I stood naked staring in the mirror at my stomach again. The morning ritual of “Am I fat today?” when it slammed into me like a boulder.
“Oh my god,” I thought. “I was never fat.” My stomach was just that — a stomach that worked wonderfully for me feeding my body. It wasn’t too big or not flat enough, it just was.
The wind knocked out of me, and I started sobbing. Looking in that mirror, I realized all the mornings I had woken up and immediately hated my body. A whole lot of expletives ran through my head. How much beeping time of my life had I wasted on this bullshit when I could have been reading, creating, living, and loving myself?
In that moment, I realized how shattered my perception of myself was. The dysmorphia consumed all of me. Why had I seen ugly when a beautiful reality was staring back at me?
Why did that label skinny even matter to me? What did that label even mean? Why had it latched on to my throat strangling me?
I walked around that whole day dazed like a new born child. I had come up from a nightmare that had lasted since I was a kid. Sure, I had only made myself throw up a handful of times a year, and I was more likely to gorge myself than starve myself. I could never not eat so I couldn’t have an eating disorder, right?
But the eating patterns were just a symptom of a deeper self-loathing, a distraction from reality. I watched my image wavering back in forth in that mirror, a disease fighting to keep hold of me.
This journey of healing started a year ago. After a past of weighing myself obsessively, restricting my eating, and generally fixating over image and calories, I decided in 2016 to not weigh myself or control my eating at all. That meant no veganism, no gluten freeness, no juice cleanses, no weighing, and no judging. I wanted this monster off my back, and I finally didn’t care if I gained 30 pounds to be free.
I cared more about my inner health than an imaginary standard some part of me held desperately onto. I committed to giving up the scale and left all restrictions behind. So ironically, I stepped on the scale one last time and began the year.
I would be lying if some part of me did not hang onto the thought that I would lose weight over the next 12 months. After all, this was the one way to lose weight I had not tried, but a deeper part of me believed beyond image that this was the way out. The rules were simple: if you wanted the ice cream, observe that urge, resist from judging it, and eat the damn ice cream.
Slowly as the months progressed, I stopped having to remind myself that the scale was waiting for me at the end of the year. It was hard to let go of the only way I had ever judged myself that was concrete.
Winter months wound into summer, and I began to use my body to run up mountains and paddle down rivers. I grew strong, thickening with sunshine and wild water. For the whole summer, I did not see my full body in a mirror. The mental dialogue purified to how I felt not a distorted image. I began to listen to my body, not others impressions and opinions.
I really can’t point to when it started, but I remember counting calories as young as 12. Tracking exercise and food intake on a phone, I obsessed over that number and loathed myself when I went over it. There were nights I spent sobbing in the shower pounding my stomach in, wishing I could tear it out until it was as flat as those magazines.
I was a child growing into a woman, but I was so mad at my body. I felt like it betrayed me. I tried everything to fix it, make it pretty, and nothing worked. It’s funny though for all I could have known it did work, but I couldn’t have seen it. The image I saw in the mirror was fixed. I am so thankful to my body for holding onto its weight and health so steadily despite all the hate I poured onto it.
I was afraid of being fat.
Let’s dissect that: fat is a term imprinted on me by a society that constantly tries to belittle women: well check, it succeeded. Fat is a term that holds no true meaning being simply a label and a judgement. I was afraid of nothing but a thought that in being so afraid of I did not avoid but constantly thought – does not make much sense.
And this thought consumed me. After a year of healing, I struggle to remember the pain I felt with each bite. The constant fight of will-power drained me. I connected success and happiness to skinny, and I never found any of the three. Surrounded by people with severely obvious disorders, I ignored mine even though it probably consumed me as much mentally as an overt one.
I kept after it for years, and it got increasingly worse. In a sick way, I accepted my “fatness” and my eternal fight against it.
I began to awaken to this disease inhabiting me my first semester of college. I looked back at old pictures – I always thought I was getting fatter, that would be growing into a woman’s body, than the last picture – and I realized I looked tiny. I remembered how fat I felt when those pictures were snapped. I started to realize something didn’t match up. At this same time, I was falling deeper and deeper into bad habits, throwing up more and coping through eating habits. I was vegan and barely ate anything, and an excuse to eat less was the worst possible thing that could have happened to me.
Then I read about an eating disorder that was defined as obsessively eating healthy– Orthorexia. I knew I fell into that category, but ignored its depth.
I hated my body even more. I had come off a major expedition and hip injury so my body didn’t even look like the “fat” one I was used to. I noticed myself falling deeper into the hole and became incredibly afraid. This thing already took up so much of my life, the last thing I wanted was it take up more. But I still wanted to be skinny – to make myself small.
In defiance of the years I spent strangling my body and eating, I completely let go in 2016. I ate all the gluten, ice cream, cake, meat, sugar, fruit, vegetables, and more importantly I ate. Slowly the negative thoughts that accompanied each bite wore off, until suddenly I was tasting food again. The voices wore away with each passing day until I started to hear a truth under the labels. I began eating out of self-love not hatred.
I learned that eating was a form of self-worship, and the intention with which you ate mattered more than what you ate.
It took 9 months to have that realization in the bathroom mirror. I still look every morning at my stomach, but now I thank it for being there and taking care of me. And if it grows or shrinks I trust it to do what is best for me. This past year was just the beginning of the healing journey. I still am triggered by comments and still have many moments a day where I remind myself to love instead of hate.
The love is slowly teasing my confidence out of the hole I shoved it into, and like an abused animal I feel my body tiptoeing towards trusting me. The space created by leaving that hatred behind, fills with gratefulness for my bodies strength. I appreciate the muscles and bone mass and fat that lets me climb rocks, swim rapids, sleep in the sun, write for hours, and tumble down snowy mountains. I trust these limbs – or now they trust me to take care of them and love them.
As the final months of 2016 wound to a close, I thought about stepping on that scale again – what would that number be? Sitting in front of my mirror smiling at my rolls, I realized I did not want to. I did not want to fall back into the hole I still crawled out of. But more importantly those numbers didn’t matter anymore. Numbers could not attempt to express the power my body held to live vibrantly and wholesomely. Those numbers could not love, hug, kiss, dance, or sing. Those numbers did not deserve me. I was worthy of more than a scale. I was worth raging sunrises and star crusted night skies.
I still cannot trust my perception of my body – I may never be able to. But, I can trust my love for it. Now, that is the question each morning, not are you fat today, but do you love yourself today?
I lost the scale, I lost the hate, I feel free. I stand in 2017 knowing that I am on the path to loving myself.
I write this because I didn’t think I had a problem – body shaming and self-deprecation is a normal part of being female in our society.
I can feel the bud beginning to grow inside me and I can’t wait till the beauty of that self-love blossoms. I write this because I look at so many of my friends and woman and girls I know, and see that look in their eyes that was in mine. I see their pain, their wish to be small even though their beauty deserves to explode into the world. I see the unwritten battle in their heads each minute of the day. I say this as a survivor and I warrior for myself and for us to love again.
Trusting your body after hating it and abusing it feels like jumping off a cliff, but trust me you will soar.
LJ Dawson is a writer, probably in the rocky mountains or in the red rock deserts. Her good days are spent in the sun and her good nights are spent under the stars. Missoula living and Colorado grown.