teacher I would only ever be a successful dancer or be on pointe if I lost 20 lbs. Suddenly numbers on the scale meant everything.
And before anyone might ask what my home life is like or how my parents fed me, they were immaculate through the lens of societies perception of what health is. I ate organic, gluten free, non-gmo everything before I knew what it meant. My mom was extravagantly passionate about making sure that I was nourishing my body well, but never did she withhold or restrict to make me feel like I needed to be smaller. I didn’t have McDonalds until I was in high school. I LOVED (and still do) almost every fruit and vegetable under the sun.
But somehow over the course of my lifetime I have begun to believe lies about my how healthy I am equates to what I look like and the number on the scale.
I began swearing to myself if I ever crossed the line of 200 lbs then that was unacceptable. Or if I ever sized up in my jeans that that was it, I needed to lose weight big time.
As you can see, my journey with body image has been long and probably started way too soon. It’s hindered me where I can’t accept a compliment from my parents, my husband, or friends. It’s made me not want to exercise at certain points in my life out of fear of what others will say about me or how I look. I’ve restricted myself in my eating, forced myself to work out more, seen hormone replacement specialists, and started to worry more about what the scale said than anyone else.
But all of this has lead me to the place I was trying to prevent…being unhealthy.
And really, the points where I have reached a place that has felt like it is unhealthy is because I have let little things like someone’s opinion of me, or looking ridiculous, or being ashamed to say my weight or my pant size dictate what I do or how much I enjoy my life. I have slowly slipped away from the things that make me feel the most like myself, or promote my overall health, because I have let shifts or changes in my body image be the voice that outweighs all the others.
It should go without saying that there is a lot that contributes to the way we look. It isn’t just what we eat or how much we exercise, but it also has to do with genetics, build, muscle, stress, transitions, and so much more. However, that isn’t what we hear society saying and even though it seems like we are screwing our heads on straighter we still applaud weight loss when it might not be warranted, we make comments about how someone else looks and labeling certain bodies as beautiful and others as in need of some work, and we assume too much.
Before Brandon and I got married, an older gentleman at church told me that I “looked good” and it “looked like I had lost weight”. He then proceeded to ask me if I was trying to lose weight to which I responded, “no I’m actually not”. What he didn’t see was that I was battling intense anxiety, I wasn’t eating as I normally would (not regularly or well proportioned), I was walking through my parents divorce that was the entirety of our engagement, I was drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day, and I had just finished a project that took all of energy from 6am most days until way into the evening.
But none of that mattered. It didn’t matter that I was struggling because I looked like I was improving physically and that’s what people could see from the outside.
My weight has yoyo-ed all my life. I have gained weight, lost weight, gained it back, gained more. And every time something happens like that I have to work through the mental struggle that comes along with it. It’s not just about weight or just about looking a certain way, but it’s about the worth, praise, and affirmation that comes along with when you look a way that might be appeasing to someone else and their view of beauty.
My counselor recently asked me what my definition of health was. I told her that it was wholeness.
Health to me isn’t a certain number on the scale or a certain pant size, even though I have been tricked into caring about those things too much.
Health to me is the equal support and wellness of my physical body, my mind and my spiritual life. It can’t just be one thing or the other suffers.
In the moments I have been my skinniest, my mental health could have taken more years off my life and I have had to wrestle to get them back.
In the moments I have refused to go to the pool with friends because of my pale skin or my stretch marks, I have lost out on moments and memories that probably would have made me feel better mentally and physically.
In the moments where lie after lie has creeped in seeing myself in the mirror at the gym, in the dance studio, or in my bathroom I have believed in the wrong thing.
In the moments where I have left the dressing room without buying the jeans I wanted because I refused to buy a different size, I believed that I wasn’t deserving until I could make my body fit.
When in reality, my body has carried me through my best moments and my worst. And I treat it like it needs to fit into MY mold or someone else’s when it is just doing everything it can to make sure I am taken care of. I have shifted my perspective. I am doing what is healthy and whole for me, in the long haul, not in the short term. I hope you will too.
So here’s my advice to you, my friend.
Buy the jeans that fit…trying to squeeze into a certain size (or fit into the box of someone else’s opinion) is going to rob you of everything that will actually make you healthy.
P.S. sizing is BS and we all know it. just for reference, my “regular size” is 4 sizes different than my fave mom jeans (pictured below).