I will never forget being eight years old and pulling at the fat on my stomach thinking, I need that to go away. The thought would pop into my brain occasionally, but it never stayed around for a long time. I had other things to do like climb monkey bars and fill in coloring books. I knew I was chubby, but it did not affect my eating and it definitely did not affect how happy I was. I was aware I had fat on my belly but it wouldn’t stop me from eating the mac and cheese and cake later. Just because I was a little squishy, it did not mean cake was no longer the yummiest thing EVER. But then I got older and taller, and I started to care.
I cared because people commented, I cared because the ice dance world teaches girls they must be small to succeed and I cared because I just wanted to be good enough. Now it was personal. Now when I looked in the mirror and saw my stomach was not “perfect enough” it meant I had to change something. The difference now was that when the thoughts came, they stayed and they got worse and I started to hate myself. But wait… I looked at my body and saw my imperfections, felt horrible but I could change all of that. I could just lose weight and become perfect. And that is when my anorexia took over my life.
Fast forward and here I am a couple weeks ago, working on a journal prompt where I had a week to cultivate a list of all the things I love about myself-physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. I left myself 2 pages to fill up, not even sure that would be enough. I started writing and I filled up half a page until I couldn’t think of things anymore. I figured I was just tired and my brain was just worn out, I’ll come back to it later. It’s been a week now and I still have barely filled a page. Almost everything on the list was adjectives to describe my mind; curious, motivated, thoughtful, I went back and reread it and realized I could only come up with a whopping 2 things I love about my physical appearance.
I spend so much time working on who I am as a person that I neglect to ever take care of my physical body. I don’t look at it in the mirror because I know the shame that will follow. I don’t buy clothes because I know I will find something I hate about them and resort back to oversized shirts anyways. I don’t talk to my friends about my body because it always turns into me listening to all the reasons they hate their own bodies.
The weird thing is, though, I do like myself. I think I’m creative, motivated and joyful. I think I’m curious, thoughtful and kind. I just don’t think about my body, because I learned how to turn that part of my mind off. To be able to recover from anorexia, I made myself turn it off. Don’t think about your body because then you will fall into old habits. Don’t think about your legs touching or your pants becoming tight. When your coach tells you-you’re not light enough, just forget it. Don’t think about it, don’t analyze it, don’t care. Just don’t. Because then it won’t exist.
But why do I still feel like my eating disorder is controlling my life? I eat much more normally than I did a few years ago. But I still feel trapped because when I look at my body I do feel guilty and I don’t like what I see. Since I have anorexia I associate things I don’t like about my body with food and the fact that I’ve “let myself go” or “I eat too much”. But the thing is, I eat now. I do not force myself to exercise, I do not purge, I do not even feel bad when I eat, but why do I still feel so stuck? Because on the rare occasion I do look at my body in the mirror, I see a feature of my stomach I don’t like, and I still hear the thoughts, “You need to eat less. You need to be smaller”. I refuse to give in to these thoughts, no matter how strong they are, so I just don’t look in the mirror. It’s easier that way…or so I thought.
For years I thought to ignore my body was the answer to freedom, but I still constantly wonder why do I still not allow myself certain things? Why do I still feel guilty for being hungry? Why am I still so dogmatic around food? Because REAL food freedom cannot be achieved until we can radically accept and love our bodies. When I look in the mirror, see my body and immediately shut my eyes: No. You didn’t see that. Please don’t hate yourself more, please let yourself eat today. You DID NOT see that, there is no way I can continue through my day seeing food and exercise in a normal, healthy way because these thoughts I have about my body are not healthy. How can I properly fuel my body if I cannot even acknowledge that it is my own? How can I provide my body with enough energy and nutrients if I don’t even want to live in it? I just can’t.
There is no way I’ll ever achieve total freedom around eating and exercise until I can radically accept the only body I will ever have, the one I am in now and the one I will be in as a grandmother. Accepting your body as a female these days is difficult, especially for me as an ice dancer. We are almost encouraged to hate our bodies and starve ourselves. But I’m done. I fit the unrealistic, unhealthy expectations of a female dancer in today’s society and I will tell you this for a fact: it has not made me happy or more loved or more confident. It has, in fact, made me feel stuck, weak and like I have had all my power sucked out of me because I gave in. I let society’s ideals take so much away from me. I am accepted by society, by the ice-dance world, by people on social media, but in meeting these expectations I stopped accepting myself and that is really all that matters. I am the only one who has to live in this body for the next 60+ years, and it’s time for me to love my home.
I’ve done a lot of work. I have come a long way since the days where my anorexia ruled my world. This work had to start in my brain because anorexia is a mental disorder. I had to learn how to cope with my depression, anxiety, and anorexia before I could move on to my body. I’ve done that. Like I said earlier, I do love myself. I love WHO I am. To me, that work had to come first. I had to be able to exist in my brain before I can even think about my body. A couple of years ago, I despised waking up in the mornings because I knew this battlefield in my mind would be vicious and intense and I could hardly cope anymore. I needed to silence the voices in my head that told me; you are worthless. You deserve to die. Starve yourself until you shrivel away. And I have silenced these voices, I have turned them into mostly loving phrases, except when it comes to my appearance.
I’ve done so much work on the inside, but why is it so hard to accept my body? Because body acceptance means surrendering. It means giving up that self-hatred battle that got me to lose the weight, to spend hours in the gym, and to never allow myself to indulge. I’ve been terrified to accept my body because what if that means I will stop wanting to be healthy? What if I let go and become obese and unhealthy and never care what I eat or if I exercise because I’ll just be happy and love myself regardless – and even if on some alternate universe that we’re to happen… what would be so bad about that?! I will be giving up this battle I’ve been fighting for ten whole years. I don’t remember how to live without disliking the body I’m in. But I want to learn again. I want to love how I look. I want to learn how to acknowledge what I don’t like about my body and be okay with it. When people tell me they love my smile it doesn’t mean they only like that I’m happy, it actually does mean they like my smile even with my stained teeth. I want to like my stomach, when it’s full of food and when I first wake up in the morning. I want to love the body I live in because that is what will set me free.