Skinny

TW: body image, eating disorders, fatphobia

The first time I thought I was fat, I was in the third grade. I remember that my stomach stuck out, in the way that all little kids’ do – adorable and not concerned about a six-pack. I remember thinking that either there was something wrong with me or that this was what all my peers looked like and I just didn’t know it. While the truth was probably closer to the second option, I logged somewhere in my eight-year-old brain that I needed to do something about my stomach. “Am I fat?” I asked myself, as though that were the worst thing I could be.

Growing up, my parents taught me persistently about exercise and diet. I don’t fault them for this. As an adult, I’ve realized that not everyone learns about food as a child, so I’m grateful that my parents had me try a little bit of everything. I’m also grateful that they instilled in me a love of running, dance, and weight lifting. However, these teachings were not balanced with lessons about moderation. While I was afforded the privilege of a healthy lifestyle, I inherited a guilt about food and exercise. Certain foods were good while others were bad. Working out was a success and rest days were failures.

The first time I started intentionally restricting my eating was my sophomore year of high school. After spending hours looking at a fashion magazine, I sat on the floor of my bathroom one night crying and pulling at the skin of my stomach, disgusted by my own body. For months after that, I lied to my parents and my friends about my eating habits. I pretended to pack lunches for school but brought only an empty lunch box. I told my parents I was eating dinner after play rehearsal and told my friends I was eating dinner at home. I was proud of my self-control. I was proud of my jutting ribs.

I can’t put a finger on when I snapped out of this, although I arguably never did. At one point, I met with one of my youth group leaders who told me that I should be happy with my life and my body because of the joy God was supposed to bring to my life. Despite this unhelpful advice, I did eventually start eating again. However, my feelings about my body didn’t change. As a runner and a former dancer, I coveted skinny thighs and a flat stomach. Emerging from puberty, I began to realize that was not how I was shaped. My thighs became thick and my butt became round. I hated it. Every summer when I worked at a camp, wearing shorts and a bathing suit daily, I resorted to eating only salads and blueberries. Even in times when I felt healthy, I always found something to hate when I looked in the mirror.

My eating disorder returned with a vengance over the past few months. As I recovered from self harm, I found solace in this different but familiar addiction. It was then that I realized I had done the same thing in my high school years. The months after I overcame a period of self harm in high school coincided with that tearful evening in the bathroom. I was trading one trauma response for another. Anorexia was easier to hide and much more socially acceptable, so I turned to it for the sense of control I gave up when I left self-harm behind.

As trite as it sounds, I am still trying to learn to love my body. I am often frustrated by the fact that my dietary and exercise habits don’t result in my “dream body”. Weekly, I am seduced by diets and exercise plans and before/after photos posted by friends. I’m still not sure how to love my body, but I want to try. She has carried me through so much. She has survived assault from others and my own attempts to harm her. I am not angry at my eating disorder or my self-harm because they helped me survive. They were coping mechanisms in times of trauma.

As I try to move forward, I don’t know what this healing will look like, but I know it starts inside with with a small, scared, third grader who has the option to love her little tummy instead of despising it.

My Word for 2019 is Brave

I’ve never chosen a word of the year before. Honestly, it always sounded a little bit corny. I feel the same way about making New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s feels like a tired joke about how Americans are terrible about following through. I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s – I love the concept of new beginnings and fresh starts but I hate the ways we’ve turned it into a method of being dissatisfied with who we are and how we’re living.

This year, though, I decided to try the PowerSheets goal setting planner for the first time (I promise this isn’t an ad…stay with me). I’ve seen other successful women use it and love it, and I currently have a lot of dreams but need some help making them happen. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good planner, especially one with stickers. Part of the PowerSheets process is choosing a word of the year. Ideally, it’s something that can serve as an umbrella for all your goals and plans.

I looked at all the threads I was weaving together as I dreamed up my 2019. I want to be more intentional: about money, about food, about zero waste, about minimalism. I want to continue my recovery from perfectionsim. I want to take risks even if it means things don’t work out as planned. I want to keep journeying through my trauma toward healing. I want to work towards getting published. I want to clarify my vocational goals. I have a lot to manage, but a lot of it seems to come down to progress over perfection. I can spend the next year wishing that things were different or I can take actual steps toward making things happen. (I’m using a lot of PowerSheets language here…sorry y’all.) After choosing goals and focusing my priorities, bravery seemed like the thing I would need most.

At the end of 2018, I needed a lot of bravery. Politically, autumn was full of triggers of my own experiences. I had to attend an event where my abuser would be present and had to make an emergency mental health plan. Changes in my medication had me feeling less stable than I had in nearly a decade. After Thanksgiving, I took a week off from work because of an intense relapse of depression that nearly had me checking myself into the hospital. Changes at work meant I would be starting 2019 with only 1 coworker out of the 3 I usually have (and running a whole nonprofit is hard enough with only 4 of us). I did not feel ready to take on new things. But as I reflect on what all of the turmoil that the end of last year taught me, it was nothing if not bravery.

Bravery to be honest with my boss about my mental health. Bravery to speak out with my doctor about how I was reacting to my medication. Bravery to work through my memories and flashbacks with my therapist. Bravery to ask friends to come sit with me when I couldn’t be alone. Even though I’ve largely come out of the darkness that was the past few months, I still need this bravery.

I also need bravery to give myself permission to take breaks from all this goal setting – to watch TV and relax when I’m so worn out that my insides feel like sandpaper. Sometimes, I become all consumed with my new goal setting habits and feel guilty when I spend my evenings doing anything but working toward my goals. But balance is absolutely necessary. Spontenaity is necessary. Breathing is necessary. I’m still struggling to manage my time in a way that combines both working toward my goals and resting. I have to keep reminding myself that I was doing some intense healing just a few weeks ago. Being brave is both big and small and I can’t wait to see what it brings me.