*I actually started writing this post over a year ago, but never had the courage to publish it. However, since February 22-28 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and because I have friends and family who have struggled/are struggling with an eating disorder, I wanted to highlight this topic.
I still remember the way her big brown eyes peered up at me and how her sweet voice lacked its usual lilt when she said, “I’m the only one with thick legs.”
My mind wavered between shock to fear and back again. I could not believe those words had come out of my five year old’s mouth.
I attempted to keep my tone light as I asked, “What do you mean?”
“My legs are bigger than theirs (her friends). I’m the only one with thick legs.”
I swallowed hard, took a deep breath and finally found my voice. “They’re like mine. It’s okay. Everyone’s different.”
And with that answer, C returned to whatever she was doing and the moment was gone.
But the memories that moment dug up came flooding back. Memories of a confused and impressionable teenage girl who once placed a bet with a girlfriend on who had bigger thighs. Memories of a girl who stood in front of the bathroom mirror every night to check on the appearance of her collarbone and hip bones as she stood on a scale. The same girl who skimped on lunch during the day and looked forward to running a cross-country lap during P.E. class to burn more calories. The girl who acknowledged the pains of an empty stomach as success, rather than a sign of hunger. A girl who controlled her life bite by bite, pound by pound, and mile by mile.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, that girl was me.
I never developed a full blown eating disorder, but due to my perfectionistic tendencies, I had some leanings toward anorexia. I remember my black hair turning brown and brittle, likely due to lack of nutrition. Old prom pictures show my collarbone jutting out from the off-the-shoulder neckline of my dresses. Even though my friends and relatives said I needed to eat more, I honestly believed I still needed to lose weight. That was how crazy my thinking was at the time.
I was my own worst enemy, forcing myself to meet impossible standards and never giving myself a pass. All I wanted was to be more – more accepted, more perfect, more beautiful – but in the process of getting there, I had become less – less satisfied, less grounded, less alive.
Things got better in college though; I was then on my own and surrounded by good friends. This was probably the best time of my life where I felt free and in control at the same time, as strange as that may sound. Because the root of an eating disorder is not really about the food, but about the comfort and security it brings in being able to control that part of your life. It is like any other addiction where what you really need is peace from all the other stuff in your life that you don’t want to or don’t know how to deal with.
Getting to that place of peace takes time, guts and love. Time to process through all the baggage weighing down your heart and clouding your perspective. Guts to face the hard things and feel the raw emotions. Love to convince you that you are enough.
What I’ve learned is that once you choose to stop being your own worst judge and choose instead to be your own best friend, that’s when you can start living.
These days, I focus more on health and wholeness and accepting my body for the awesome things that it can do. Even though I miss my pre-mama self, I know my muffin top is my badge of honor for having made two amazing people. When I do struggle with comparing and being content, I remember one of my favorite verses from 1 Samuel 16:7: “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Above all, I make it a priority to never say anything negative about my face or body in front of my kids. I want them to know it’s perfectly normal and beautiful to have a squishy tummy, wrinkled skin, gray hair and, yes, thick legs. 🙂
Here is a compelling song by Colbie Caillat called “Try”. The lyrics ask an important question: “Take your make up off, Let your hair down, Take a breath, Look into the mirror, at yourself, Don’t you like you?”
What struggles have you (or the women in your life) had over feeling beautiful and liking yourself?