This is going to be some real , raw, and true shit. Just warning you….
I remember when I first started becoming self-conscious of my body. I was 11 and because I started my period at nine, I was already developing breasts. At the time I identified as a ‘tomboy.’ I hung out with my brothers and male cousins, mostly, wore skater pants and baggy shirts. I enjoyed getting dirty and playing in the mud. I hated the idea of picking out a bra and was mortified to be the first person in my elementary school class to wear a bra.
I can still recall the day we changed in the classroom for PE.
*Gasp* “Eleanor’s wearing a bra,” said a few of the other ‘popular’ girls.
I did my best to hide the dark white outline of the sports bra through my white polo shirt, but, alas, it was known. And of course wearing a bra didn’t become cool until the “in crowd” all bloomed. And by then no one gave a fuck that I had a bra first, and neither did I…I was still trying to hide.
So, there I was, 11 going on 16, and I noticed my body changing, and fast. Before I knew it, I had hips and pubic hair and somehow decided it was time to shave my legs. I realize now that socially and culturally, we’ve constructed a linear timeline for young women (and men) when it comes to shaving our legs, as if it is some ‘right of passage’ – by a certain age we need to be removing our body hair to be ‘sexy’ or considered ‘a woman,’ or to have/remove/alter facial hair to be ‘a man.’
What kind of twilight zone was I going through? So much pressure to fit in this feminine box, and especially at a small private school; I already stuck out like a sore thumb with the name ‘Eleanor.’
In 7th and 8th grade, I was one of the tallest girls in the class, and got made fun of for wearing knee high socks and generic brand clothing. Petty and pathetic, I know, but for someone who already didn’t have many friends, and had an old fashioned, not popular name, I was an easy target, although looking back at it now, I know there are others like myself that had it far worse in terms of being teased and bullied.
The real insecurities started at the end of Freshman year of high school. Puberty was in full swing and my 14 year old self appeared, to the outside world, as 18. I received a lot of unwanted, sexual and non-sexual attention from men, NOT my own age. I would endure inappropriate remarks about my breasts and hips, “you have a woman’s body,” people would say. “If you worked out a little bit more or wore makeup, you would look like [insert young, famous, teen star here].” All of these little, seemingly insignificant comments would echo in my mind, leaving me to question my natural state – ‘was I not good enough as I was? In what ways did I need to change or perfect myself so I would be accepted? Am I not beautiful? What is beautiful and how do I achieve this?’ These questions and insecurities multiplied with each passing day, leaving marks and scars in my mind, body, and psyche that would essentially shape how I walked through life, and would follow me into my present age of 33—Yes – even today at 33 I STILL struggle with my body dysmorphia and disordered eating. I’m currently in the process of unlearning these detrimental thought patterns and healing these old scars. Time may heal wounds but not all scars will fade and the concept of time is a funny thing.
Back then, I was shy and didn’t really have the confidence or self-awareness to constructively respond, or say “hey, you don’t have a right to comment on my body,” or have the courage to speak up about the discomfort and violation I felt. My body and my whole being was changing, and I was trying my hardest to avoid it. Because I witnessed unhealthy relationships for most of my adolescence, I became codependent, and relied on external validation for my physicality and security. And that’s when shit started getting bad.
Between Freshman and Sophomore year is when I first started heavily dieting, exercising, and purging. For the previous year or so, I experienced my mom obsessing about her weight and her diet. She would talk about her food intake and exercise routine excessively. “I hate my legs and my abs,” she would say. Her and my step-father would work out, OBSESSIVELY, and talked about what they ate. Always striving for more and never content with their current state – or at least this is how I perceived it.
I recall leaving the house one night to go on a date with my at the time boyfriend, and my step dad said to me “If you worked out more you could have legs like Brittney Spears or Tina Turner.” I didn’t know how to reply. I think I thanked him and walked out of the house feeling defeated. Once again feeling not good enough and lacking something – that something being thinness which was equivalent to success and/or perfection. Looking back on it, I now know that he too, was suffering with his own embodiment issues and lack of self-love. But at the time his words crushed me. I had already been feeling like I had thunder thighs and was larger than most of the twigs in my class, but damn if that didn’t put salt in my open wounds. That small comment left a huge hole in my soul – another reinforcement that who I was, was not ok, not good enough, and needed a change.
I started to question my physical appearance increasingly by the day. And of course, because I lacked a strong ego, I sought out this opinionated asshole for dieting and exercise advice. I just had to start losing weight because being skinny meant approval and acceptance. By the end of Freshman year, I was drinking Slim Fasts for breakfast and lunch and sneaking my moms diet pills….when Ephedra was still legal.
I was addicted to my exercise routine and my diet (or lack thereof), however I hit a plateau. How do I get the body that ‘I’ wanted, or rather the body that others desired for me, the ‘Britney Spears’ toned thighs…
My mom and I would exchange conversation about what we ate during the day, our exercise routine… I would ask her about her methods and she had mentioned “trying” bulimia, but it never worked for her. She told me an anecdote of when she was younger – she would measure her thinness and success of feeling good in her body if she could see and feel the bones of her hips. “I would stand in the mirror and if I could see my hip bones, and ensure they stuck out more than my stomach, than I felt good.”
Never having even thought of throwing my food up, I figured I was so obsessed about my calorie intake being the source of my thick legs that I was willing to do anything. And I did.
Even though I was throwing up my meals, I was so concerned about caloric intake that I would purge the most miniscule meals.
At the time, my diet consisted of:
- Slim Fast
- Dry tuna fish in a lettuce wrap
- Carrot sticks
Sometimes I would not eat all day and just have a few bites of dinner. I would throw all of this up, regardless if it amounted to zero calories. I hated the feeling of being full. If I ate too much and could feel the waistband of my pants press into my skin, I would shame myself – “You ate so much that you’ve now gained weight. Fat. Pig. No self-control. Go throw up so you can rectify this moment.” Sometimes we would go out to dinner as a family and I would watch as everyone ate their meals, envious of their freedom. Little did everyone know, but I would cry those evenings, wishing I could enjoy the chips and salsa, guilt free. I would watch every bite and wonder if they too cared about the weight they would gain. It literally consumed my every thought.
I never got away with eating this little at my dad’s house. He always cooked large, carb and meat heavy meals, with a salad or veggies of course, but would make sure everyone was fed.
Little did he know I was wasting his good food and excellent cooking down the drain. I would rush straight to the bathroom as soon as dinner was over and throw up until my eyes were soaked with tears and my face bright red. I would sit back against the bathroom wall and feel shitty, and guilty that I wasted food. And then I would reprimand myself for eating so much. And how did I resolve that awful, icky fat and gluntunous, out of control feeling? — I would run for miles. And when the run was over I would do crunches, situps, leg lifts, and push ups. I would do my Susan Powter exercise video in our living room and finish my daily work out in the garage with weights.
This LITERALLY was my daily routine. My mind, my energy, my attention was in this dark, addicted, unhappy and disconnected place. I was truly disembodied and was headed down a dark road. I would read books written by survivors of eating disorders to try to find pieces of myself. My bulimia and my suffering was my secret, but I wanted out, even though my behaviors continued. When I could choose my food and choose healthy, I was in control. When I threw up my food, no matter how little or large the meal was, I was in control. Being in control became the crux of my disease – which I have now realized was a mirror for my out-of-control life. This continued throughout high school and into my undergraduate years.
I remember when I threw up blood for the first time. I cried and cried and told myself “You are going to die if you keep at this.” I felt totally and utterly hopeless and wanted to be free of my body. I hated my self. I wanted to die – the thought of death meant I didn’t have to be in this body – a body which would never be perfect, never be enough. I had moments where I imagined being born in another person’s body, a skinnier person’s body. I would imagine what it would be like to have thin legs and a metabolism that would allow me to just be – be without all this pressure and work to adjust, moderate, and perfect. I was exhausted and death seemed like a viable option that would eradicate my suffering. I never mustered up the stamina to attempt suicide, but I cut myself so I could feel the pain. I would cut my arms and wrists and watch myself bleed.
But something shifted inside that fucked up state. I broke open and, at the time, had created a few friendships that I trusted in enough to disclose my vulnerabilities and sufferings. (Thank you Jeff – you’ll never know just how much your friendship helped me see me).
The more I shared my story and my experiences and connected to people, the more I began to heal.
I was still purging through the beginning of my undergraduate degree, but quickly stopped when I started experiencing regular heart palpitations and acid reflux issues. By this point in the journey, I rationally knew that bulimia was not the answer to achieving the thinness I so desired. So, one day I just stopped.
But the self-hatred and control over food and exercise continued, and still do to this day. Back then, if I ate too much, I would make sure to hit the gym extra hard. If I noticed I gained a pound, I would restrict my eating. Some days I would feel so shitty about my legs and my body that I wouldn’t leave the house. I would stand in front of our mirror and pinch all the areas of my body I wanted to see thinner; my thighs, my hips, my stomach. I had many moments of quietly sobbing in my room, cursing god for putting me in this body. These days, moments of dissatisfaction and ‘self-hatred’ ungulate through me, but only vibrate softly and don’t linger. I have the tools to regulate the wounds. The sad part about this is that so many people can relate to these feelings and experiences, for many reasons, more than just weight. What I wouldn’t give to ease that suffering, not only for myself but for everyone else that feels disembodied. But the only way out is through, right?
What’s unfathomable to me now is that I love my body, and remembering back then, I would have never thought I would feel self-love. I used to pray for this feeling- I would observe other men and women, my perception of them being free and confident in their bodies and wonder to myself, ‘how do they do it? How do they wear XYZ and not care what other people think, and not care that their fat rolls are sticking out, or that their thighs touch? How do I be like them?’
Looking back on my experience, I was always unhappy with my shape no matter how much I weighed. At my lightest I was 110 and my heaviest 175. At 110 I was absolutely miserable…and I was skinny! It’s taught me that the number on the scale means nothing.
It took a lot of patience, persistence, and practice to get to where I’m at today. I also recognize that my acceptance of myself is fluid, and that’s OK!
Soaking up the present moment is vital to an authentic life. And we need to have moments where we can reflect back on where we came from to truly appreciate where we are now.
My self-love was born out of trauma (save for another time) and dysfunction. My current state of embodiment is only strong because I lived disembodied and disconnected for such a long time – and have intentionally worked towards my own healing, which I now believe and understand that when we heal ourselves, we heal the world.
Even though I continue to struggle, I know deep down that my personal healing, heals others.
To get comfortable, we must get uncomfortable.
To heal each other, we must first heal ourselves.
This has been just a glimpse into my healing journey.
I want to hear, and heal, yours.