Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Age 19

Hi, I am 19 years old and I am a curvy women. Since I was young, I have been weight conscious because of my family and society. I can remember when I was 9 years old, my mom and grandmother telling me, "Are you sure you want to eat that?" and "You need to take care of your weight?” I carried this belief that I was not skinny, attractive or beautiful enough until I was 18 years old.

Throughout the years, my weight has fluctuated, but my perception of myself has not. I had gotten to the point where I could not see pictures of myself or I would break out in tears and would only eat around 500-800 calories a day and exercise for 2 hours in order to lose weight. I have been to therapists and have done almost every diet and self-help under the sun. My main concern was not being attractive enough and never having a boy who would love me. I thought I was hideous and no guy would like me. I was shy and felt like I didn't deserve to speak out, that my voice didn't deserve to be heard. It was painful and I suffered.

It was only until a year ago that I saw the damage I was doing to myself. Did my clothes size truly define my value? Was the amount of fat really indicative of my intelligence and the quality of personality? The answer was no. It isn't. I am much more than my weight and the only one that is letting the weight define me is myself. Yes, people judge. Yes, some guys are superficial. But I was tired of making my life miserable and putting myself down because of it. I decided to move beyond my body. I started to let my true personality come out and see myself in a new light. I looked in the mirror and realized that although I was a size 10 instead of a size 4, I was still sexy and I was still beautiful. I let myself have the mentality of a sexy beautiful girl and the change around me was magical. People were more attracted to be around me, I began making more friends and feeling more confident and productive in my studies. I started to explore who I really was, separate from the judgment of my body size. Yes, I still had some insecurities, and yes, I still freaked out about weight now and then (it had been too many years of these negative thoughts for them all to go away over night). The difference was that I didn't let them control me and I didn't let them define me.

A couple of days ago a woman came up to me and gave me a card that read "Cure Against Obesity." My mom was outraged and I was a bit shocked. Two years ago, this would have taken me to a mental breakdown and I would start seeing myself as horribly obese. However, instead I just threw the card away because, really, it was her problem, not mine. Society is hyper-conscious of weight and the business sector takes advantage of this and manipulates it to make a profit. Advertisements endorse fatty foods and weight loss produces during the same commercial break. Girls are taught to fear muffin tops and stomach bumps more than F's on a test. This is how backwards it has become.

I have a friend from Ghana. When I told him about my weight insecurities and that I didn't perceive myself as attractive he was in shock. He told me that he saw me as one of the most attractive girls in the college and that he just didn't see how I could see myself as overweight. I was also in shock and I realized how body size and beauty were all based on perspective. All women's sizes are beautiful. From size 16 to size 2 - as long as it is your natural body size, you are beautiful. And I learned that I was not built to be a size 4. I am eating healthy, exercise and am a size 8…and I am happy. My body does not fulfill society’s expectation of beauty, but it fulfills mine and that is all that matters. I know the "love your body" mantra gets old, but there is truth to that. Healing the relationship with your body is a process and it has its ups and downs, but I know now that instead of heading towards a destructive and sabotaging future of weight consciousness and constant dieting, I am heading to a future of confidence, happiness and self-fulfillment by loving myself just as I am.

Ironically, the less I cared about how I looked and the more I concentrated on my personality, the more weight I lost because by being in tune to who you are, you no longer have the need for emotional binging and bad habits. Taking care of your body becomes effortless and you naturally move into your right and healthy weight which may not be model perfect, but is perfect for me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Age 20

I'm 20 years old and I have finally accepted my body as it is. It's been a very long process. When I turned 13 and began to have the thoughts that many teenagers have (particularly girls) about my appearance and my identity and who I was in the eyes of others, I thought I was fat. I thought that because I was not straight up and down in shape, and I was developing these weird curves between my chest and the tops of my legs, that there was something wrong with me.

I tried to lose as much weight as I could - in a very unhealthy way - to make myself look more "straight up and down." It wasn't until I was 16 that I learned about body shape. I realized that the shape of my body fell into a category and so many other people were like me! I didn't instantly look in the mirror and say to myself, "Well, you're not alone, now love yourself!" I did stop trying to lose weight and I accepted that my legs would always be bigger than I'd like them to be, and my shoulders would always be narrow no matter what I did.

I decided that I wanted to hide what I had from the world, even if I did accept it. I dressed in baggy clothes all the time. You'd hardly see a dress or skirt on me unless it was a very special occasion or a formal event. I just didn't know how to dress for my curves, so I figured I had to hide them rather than look like a complete dork. Everyone must have thought I had no sense of style, or that I was a tomboy. No one ever told me that I looked good, and slowly I realized that in order to embrace what I was blessed with, I had to dress better. I had to appreciate my body shape, not just accept it. So I learned how to cinch my waist, hide my hips and my thighs by wearing dark colors and generous cuts in skirts and pants. I started to like putting on fitted shirts and seeing myself in the mirror as someone who wasn't quite thin, but definitely wasn't as much up the top as she thought she was.

Today I'm much happier with the way that I look. I love to slip on a dress and see it skim over my widest area and hug my smallest. I feel odd putting on baggy clothes, even my old jeans, because it reminds me of a time when I couldn't deal with how I looked. When I think about how I felt when I was 13 and 14 and how little was said about different body shapes, I feel sad and angry. It would have helped a hell of a lot more if the media had told girls like me that we weren't all born to be column shapes. That everyone comes in different shapes and sizes and we should love that about ourselves. I was too busy trying to make my body look like something it was never supposed to be. Now I'm busy trying to find as many ways as possible to dress to my shape EXACTLY the way it was supposed to be.

In time, you will come to appreciate the body you were given.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Miss Representation

Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken and armed with a new perspective.

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Age 18

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who looks oversized, someone fat, someone who takes up too much space, someone not worth it. As a recovering anorexic, I have to try to maintain positive; however, every time I look in the mirror I have an image reflected back at me which makes me feel worthless and inferior. I enjoy exercise but got to the point where I could barely walk up the stairs because I was too weak. I have to learn that my body is an important thing and needs to be looked after in order to maintain a healthy mind.

I hate the way that nothing I do is ever good enough for myself. Having such high standards means that I am never satisfied. My efforts are never good enough. I am not pretty enough, loud enough, skinny enough, talented, interesting. It is so wearing! It makes me sad and lonely, striving for perfection - not only in my life, but in others as well. Relationships were affected.

But I've turned a new corner. I can wear clothes which were far too loose in January. Clothes hidden under layers of jumpers and coats can now be worn on show. People are starting to comment on how good I am looking. This reassures me and makes me feel good. I wish that the reassurance others gave me could be reflected in what I see in the mirror. The real me needs to build and grow. I need to learn to laugh again, how to trust, how to smile, how to love. It’s as if I have been given a new start. I need to take it and become who I want to be for the rest of my life. Two years of my life have gone to starvation and being thin. It needs to end now!

As I am today, I am much healthier and in a much better place, but I am nowhere near my final destination. I want to be able to have children, I want to be able to move out and I want to be happy with who I am and where I am at. It is all going to come; I just need to take it step-by-step.

Recovery is not instant it takes time and persistence. When you reach it, you know you are there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Age 54


I hate being put “on hold.” In the old days of rotary phones, if there was more than one number for the phone, there would be several plastic square buttons lined up underneath the dial. One of those buttons was red, which was the Hold Button. As a red-haired impatient kid, when I was on a mission of whatever I perceived was of GRAND importance - which was pretty much EVERYTHING - being told to, “please hold,” was tantamount to my world screeching to a halt. As I got older, my patience improved in many aspects of my life, but disliking being put on hold was something I never outgrew. If someone did not have the time to deal with me, in that moment, then why didn’t they just NOT ANSWER THE PHONE??!!

Time passed and with it the Hold Button morphed into the Call Waiting Click. New label…same result. I didn’t morph along with it. I was stuck in a time warp still the impatient kid wanting to get something. For someone who has always hated being on hold, it is ironic how much of my life I spent putting MYSELF on hold. It was subtle at first. The weather would start getting warmer and kids would start going to the community pool or the beach (I grew up in New York, not far from the Atlantic Ocean). I would watch enviously as they rode off on bikes loaded with towels headed for a day of splashing and swimming. I made up excuses. “When it gets warmer I’ll go.” When it got warmer I resorted to, “I have a cold, or I get ear aches from swimming.”

Of course, the real reason was how much I dreaded having to wear a bathing suit in public. When I was unable to push the Hold Button on going, I yanked out the big gun, “I’m a redhead and I’ll just get sun burned,” excuse. I wore a giant t-shirt over my hideous, black, one piece bathing suit, explaining, when asked, “It is to protect me or I’ll look like a lobster!”

I tried with all of my might to stay out of sight. I put endless opportunities of having summer fun on hold because of my body-hate.

I was six, I was seven and on into my teens. I almost didn’t graduate high school because of the swimming requirement in Phys. Ed.

Putting my life on hold became part of how I operated in the world. “When I lose weight then I will go to that party. When I lose weight, then I will take that class. When I lose weight then Davey Bernstein will like me. When I lose weight, then I will really live the life I want to live.”

How many kids are putting their lives on hold because they are being consumed by such shame and self-hate they don’t give themselves the opportunities to try things; to let go and dive in?

I think the first time I ever felt completely comfortable wearing a bathing suit was when I was pregnant and I had permission to be a fat woman in a bathing suit. The freedom I experienced was an indescribable joy. I remember at eight months pregnant I could feel my son swimming around inside of me as I was buoyantly bobbing around in the pool, completely un-self-conscious, no big t shirt, just sun screen and a big grin on my face.

I vowed in that moment, to do three things. The first was that whatever traces of negative feelings I still had about my body; I would NOT push my Hold Button. I would allow my kid to experience the joys of being a kid, even if it meant my wearing a bathing suit in public.

Secondly, that whatever body shape, size or type my child would develop, I would love him unconditionally and do what I could to help him foster love and acceptance for his body.

The third and perhaps most challenging commitment, to take an active role in educating others about the damage that size discrimination inflicts on others. Sometimes, ironically enough, this means asking people to HOLD their tongues and open their minds. My son is 19 years old now and I am thrilled to say, that he has never put his life on hold, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I did either.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Age 27

It's been about a year since you and I went from "it's complicated" to "in a relationship." I'm glad we took the steps to work towards this level of commitment. Thanks for waiting for me to work my stuff out. I feel much better now, and am so excited to see where this newfound love takes us.

Remember last summer when I was so distraught over the cancelled wedding, I'd just run and run and maybe eat some string cheese and popcorn and call it a well-balanced meal. Yeah, I do too. And laugh at myself. Now, I still run and run, and have added distance, Olympic lifting, and more soccer to the mix. But I eat. Damn, do I eat. Blocks and blocks of food that fuel my body, not inhibit it like last summer. And even though I eat more food than ever now and weigh more than I did last summer, I don't even feel fat or guilty about it. Because I know how good it is for my overall well-being.

Now, I know I am a vessel, my body and whole self an important vehicle to be used in my journey of life. How silly I was to not want to maintain it. I'm surprised it didn't wither away into nothing. A year later I can still fit into my size 2 jeans (okay, sometimes a size 0). I still put on the cleats and running shoes. And I'm still proud of my physical fitness. My ability to run 13.1 miles and play soccer with ease. I still like, well LOVE, how my legs look, how my arms have toned, how my back muscles are so defined and my ass…yep, my ass looks great. Thanks wall-balls and squats. I can still look at myself naked and think, "Damn, I look good."

But the key word is "self." I can look at myself, not just my body. Because my complete self is being nourished, taken care of as it needs to be. Now I am exceeding what I thought my body could do, but loving it so much that any form of abuse is not an option.

I love how I look right now. Love it, love it and want to flaunt it. And I will never doubt that thought to increase the possibility that self-hatred will perpetuate self-abuse again.

Peace and love,

The inhabitant of you, Body

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Age 45

In Spanish, body is cuerpo. I love my exercise and weights, but my cuerpo doesn't want to change. I eat healthy 95% of the time, but my cuerpo doesn't want to burn off the love that has accumulated around my waist.

My therapist and I believe I have body dysmorphic disorder. All I know is that thinking about my body and its resistance to skinnying down causes panic attacks and feeds depression. Since I'm older now with this exercise and fitness routine, I feel aches and pains because really working out hurts. Ibuprofin and I have become buddies.

I don't want to so resemble my Mamita who struggled with her weight until her dying day. She had five babies while I have not, so why's the weight sticking to me so intensely? She lives on in me but I don't want that sort of resemblance. I'm considered overweight right now and need to improve due to Diabetes running in the family. And yes, liposuction has been an ongoing fantasy.

I'm angry at my body and myself. I want it to get better. Last night's Zumba class helped because it was just fun. I get lost in myself focusing on this stuff when there are many other priorities in my life that are getting lost in the shuffle.

So I'm trying to love my cuerpo that is healthy in so many ways. I'm sorry I put down my cuerpo so much and expect things that really shouldn't be so important.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Age 20

Dear Body,

We used to be good friends. Always playing sports together, we were the pinnacle of fitness. And I am sorry, but life just got so busy that we lost that slender look with those muscles we put so much into gaining.

I must apologize for what I have put you through you see, the diet
pills were just a tester to see how fast we could lose weight. And those days without food, well, we just had to get thinner.

Now that our braces are off and we lost twenty pounds you'd think I'd give you a break. And you are right. Why you ask? Because I've come to realize that there is nothing wrong with us! We tried to fit in and we just don't.

So lets flaunt our differences and make the trends our own. Because in the end, body, it's just going to be you and me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Age 29

How'd it get this crazy?

I know I'm crazy, but sometimes I think it's not entirely my fault. When it comes to my own sense of body image, I'm pretty sure it's not my fault. And I absolutely hate myself for not being able to just be happy with myself, especially because logically I know it's not as bad as I often make it out to be. I know I'm crazy, but knowing I'm crazy doesn't seem to make a difference.

And I know it can't just be me who has these issues. And that makes me cranky. It seems like there is very little anyone can really do about the fact that somehow society has told me my body doesn't look the way it should. I wonder if men deal with these issues.

Let me give a for instance as to how crazy this really is. I'm getting ready to go to a play at a professional theater. So I thought it would be good to put on a dress, albeit a casual one. I was feeling pretty good about myself in general, so it's not like I was already in one of those moods (because yes, it happens) where I think absolutely nothing looks good and I'm just fat. I grabbed a dress that I know looks pretty good on me, but it's still pretty casual - a cotton sun dress.

By the mere fact that it's cotton, it ends up being form fitting. So I was not surprised that I would need to wear some sort of smoothing under garment to make it look ok. What I was surprised by was my reaction when I looked at myself in the mirror after putting on said undergarment. I noticed that despite the smoothing, there was still a small section of my stomach that protrudes just a bit more than the rest. This is not something most people would probably notice. But I was dismayed to realize that my stomach wasn't perfectly flat. Yeah, read that again. What woman in her right mind, especially one that hasn't been keeping up with her Pilates in the last six months, would be dismayed to discover that her stomach doesn't appear perfectly flat in a form hugging dress? It depressed me so much I had to spend about 15-minutes convincing myself that I really do look ok, other people wouldn't notice, perhaps make-up and a jacket would distract from it, oh and I really do have a moderately attractive body. I'm not even willing to say unconditionally I have an attractive body! I have to qualify it with words like moderately. I have to convince myself that I'm not disgustingly fat all because my stomach isn't perfectly flat in this dress!

Seriously, this is insane. It made me not even want to leave the house this evening. How the hell do reasonable women end up here? I consider myself to be pretty rational. I recognize that I am not an average size woman. I am overweight. But, I also recognize that in the grand scheme, I'm pretty healthy. I have a lot of muscle which weighs more than fat and I'm tall. Being a size 16-18 at 5'10" is not obese, despite what my BMI might say. I think I'm somewhat attractive. I generally accept my appearance and try to love myself. I have overcome an eating disorder as a teenager. I have some kickin' curves that many women envy. And yet, I end up looking at myself in the mirror and being dismayed that my stomach isn't perfectly flat.

So I want to call one of my female friends to cry about it. Then I realize that any of the friends I'd probably want to call also do not have flat stomachs. In fact, if I'm honest with myself, my stomach is probably flatter than many of theirs. So if I called them to complain about my not quite flat stomach, they would probably go into this “well how does she see me” cycle that I know far too well and we'd both end up hating our bodies. And I think all of them are beautiful, attractive women. So the thought hits me just how crazy I really am! How can I say these women are beautiful and attractive and that I don't think they need to change a thing and then whine about the fact that I have a small bump in my stomach? Because I'm crazy! I believe that somehow while all my friends are beautiful and wonderful and I love them the way they are, no one will feel that way about me. I must be perfect for anyone to think I'm attractive.

So I am now trying to convince myself that really I am attractive and this dress looks fine - the problems are all in my head. I'm also wondering where these issues come from. Is it somehow natural for humans to self-criticize so much, or is it passed on to us from influences like family and society? How do we keep our children from picking up these same traits? Because clearly, it's not healthy!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Eating Disorders Hit 500,000 Teens

An eating disorder study being billed as the largest analysis of U.S. teens ever is returning some depressingly large numbers: More than half a million have had an eating disorder, according to government research. Binge-eating was the most common disorder, found in 1.5% of teens studied, followed by bulimia (1%) and anorexia (0.3%); another 3% had bothersome symptoms, but not a full-fledged disorder. While the percentages may seem low, they're actually slightly higher than what have been observed in other studies, reports the AP.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

17 1/2

Dear body,

Hello! It's good to see you again. You've been buried under layers of long pants and sweaters all winter, but now it's February in Georgia and that means spring. So now I'm standing in front of my vanity, looking in the mirror - hands on hips, like Superwoman wearing my swimsuit just to see if it still fits.


When did I get gorgeous?

When did that little smirk get there, one corner of my lips up as I'm trying not to laugh?

When did my hair get so long?

And while we're on the subject, where'd that tan I had last summer go?

And I definitely don't need to ask where all my Christmas candy went. Yikes.

But all-in-all, not bad.

Sure, there's that huge burn scar on your arm, that one you haven't seen in a few months because of all the sweaters. I'd almost forgotten about it, the way people always glance at it and then look away quickly, pretending they weren't staring. And, okay, your legs aren't nearly as thin and muscular as you wanted them to be. (Hint: Running works better if you actually do it, instead of think about it.)

There's seventeen years worth of dancing and boxing and jujitsu in that mirror. Seventeen years worth of body-hating, body-loving, not caring and caring a lot looking back at me. Seventeen years of split knuckles, skinned knees, bruises, burns, scars and cuts written on my body. Seventeen years of doing my own stunts, getting into fights, hobbling around on crutches for weeks and trying to be left-handed because my right arm's in a cast.

It's looking at me in the mirror, and I'm looking back at it, trying to see what everyone sees when they look at me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Age 45

Sometimes it takes a child to voice the truth that needs to be heard. As I watched little Sophia speak her words in the video "Beauty Is Not How Skinny You Can Be," I thought of myself as a little girl much like her and bawled. I was a little girl with long dark hair and light blue eyes, and I loved reading and writing and books and chocolate and kittens. I loved to go to school and sitting in the front row, eager to learn. But as life unfolded, I learned to dislike myself. And one day, I grew up to hate my body and did everything in my power to look and be like someone else. Anybody but me.

I have been trying to recreate myself almost since I was born. I never thought I was beautiful enough. I never thought I was smart enough. And when I got married, I never thought I was good enough for my husband. But the harder I tried to become someone else, the worse things became. Until I was lost.

Anorexia nervosa knew just when to strike. And I then embarked on a new mission to remold my body to society's idea, and I was so successful that I lost sight of everything else. The love of my husband. The friendship of others. Joy and laughter and love became buried by layers of anorexia until I couldn't breathe anymore. It wasn't just my body that became smaller, my soul became smaller.

But as little Sophia says, I am unique and there will never be another me in all the history of the world. So why in the world would I try to look or be like someone else? I am rediscovering myself; my love of writing and reading, of the joy of Celtic music and classic Elton John, of cuddling with my cat and crying because this little girl's message moves me so much I can't hold it back. I have dark curly hair and light blue eyes and my body once was strong and beautiful and it can become that again. I am opinionated and believe strongly in justice for those who can't speak for themselves. I love to study English and poetry and history and the Bible and religion. I am passionately loyal to my friends and would do anything for them. I am stubborn, and my therapist says one of my greatest strengths is that I never give up.

I believe in miracles, and the power of love and hope. I know I can recover from anorexia. I'm just starting to unravel the layers of this cloak of anorexia, but unravel it I will. I have finally learned the key is within me. I just have to unlock the door.