Through the summer of 2018, I was slowly learning how to exist again. It was a whirlwind of escaping my abuser, gaining and losing friends, slowly falling into a new relationship, redefining family, going back to school with a very different reputation, and leaving the church in favor of chasing Jesus. After ten years of starving, binging and purging, and refusing to eat more because two Oreos was my calorie limit for the day, I was forced to fully confront the monster of an eating disorder that was consuming me.
Most people growing up in the modern Western world get messages about whether or not their body is good — most are told it isn’t. I was fortunate to have a mother who did not subscribe to that language, and was intentional about never talking like that in front of me. Any diet plan or workout regimen was centered on the pursuit of health, walks were to get out of the house and not to burn calories, clothes were the wrong size and she was not. I was lucky for that. Unfortunately, the messages came through other places. They wormed their way into my head and sent me into a downward spiral through the online pro-ana world. You can learn more about that part of my life here.
Over the course of the last year, my weight has fluctuated by 90lbs from eating again, going through a delayed puberty, getting on a medication that made me expand like a water balloon and then going off it, and physical therapy helping me build muscle. Most days, I’m still eating a calorie deficit because I spent the last 10 years training myself to do just that, but I’ve been consistently expanding. Sure, I don’t need to sip on a coconut latte and nibble on a croissant while I write this, but it makes me happy, and is a fun little treat to start the week. Letting myself have those little pleasures without guilt is consistently my favorite daily victory.
As I’ve rebuilt this relationship with food, I’ve also had to rebuild a good relationship with my body, which is particularly difficult because I also have chronic pain. That extra layer of betrayal, on top of seeing everything in the mirror I’ve been trained to hate, is a struggle for me, and I am not about to pretend it’s easy to just love yourself. We are conditioned to hate stretch marks, cellulite, and anything that even might be perceived as a belly. Now, I have all of those things, and quite a bit of them too. I gained a total of 22 inches across my hips, waist, and bust. I went up a few sizes. My patches of stretch marks extended all the way down my thighs. I got cellulite on inner thighs, and for the first time, “chub rub” entered my world. Meanwhile, well-meaning friends and relatives sent me all kinds of information on how to “loose weight” and “get a perkier butt.” I started having other people go through my mail before I did to remove those things so they wouldn’t send me into a diet spiral. I said the affirmations. I still felt like shit when I saw a “pooch” or roll or cellulite bump in the mirror.
First thing that actually made a difference: completely switching out my wardrobe. With the exception of a few jackets and PJ pants, I don’t own a single clothing item that I had 70lbs ago, and that is crucial. For a long time, I felt like if I still could fit into them, that meant they fit well enough, and I shouldn’t get rid of them. Over the course of the last summer especially, I’ve been swapping out items left and right in favor of things that actually fit. Switching out my size 0 jeggings for size 4 American Eagle curvy jeans (ladies that are a little extra bootylicious, this line is a godsend. Go get some. Thank me later). Switching out my itsy bitsy tanks for some small or medium swing tanks. Letting go of the last B cup bra because, seriously, I am never going to be able to squeeze into that again (nor do I want to).
Second thing: changing the language. Notice my use of bootylicious in the previous paragraph. When I first started gaining weight, the only word I had for it was fat. I was getting fat. I was packing on pounds. I was getting chubby. The only words I had surrounding a weight that made me more than stick thin were negative. SO, I went off in search of more positive words to describe what was actually happening to my body: I was gaining a healthy amount of weight for the first time in my adult life, and finishing the puberty my body had started 10 years ago and had to pause because it didn’t have the fuel for those changes. I swapped out fat for curvy, big for thick, round for bootylicious. Silly? Maybe, but it made a difference for me. You have to admit, there’s a huge difference between saying “Do you want some of my jeans? They’re in great shape but I’m too fat for them” vs “Hey, would size _ jeans possibly fit you? I’m a little too bootylicious for them now lol but I thought they’d be adorable on you if you want them!”
Third thing: surround yourself with people who affirm you, who challenge toxic patterns, who know how to watch for bad habits coming back to bite you. Find people who remind you who you are when all you see is the body you’ve been conditioned to fear. I can stand firm against fatphobic comments and diet culture language because I have these people. Don’t just cut out anyone in your life that is on a diet or wants to drop a few pounds — simply limit your exposure to those specific comments. Learn to change the subject, and gracefully exit when needed to sustain your recovery.
Fourth: stretch the third to social media. Follow amazing body-positive accounts that encourage self-love. A couple corporate-run Instagrams I love for this are:
- ThirdLove — features women of all shapes, sizes, skin colors and tones, physical levels of ability, and ages. Includes photos with stretch marks, cellulite, and other totally normal bodies that we have been taught to not like.
- Aerie — also great at showing diversity, definitely leans slimmer but does feature women of all sizes at different times, completely un-airbrushed.
- Jameela Jamil and her organization, I Weigh — focused on emphasizing that we are all more than our bodies, and that all bodies should be honored and respected and loved as they are, without fear of societal constructs.
This is far from a complete list, but they’re a few favorites of mine and great places to start.
As a final note, I want to draw your attention to the first word of my title: learning. I’m still learning. I will always be learning, and re-learning. I’m not trying to be all “hey, look at me, I’ve got it figured out!” I’m just hoping that a few habits I’ve formed that have been helpful, can also help someone else.