Watch this, please. Then continue on if you’re so inclined.
For 32 years I’ve fought a demon. One that takes hold of my brain and squeezes all the joy out of life. One that won’t let me have a day where I don’t criticize something about myself. She’s cruel. She’s deceptive. She’s relentless. She’s me.
I became aware of the word “fat” as it applied to my chubby little 9 year old body when I finished a whole box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers on a camping trip. I asked my mom if I could have more from the second box as I handed her the empty. Horrified, she looked at me, grabbed my wrist and with barred teeth shouted “No, you’re getting fat!” I wilted in her grasp into the dust of of our camping spot and began to cry uncontrollably, hitching breath and whispering over and over again “I’m ugly, I’m fat.” My mom jerked me up off the ground to swat me. I pulled out of her grasp and crawled into the back of the pickup truck and hid, curled up in a ball, sobbing.
I don’t remember what happened next, I just remember knowing I wasn’t good enough, I was ugly, and I was fat for the next 32 years. I’m not blaming my mom. She had a serious eating disorder (not that she’ll admit it), she was in an unhappy marriage, she was sleep deprived most of the time due to my brother’s illnesses and she’d just had a miscarriage. Yeah, I’m going to defend my mom all day long. The truth is, even at 9 I could have overcome that incident, but I chose to live my life by it instead. I certainly never ate Screaming Yellow Zonkers again (if you don’t know what those are they’re like Fiddle Faddle or Cracker Jacks- probably delicious, I don’t remember).
The summer of my 11th year I discovered “fasting”on a church missionary trip (that month of my life was insane, that’s a whole other story- cults are real, you guys!) We would fast every Wednesday, nothing but water, all to be closer to God. If we went 2 days, we were praised, if you didn’t fast at all you were shunned. I remember I ate a pickle one fast day and was told to make up for it I needed to fast the rest of the week. So I did. At 11 years old I went 4 days without food. We knocked doors to pass out flyers and by Saturday I was too weak to go more than a block. When told by my host family that I hadn’t eaten anything since Wednesday (except the pickle) the leader of the group was incredulous and refused to acknowledge he had told me to fast that long. Out of fear for his reputation (it became a whole thing with the church sponsoring us that week) he sent me home. My Dad and Grandpa picked me up in Salt Lake and both commented on how skinny I was. I dug into the cooler in the back seat and ate a whole pack of sliced ham and half a loaf of bread. My Dad asked me why I was so hungry and I told him I hadn’t been allowed to eat for 4 days because I was fasting. When I saw he was becoming upset and threatened to track down the group I’d been with to have a “talk” with the leader I changed my story from hadn’t eaten anything to hadn’t eaten enough because of the flu.
After that summer it was easier to go days without eating. I’d binge and fast often and became an anorexic. At 16, while getting ready for prom I fainted in a friend’s bathroom (scared the shit out of both of us). I hadn’t eaten anything for over a week so I could fit into my friend’s size 2 dress. Living on diet coke and cigarettes. Her mom found out and called my mom. They agreed I had to eat, so I agreed to eat a salad. My friend’s mom sat there with me and watched me eat the whole thing. When I look back on the pictures that night I see how tiny my arms were, how the dress hung on me rather than hugging my curves (because I no longer had any). I went from a 6/7 to what was probably a 0 in a week. I weighed 102 at 5’5 and to this day I wish I could say the same now.
I’ve fought with this body for so long. As an adult I’ve been 280 lbs, I’ve starved myself down to 137. We’re still fighting.
That demon in my head tells me to eat whatever I want so it can punish me later when I look at the scale. While writing this I got on the scale and noticed I’d gained a pound since yesterday, then proceeded to request pancakes (which I just tried to cancel, too late.) The guilt sets in. The demon starts squawking.
I long for the day when I no longer care what my body looks like or what the scale says. I continue to try and love this body, flaws and all. I try not to pick apart my appearance. My thighs are too big, I have back fat, my arms show how big I used to be, my tummy is still swollen after surgery earlier this year, if only I could lose 10 lbs life would be perfect, I can’t see my cheekbones, I have a double chin. I know none of these things are strictly true, but I still think them every day multiple times a day. Sometimes my brain gives me a break, but it’s rare and usually after a compliment or pep talk from my husband (who’s been putting up with this for 23 of the 32 years I’ve had this demon.)
I realize it’s up to me to not only promote body positivity but to accept it myself. I’ve been aware of Taryn Brumfitt’s work for a while now and am in awe of what she’s done and continues to do. Often women don’t support each other until weight loss becomes the headline. You’re losing weight, getting fit, looking good in a bikini, body building- cool I’ll give you a like, an up vote, an encouraging word because we, as humans, in this day and age are trained to value bettering oneself by physical results only. We should also encourage comments, posts, statements like “feeling good today!”, “ate cheesecake, no guilt”, “made it through a week of depression unscathed”, “love my body, love myself”, “these stretch marks have never looked happier”, “gained 5lbs, don’t care”, “I look amazing”, “haven’t worked out for ages and still feel like super woman”. Am I encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle? No. But shouldn’t your psyche be healthy first? Who am I to judge what’s unhealthy for you? I only know what’s unhealthy for me and that’s judgments of others and of myself.
After losing 135 lbs in 2012 (during a weight loss challenge)* someone at work, who used to be a personal trainer, told me about clients who were called skinny-fat. According to her, in the fitness industry, these were the “little old ladies” who used to be overweight but lost enough weight that there’s just skin and left-over fat, no muscle. She followed up the explanation with “but, I don’t mean you.” Well, you just fucking said it to me with little to no context other than me complaining about some excess skin! You’re always saying perception is everything. How could you not mean me? Me with my 26″ waist, me at 140 lbs, me who worked 3 years to get there. The attached selfie was taken that same day to prove to myself I was in no way fat!
Ladies, be careful what you say to others and what you take in from others. You have no idea the damage you can deal with what you believe is an innocuous, flippant comment. To those I’ve ever personally hurt by something I’ve said, I deeply apologize. I never want anyone in my life to feel the way I felt that day, or the way I felt the day my mom told me I was fat. Take that negativity and analyze it. Maybe you intimidate that person. Maybe they see your personal power and feel you need to be knocked down to pump up their own. Maybe they see humility and don’t understand it. Maybe they don’t understand true weakness is the need to bully and control others. Maybe they’re experiencing what I feel is the most damaging emotion, jealousy. Analyze your own negativity, why are you so hard on yourself? Would you say the same things you say to yourself to a friend? A daughter? A total stranger?
Turn your demon into the angel on your shoulder that reminds you to love yourself, that you don’t have to be perfect, that you never have to live up to anyone’s expectations. You have the ability to work miracles, but it starts with you. It starts with me too.
I’ll be watching this movie and I hope you will too. I know it will be cathartic for so many women struggling with their self image and there’s nothing like catharsis for exorcising your demons.
Love you, love me!
*edit for clarity: I’d lost 135 lbs between 2009 and 2012 by using lap-band surgery as a tool in conjunction with diet and exercise. We were doing an additional challenge and I wanted to lose some inches. Full disclosure, I had a tummy tuck to remove the excess skin this year.