I’ve had a terrible relationship with my body since I can remember. Between fourth and twelfth grade I ballooned up and slimmed down several times, ending up with something remarkably similar to an eating disorder, though it met none of the clinical definitions.
I’m still not crazy about my body. It was manageable when I was thinner, when my abs were leaner, my hips smaller. I’m at a more normal weight now (5’10”, 140lb) and I fucking hate it. I miss being a svelte 120 with the angles for drapey Urban Outfitters clothing. I miss looking like a 16 year old fasion model. I miss feeling like I earned the right to eat a proper dinner.
I am trying to move past it, to realize I am much more than the amount of fat on my abs, to realize it doesn’t matter if I weigh 130 or 140, as long as I am healthy.
For the first time in six years, I bought a new bikini. A hot pink affair with lots of strings to accommodate slim or round hips, a thick or narrow bust. Trying on a slew of bikinis was painful. I stared in the mirror focusing on my stomach. My stomach was always an obsession. Even at 120 pounds, I never had the lean definition I saw in the magazines. Sure, as an adult, I realize much of this is a result of photoshop, over-exercise, and calorie deprivation.
I had my own foray into obsessive exercise and calorie counting. I could tell you how miserable it was. I could tell you how much it hurt to read my high school journal, to read promises I made to myself to STOP LOSING WEIGHT, promises I really believed. I could tell you how obsessed I was that I broke down crying on the Chicago subway after eating a grotesque 700 calories at lunch. I could tell you about all the times I had one cookie too many, all the times where the rope snapped and I inhaled as much food as I could before jamming my hand down my throat and trying my best to rid my stomach of its contents.
I could tell you all of that, and it would be true. And you could easily explain away my tenuous relationship with food and my body but saying I’m just one of THOSE girls. One of those week girls who falls prey to an eating disorder.
But that wouldn’t be a fair assessment.
We live in a world, or at least a country, where women are valued for their looks first. Where all the media images we see are beautiful, thin women, made up and retouched until they are free of blemishes, cellulite, protruding ribs. As women, we are told we must be thin and pretty. We are told, by our mothers, sisters, friends, and magazines, that we must hate our bodies. That food is the enemy and we are at war with our bodies. Because if we only follow the diet plan and work out in the magazine we can look just like the slim model practicing the exercises.
But it’s bullshit. It’s a lie. An ugly lie and even though we know better, we swallow it. We want it to be possible to have the slim fat free body we see in pictures. We believe our lives will be better when we are lean. We will be better, smarter, more popular. We will finally deserve love.
The eating disorder didn’t hurt nearly as much as the realization that being thin solved NONE of my problems. I was never more miserable. I was never more lonely. I was never more convinced I didn’t deserve love.
I wish I had an answer for bikini season shame. It’s horrible that anyone feels ashamed of his/her body. But it doesn’t stop us, does it? (And it goes without saying, if you or a friend has signs of an eating disorder, please seek professional help).
We all get older, get wrinkles, gain and lose weight. It doesn’t change who we are. It doesn’t change our intelligence, our wit, our compassion.
I try to avoid fixating on it. Don’t allow myself to look at unflattering positions or pictures. When these thoughts come to mind, I silently repeat my mantra. It doesn’t matter. I am healthy. I am fit. So what if there is fat on my stomach. I look at photos of beautiful women who aren’t model thin. I avoid magazines. I avoid media that tells me women are of value only for their looks.
And I wear my bikini proudly. Because, really, no one fucking cares if I don’t have a six pack. No one cares if there is cellulite on my thighs. No one cares if my breasts aren’t as perky as they were at 17.
And I’m trying not to care either.