It’s the start of the New Year, and I’m catching up over coffee with an old friend. All is well, until the inevitable New Year’s resolutions conversation comes up. “I really want to lose ten pounds,” she says, and suddenly her nonfat, sugar free vanilla latte feels much more intimidating. My heart picks up, and I immediately start debating even finishing the rest of my caramel macchiato. The all-too-familiar buzzing in my thighs and stomach returns, along with thoughts like, “God, I’m fat” and “I should have gone to the gym yesterday.” While my friend’s comment may not have seemed overtly rude or out of the ordinary, to a girl like me who’s struggled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and unhealthy eating mannerisms, it’s salt to the wound.
My eating disorder was about feeling in control while the world felt out of control. Being happy for me was directly tied to being pretty and thin—I was not worth happiness unless I was the thinnest person in the room. I spent years of my life seeing every “flaw” on my body and beating myself up for it. If I didn’t feel like going to the gym, I hated myself for being so lazy, and if I didn’t eat a salad for dinner instead of a burger, I beat myself up for being a glutton. I ate one meal a day for years because I felt that if I ate on my own I would eat too much. When I exercised, it was until I saw spots or felt too dizzy to continue. I even took to hitting myself when a part of my body felt unacceptable.
Constantly seeing this fear of “fat” in our society conjured up the same fear within me. I’ve never been what society considers fat, but that’s never stopped me from feeling that way. While I’d admire other girls’ curves as beautiful, my own felt threatening—as if I was a complete failure if I wasn’t model-thin. Every fluctuation of the scale would chip away at my self-esteem, no matter how hard I’d try not to let it. I fought my body to be something it was never meant to be, and to be honest, I never saw a difference in my appearance. At my lowest, underweight size, I saw myself as exactly the same as when I was at my heaviest, yet healthy size. I felt I was justified in my opinion of myself because that’s what I saw—and if you can’t trust your own eyes, what can you trust?
In a society so obsessed with looks and achieving the “perfect body,” eating disorders and negative body image run rampant. It can be so easy to get caught up in the cycle of indulgence, guilt, and dieting. This is a fairly normalized routine in our culture, with ads after Christmas telling you it’s time to “lose the holiday weight” and Instagram celebrities advertising laxative teas that are meant to “cleanse” your body of any “bad” food you’ve eaten. We’re so used to ultra-filtered, photoshopped images that anything normal seems wrong. If you have stretch marks or cellulite, you’re considered a “before”—someone who is a work in progress and should not feel happy in their own skin.
This constant, hateful narrative shapes the way we see the world and what we think is beautiful. It also shapes our words and how we talk about people and their bodies, as well as weight gain and weight loss; weight gain is to be feared, while weight loss is to be celebrated. So despite the media’s extremely damaging effects, real-life people and their attitudes toward health and fitness have consistently had the greatest effect on my attitudes toward body image and food. Your words have a huge impact on the people around you, and you should try to be aware of the attitudes you’re encouraging when you speak. We are people, not bodies, so make sure your language reflects that. And If my saying that I can’t listen to you talk about your 2-week cardio boot camp or your fat percentage to calorie ratio is rude, I really don’t care. I have to put my own recovery first, and that means standing up for myself and what I can handle.
I’m finally starting to get to a place where I feel comfortable with who I am. Instead of intense cardio, which triggers my competitive, unhealthy tendencies, I practice yoga, which focuses on bettering yourself and learning to love your body. Instead of restricting and eating bland, tasteless foods for every meal, I’m starting to let myself enjoy food again and listen to my body and what it wants. But don’t get me wrong; I’m nowhere near perfect. And it’s taken me years to get to the point where I could even eat a piece of cake on my birthday without wanting to die. This is a very sensitive time for my body image, and I have to be careful what kind of media I view and what kind of people I surround myself with to ensure that I don’t send myself into yet another spiral of self-loathing and obsession, and that has to include speaking up or leaving the room if you start in about your diet. So next time you’re wanting to talk about your new gym routine or diet, please consider who you’re talking to and try to be understanding.