Thursday, March 24, 2016

Age 21

When I was going into middle school, my mother moved me from the big city I lived in to a town with around 1,500 people. Kids are mean, it’s something we all know. But the people who stand as outsiders can really understand how mean they can be.

I was always a little chubby. I mean, I was kid maybe 30 pounds heavier than I should have been. Believe me - they let me know. I was different and going through an awkward phase – kind-of “grunge,” kind-of “emo.” After about a year of bullying and torment, I had become a shell of who I previously was. I felt so alone and desolate. I missed the city - I missed not sticking out like a sore thumb, pretending I didn’t hear people call me the fat emo girl. I was tired of the façade I religiously upheld – “I don’t care about your opinions, I am me.” But the words were empty - something I could hide behind. I hated myself.

So, I started to lose weight. 140 became 130, which became 120, which became 98. I was obsessed - not only did I frantically count every calorie I put in my mouth (gum included), I ate the same breakfast and lunch every day. I was so terrified one different meal would throw all my weight back onto me. I stopped getting a period and my body had no energy to deal with the 2+ hours of vigorous exercise a day.

So, what happens when the fat girl nobody likes becomes thin? Well, I just became the “too skinny” girl with an eating disorder. The girls disliked me even more because the guys noticed me now. If only they knew their harsh words never left my mind.

Well, my mother reacted like any reasonable parent and became frightened. She moved me and my sister back into the city hoping something would change. Something did change - I gained 20 pounds back and reveled in the compliments of others. It was a drug. I was pretty now, right? I was entering high school and the world of binge drinking and more drugs than I would like to admit. I still hated myself. The only difference was I grew into my body - I was blonde and people liked me now. I had everything I ever wanted, yet I still had to drink and do drugs several times a week to feel like the person other people saw me as.

Then, there was a shift. After a destructive relationship and a few years of university, I decided I needed to find a way to live differently. I just wasn’t happy. So I lost about 20 pounds, joined a boot camp with supportive women twice a week and decided it was my turn. It was my turn to live a life where I cater to myself – not others. All I ever cared about was people liking me; the paradox was I didn’t even like me. I became a weak, co-dependent and was jealous of every girl I saw. This wasn’t me. I knew this wasn’t me - this wasn’t the smiling girl I was before the world happened to me. I wanted to be strong and independent.

These fluctuating years were the best thing that could have happened to me. It made me humble. It made me realize I was born with this body and hell yes I am going to love it every step of the way. I am not perfect - I never will be. But I am happy - and not the synthetic happy I pretended to be before. I don’t need approval from people now and I don’t need to be hit on at every party to feel pretty. I know I am pretty. I know every single woman I look at (regardless if I know them or not) is pretty. We are mentally and physically stunning creatures. No matter how low you feel, I am there with you. No matter how much you hate yourself, I have been there. On the days when I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, I remember that you are with me. We are in this together.

I am telling you that now it’s your turn – it’s your turn to be happy. Please forgive yourself, and please do not give up on becoming the best version of yourself. I don’t care if this is a 250 pound you or a 90 pound you - it is you. When things get hard, just know I am with you.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Age 29

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to gain and lose. Society is always telling us to lose weight, gain muscle, lose wrinkles, gain confidence, lose the negativity, gain the positivity. In March of this year I "lost" my fiancé, and by lost I mean that I finally had the courage to end a relationship that I knew was not healthy for me.

Let me start from the beginning. I was heavier when my ex and I started dating. He didn't mind. I actually felt pretty around him. We started as co-workers, had known of each other for a year, and it was after a professional development day that he bought me a movie ticket when we went with a few friends. It started fast, like a roller-coaster. We were friends, and then all of a sudden he was going home with me for Christmas, going skiing with my family and I over New Year's, kissing my cheek when we were just sitting there with his friends. I literally told my friend in the school hallway at work one day, "I feel like I finally know what people mean when they say they are on cloud nine." At this point in my life, I had just survived a horrible car accident, run my first half AND my first full marathons within a few weeks of each other, and felt better about myself then I had in years. I stopped taking antidepressants and started living the life that I wanted to live. And, even though I saw red flags, I was in a relationship that I wasn't ashamed of - something that I had wanted for a very, very long time.

With a combination of healthier eating habits, continued workout routine and active lifestyle, and no more drugs, I started losing weight. Over the next year I lost over 20 pounds and 3/4 dress sizes (depending on the dress, of course. I hate sizes.). I also caught my ex dirty texting with multiple people. Healthy body: check. Healthy self-esteem: not so much. I felt that it was somehow my fault. If I could look better, work harder, be nicer, cook better, really just be PERFECT, then he would stop doing those things. Our good moments were so good. Our bad moments were so bad. He commented on the outfits I wore. Commented on lingerie that I picked out for him. Got frustrated when I would wake up early to workout. Wanted me to rush home fast to get my workout done after work. (All this time he would never actually workout with me.) I didn't see it then. I didn't see that he was slowly taking every bit of self-esteem that I had (and it wasn't very much) and tying it to himself. His mood, his reactions, his everything. If he responded well to me, I had the best day. If he was displeased with me, I felt like my whole world was caving in around me. If I did something wrong, he shut me out. If he did something wrong, I was supposed to say, "It's ok," and go back to normal. I was losing myself.

Over the next two and a half years, I lost many friends, lost a little more weight, lost a job (but got a new one), lost my close relationship with my mom, and lost my self-respect. I had also said yes to this manipulative man when he asked me to marry him, so - stay tuned - my parents and I also lost money. So, even though in March of 2015 I was the smallest I had ever been, the words "lost" or "lose" were not positive words in my vocabulary.

Finally, in March of 2015, after spending an emotional but amazing time in NYC with my mom, aunt, and cousins, I came home and called off my wedding. It was awkward and difficult. I wanted things to be different, but they weren't. I will be discretionary here, but I finally told my family all that my ex had done to me - how he had betrayed me - how I, in turn, had betrayed him - how lost I felt, and the people that I hadn't lost came along side me and helped me get out of a very unhealthy situation.

It has been almost nine months since we called off the wedding, eight months since I ended the relationship all together. In the past eight months, I have put on about seven pounds and a dress size. Lately, that fact has been all I can think about. It was consuming me until, last week, I was running one morning and realized how fast I was running. I had to get my run in in the morning because I had a Christmas gift exchange dinner with some of the most amazing women you will ever meet that night. Yes, in the past few months I may have over indulged more often than I usually do. And I may have missed a few workouts. But I missed those workouts because I was traveling with people that I love around Europe. I over indulged because I was enjoying the moment with new found, and old found, friends. I have been so broken at times, but I have been surrounded by people that don't make me feel the need to prove myself. I have gained honesty. I have gained lifelong friends. I have gained new memories and moments that now define the life that I once almost gave away to the wrong person.

I am by no means perfect - ask anyone that has allowed me to open up to them this year - but I am me. 100%. I used to try to deny that. To change that. I am done trying to be someone else. Ten pounds heavier or ten pounds lighter, I'll own it. Because I am strong and brave. I took back control of my life and no one person and no one ideal will ever again take that away from me.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Age 22

When I look into the mirror, I try to just see a person. A beautiful, individualistic person who has nothing wrong with her body.

Well, that's what I've been trying to teach myself to see. I'm young, only 22, but I've gone through stress about my body every single day of my life since maybe middle school. That's when I started to become more aware of who I was and how I looked to others.

The thing is, I'm tired. I'm really tired. I'm starting to realize that I have no say in what other people think of me and that I'm the only one in control of how I feel. I am 200 pounds and that may seem big or small to some people, but for me it was a weight that I used to never think I would reach. I have a ton of stretch marks and about two spare tires. I get the feeling, though, like this is what was supposed to happen. That I should embrace my body because it was how I was made to be.

I've fought it in the past by going to the gym and I've gone on diets, but it's just hard. Maybe it's partially genetics, or maybe I just eat a lot. Either way, I'm learning to come to terms with my body.

I don't think it's possible to ever see myself perfectly, but I hope to come very close. Reading magazines and watching movies growing up taught me that I needed to be smaller because that is what is attractive. It's very difficult to shed this mindset since I've grown up on it my entire life. It's important to me now to stop and take the time to realize that if I step outside of my constrained body image bubble, that there is an amazingly beautiful planet that I live on that gives me many blessings every day. The more I do this the more happy I feel.

So, that's the goal - to just enjoy waking up every day and seeing the beautiful sky outside my window. And when I go to see myself in the mirror, I'll just see a person. No labels, no criticisms, just a beautiful creation that is me. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Age 23

“That girl over there is so thin, I would love to be like her.” And so it began. At a mere ten years of age, I began to notice, and indeed analyze, women’s figures and weight.

I was lucky enough to have wonderful parents who provided my siblings and I with healthy, home-cooked dinners every night. Takeaways were unheard of in our house. We were taught to have a positive attitude towards food and we understood and appreciated the necessity to eat nutritious food in order to stay healthy. We were also taught the value of staying active and fit. Family hikes, cycles and tennis matches were an integral part of our childhood. And yet, with this one comment made by a childhood friend of mine, everything I was taught about nutrition and exercise was partially sidelined, as I began to focus more and more on physical appearance, as opposed to physical health.

Throughout my teenage and college years, I worked hard to maintain a slim figure. At various points throughout these years (usually when I was stressed about other aspects of my life), I developed an obsession with my weight. I would calorie count – keeping my intake of calories well below the recommended daily intake, whilst simultaneously engaging in vigorous exercise. An eating disorder is characterized by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behavior (HSE). In hindsight, I can recognize that my attitude towards food was indeed abnormal, and in fact, it had major implications on other aspects of my life. Food and exercise were constantly on my mind and I never felt truly happy with how I looked – despite consistently remaining a size 6. I always thought I could “be thinner,” “look better.”

In September 2014, I started a new job. I joined a gym which was close by to my workplace and found myself settling back into old habits – calorie counting, excessive exercise. I was training hard and running quite a lot so I entered a 10km race to have something to work towards. I ended up coming 4th in the women’s section of the race and it was this result that began to change my attitude towards my body. My body had done something amazing – it allowed me to train, compete and achieve something I never thought I could do. My body is amazing.

And it is that thought that I want to share with the world. It saddens me that there is so much focus put on achieving an unrealistic figure presented to us in magazines and on runways. Young women want to be “thin,” “slim,” “have a flat stomach” and I too wasted so much of my life aiming for these ludicrous ideals. This is not what our focus should be on. We should not be starving ourselves of nutrition and putting our bodies under strain with the aim of achieving the unachievable. Our bodies can produce amazing results if we fuel them and look after them correctly. As a nation, we should be encouraging everyone to get the most out of their body, as it has so much to offer.

Since decisively changing the way I view my body, I have adapted a positive attitude towards food. Each day I ensure I am feeding myself with enough nutrients and protein to fuel my training and as a result I have gained 2kg of muscle in two months, making my jeans a bit tighter! In the past, this would have made me stressed, unhappy and obsessive about losing more weight. However, I am now healthier and happier than ever and feel physically fantastic. My positive attitude towards my body has improved my quality of life as a whole – I spend less time worrying about food and exercise which has allowed me to focus on other aspects of my life.

The human body is a spectacle – it fights illness, creates new life and enables us to achieve so much in life. Why has society taught us to look at it critically, and often in disgust? Our body is a powerful instrument. If we fuel it appropriately and look after it with the love and attention it deserves, it can help us to realize and accomplish our goals. Our bodies are amazing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Age 20

I see you every day, and I want to look away.
Come back, where do you think you’re going is what you always say.

I see you every day, and you always promise truth.
But here I am in front of you, nothing but lies produced.

I see you every day, and nothing seems to change.
I look right at you, and my heart fills up with rage.

I see you every day, something never feels right.
Why do you have this hold on me, no matter how hard I fight?

I see you every day, and here we are again.
You’re always quick to point out my knobby little butt chin.

I see you every day, and always end up froze
As you remind me that I have a crooked nose.

I see you every day, dreams reaching toward the sky.
But here they come crashing down as you point out my eyes.

I see you every day, and always let you win.
Why must you always mention this uneven skin.

I see you every day, with joy in my soul.
Until quietly you whisper, cover-up that mole.

I see you every day, but today it’s not the same.
I’ve realized something beautiful; maybe you’re not to blame.

I see you every day, but now I know who’s at fault.
I’m the one who fills you with all these mean insults.

I see you every day, the mirror in my room.
You only reflect this self-hatred by which I am consumed.

I see you every day, but today I look away.
Because I’ve found my inner beauty.
And it is here to stay.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Age 22

What do I see? I see imperfections. I see flaws. I do not see me - not the real me. I see and feel ugly. I feel powerless to stop the self-loathing and negativity my reflection invokes.

I started puberty at fourteen and ever since then I have hated myself. All I want to be is beautiful. I want to have the body of my dreams - toned, slim, healthy. But when I look in the mirror I see myself, my reflection, and I'm instantly depressed.

I have to hold back tears. I have to hold my head high and pretend that I am a drop-dead gorgeous woman when I don't feel gorgeous. My facade is good. People don't see through it. My armor impervious to the scrutiny of others, but underneath that armor I'm the same.

Fat. Ugly. Imperfect.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Age 15

I have always been a heavy girl. Always. I remember when I was in elementary school right up to about the start of seventh grade, I was the overweight, "fat" girl of all my classes. I felt like I was hideous and ugly and desperately tried to change myself since elementary. Can you believe it? A ten year old going on Google and typing "how to lose weight.” I never did it to please others as much as myself. Even the doctor said I had to lose weight and that's why I was trying to change myself - for my health - just like any person should.

But middle school changed everything. It was fifth grade and I was being bullied by a group of boys who called me a range of names. Anything from comparing me to the Star Wars character Chewbacca, to calling me an elephant, fat or ugly. It bothered me severely - I started eating more instead of less. I gained more weight going into sixth grade. I was obsessive. My mother put me in karate, but I never lost weight doing it.

Sixth grade was bully-free, but the impact of the bullying from the year before left me eating emotionally. I wore sweatpants and t-shirts most of the time to cover up what was underneath. 

Now it was time for seventh grade. This is where I began losing weight and not because I was being healthy, but because the bullying began once again. One boy was placed in the same class as me. He was one of my former bullies and, my God, gave me the hardest time of my life.

Everything was changing in the seventh grade for me. I was moving houses, my family was homeless for a month and he just piled on more crap. He was, and always will be, the boy who made me despise almost every aspect of my being. Everyday he called me names and got a few other boys to call me names too. One of them even told me to, "Go find a treadmill.” I would tell teachers and they would talk to him, but he wasn't one for change.

I started eating less. My mom took notice and sometimes even forced me to eat. She asked me, "Why?" I just said, "I wanna lose weight." We left it at that. She had no idea about the bullying. I was so uncomfortable with my body it was scary. Of course, I didn't get skinny, but I lost enough weight for people to take notice. But thankfully, seventh grade came to an end and I never saw that asshole again.

In tenth grade, which is now, my best friend used to jokingly call me ugly. I called her one day and started crying. I said, "I know I may look like an ogre, but you don't have to remind me. I know I'm ugly." She started crying and told me it was a joke and didn't mean it and thought I was beautiful, but I feel like subconsciously, somewhere in her head she thinks I'm ugly. I do too. I think about it and still cry. Words like fat and ugly stuck to me…especially coming from someone I love.

But I guess I'll be okay. My best friend stopped calling me fat and ugly. Two boys in my class once called me fat and ugly, but don't anymore. And once my friend called my fat and ugly, but I told him that he can't say things like that to me. After three years of self-harming and hating myself, I've finally began to repair my body image. I'm working on loving myself and my body. I hope one day I can come to terms with my body and accept how it is. I hope one day I can stop worrying about being skinny. Because skinny isn't beautiful, just like fat isn't ugly. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Age 56

I used to be bigger. Not fat bigger. Not taller bigger. I mean muscular bigger - as in I could heft grocery bags without breaking a sweat. As in my arms didn’t sag like a basset hound neck. As in I wore clothes three sizes larger than I now wear. I used to be a bigger, stronger, mightier woman. And I liked it.

I’m 56 and want my old body back. In the past decade, in spite of lifting weights and working out, my muscles seem determined to wither away. The diminishment in body is followed by a diminishment of spirit. I am losing weight and losing heart. Without my armor of muscles and yes, fat, I feel like I don’t take up enough space in this world.

Most woman want to be smaller, not bigger. Even with education about eating disorders, the weight (excuse the pun) of societal expectations of how women’s bodies should look has done little to change how woman feel about their bodies. Lithe may be the new skinny, but muscles are cool as long as you are still zero body fat. Just look at any CrossFit infomercial and you’ll see size zero women with six pack abs. Sorry, but that’s just wrong. The kind of body I miss is one with muscles and enough fat to cover them.

Back in the day I raced bicycles. My thighs were marble-like wonders that allowed me to sprint and push a big gear with minimal effort. It wasn’t just my legs that were super-sized. I was all over bigger - twenty pounds more than I now weigh. My butt was rounded, and my breasts, always larger in proportion to the rest of me, were a cup size bigger as well. I worked in a bicycle store and spent my days carrying steel bikes up and down a long flight of stairs and racing up and down hills on the weekends. I wasn’t Wonder Woman, but I was a strong, fit woman. I could kick ass and I felt good about it.

“There is something profoundly upsetting about a proud, confident, unrepentantly muscular women,” writes David Chapman, co-author of Venus With Biceps: A Pictoral History of Muscular Woman. “She risks being seen by her viewers as dangerous, alluring, odd, beautiful, or, at worst, a sort of rare show. She is, in fact, a smorgasbord of mixed messages.”

Women have always had, and will continue to have, a complicated relationship with their bodies, especially when it comes to depictions of strength. From mythical Amazons and Rosie the Riveter showing off her Popeye biceps, to a ripped post-menopausal Madonna in Versace ads, the ambivalence about women with muscles has always been a delicate negotiation for both genders.

I remember taking care of my grandmother. She was in her late eighties and suffering from dementia, I was in my early twenties and affected with the hubris of post-adolescence. One of my tasks was to bathe her which meant undressing my grandmother and seeing her stark naked as she stood in the shower. As embarrassed as my grandmother was to stand unclothed before her granddaughter, I was the one who was horrified. What had become of her once robust body? What I saw when she stood before me resembled a child’s body: skinny, hairless and in need of protection from the world. “My body will never look like that,” I vowed.

Three years ago I broke my left arm and wrist in a bad fall. The limb took close to a year to heal. When I began using my left arm I found I could barely lift a tea kettle much less resume my regime of push ups and power yoga postures. In spite of physical therapy, to this day, the arm remains weak, the muscles flabby and compromised. I’ve yet to accept it won’t bounce back to its pre-fracture form.

In my sixth decade, it’s unlikely that any amount of supplemental hormones and weight lifting will return me to my former physique. Biology is conspiring against me. Which leaves me with the choice of accepting my smaller, weaker body, or railing against the inevitable changes in muscle tone, fat and skin. It’s the weight of my mortality that I need to lift off my shoulders. And no amount of gym time can train me for that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Age 46

I really hate it when friends post pictures of me on Facebook. I rarely look good on film. Yes, sometimes I do post my own photos, but they are carefully selected by ME. They are ones I feel I look decent in. This is becoming a problem for me and I bet there are others out there that feel the same. What exactly do you say to someone? “Please don’t tag or post a photo of me online?” “Why?” “Because I look fat and ugly.” Then what do you say when they reply “No, I think you look good.” Yikes. Is it wrong for me to want to control my own image on the internet? By merely starting this conversation with friends, I open myself up to:

1. Being a bitch.

2. Admitting I have a terrible body image and hate the way I look.

3. Facing my own insecurities about my physical appearance.

None of the options are appealing to me. For now, I just change my settings to “give permission” for photos. But that doesn’t stop anyone from putting them up on their wall and just not tagging me. Mutual friends will see the snapshots and know it’s me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things in like about me. I am smart, I am a working professional, I have a lot of friends, I am funny. I just don’t like how I look.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Age 37

When I look in the mirror, sometimes I see beauty. Then I see a picture of myself and mirror lies.