If I’m being honest with myself, a lot of my self-loathing is centered around negative body image and all that it brings with it. I’ve had a horrible relationship with food my entire life and some lousy genetics to go with it. On good days, I don’t actually think about what I look like, how big I am, or whether or not others find me attractive. I can go about my day to day and not feel like I’m burdened by my size or appearance. The problem lies in the bad days, which are far more frequent than the good. Those are the days where I feel utterly crippled by my size and completely disgusted with my appearance so much that I typically make matters worse by seeking comfort in my favorite foods.
Body image is something most people, particularly women, typically struggle with so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that it would be one of my biggest battles. What I think people don’t realize is the depth that my insecurities go when it comes to my day to day interactions. There are things I replay over and over in my brain on a loop that sometimes drive me absolutely insane and it becomes exhausting. When you struggle with disordered eating habits and negative self-image, you also feel an intense hatred and shame towards yourself for enabling the destructive behavior you hate. For me, that materializes in binge eating and making constant jokes about my overeating, general slovenly nature and desire to be the “fat and lazy” person I assume people think me to be based on my appearance. So, let’s start at the beginning, folks….
I have struggled with body image my entire life. High school was utter hell for me trying to navigate how to be the kind of girl boys wanted to talk to and date, despite the fact that I wasn’t a size 2. I’m naturally a goofy person so I typically leaned into the humor thing to cover up my shame but it all came to a head when I was about 15 and slowly stopped eating normally and focused my attention on athletics to try and shed some weight. This is when my battle with food really started and I remember how amazing it felt when I lost like 45 pounds and guys suddenly paid attention to me, girls complimented me and I had to have all my marching band outfits taken in. (Marching band was cool – COME AT ME). I joined the field hockey team, didn’t eat breakfast or lunch and ate only peanut butter toast for dinner most nights after getting home from my games/practices/work/rehearsals etc. and suddenly I was wearing size 8 pants and feeling like I might actually be attractive.
My confidence was short lived, however, because like most young girls come to find out, I still wasn’t good enough for myself or for other people. I was a size 8 but not a size 4. My stomach wasn’t flat. I really couldn’t run without wanting to die (I have asthma, and heart complications I discovered late in high school) and despite being a healthy size, I had a group of friends who constantly teased me about things and called me names like “Big Hoss” and “Hoss the Plump” (now – your instinct will tell you to be mad at these people and say ‘they’re jerks!” and you’re not wrong – they were – but they were also 15 and idiots who hadn’t grown up yet. We were all idiots and jerks back then so go easy on them) and I can remember distinct moments that ultimately led to me having a more strained relationship with food throughout my time in high school.
I remember being so excited to wear a bikini one summer because I finally lost enough weight and wasn’t afraid to show my stomach and one day my friends and I all went swimming and we played chicken — you know, that game where the girls are lifted on the guys shoulders and fight till one drops — and when I got put on someone’s shoulders, another one of my friends was on the deck of the pool shouting “no God, my eyes” and making fun of my size. That was the first night I went home and tried to make myself throw up after eating. I remember crying and realizing it was too loud to hide from my parents so I cried myself to sleep and just hoped I could do better at not eating the next day.
The second time I tried to make myself throw up was after my boyfriend and I had gone shopping. We got home and laid all our clothes out on the floor to show his mom (because apparently that’s the cool thing to do) and he compared my polo shirt to his because his was a small and mine was a large and made a comment about how I weighed more than he did (I will remember our weight at this time until I die because this moment is so engrained in my memory – I weighed 142 pounds at the time, he was 137). I left his house that night and tried so hard to find a way to become bulimic, silently, so I could stop gaining weight and become a girl who wore a small t shirt size.
Me at my smallest weight
(One thing to note: I thought I looked fat in my senior picture…but I also thought that flipped out blonde hair looked good so what do I know?)
Fast forward and I got into a healthy relationship, found my first experience with what I would call my first love, and my battle with food was set aside for a while and I had started to gain a little more weight again. I didn’t care as much because I was happy and felt loved, but I did notice some stuff changing with my physicality and my gym teacher noticed too. That was when I discovered some issues with my heart and my doctor ordered me to stop doing extracurricular physical activity so that I could figure out what was happening with those. Turns out, I had some weird murmur thing and some issues with a signal, had to wear this freaky monitor thing blah blah blah but I ALSO had polycystic ovarian syndrome and hypothyroidism which are notorious for causing weight gain and can run rampant without physical exercise to keep them under control. My first semester of college I gained like 100 pounds and my relationship with food got even worse. I couldn’t binge and purge because the purging part was too loud and difficult for me to accomplish (and if you don’t believe me, ask one of my sorority sisters what I sound like when I vomit – it’s insane how loud I am) so I fell into a depression about it and began to cope by binging all the time.
Since the beginning of college, I’ve had a binge eating disorder that I have struggled to cope with. I had these tendencies even as a kid, though. I remember my parents cleaning my room and questioning why I had all these spoons hidden near my bed because I ate peanut butter by the spoonful at night in secret. It got so bad once that I got the flu shortly after and threw up peanut butter and couldn’t eat it for like a year.
I eat horribly as it is – and I will be the first to admit that – but somewhere along the line my relationship with food became this toxic, shameful thing that I would use to cope with my loneliness, frustration, stress and sadness. I can remember times during grad school where I would eat an entire pizza and then instantly get sick not because I wanted to purge but because I physically made myself sick by overeating and I couldn’t stop. It was horrible and upsetting but I couldn’t bring myself to stop doing it, and it was only exacerbated by the fact that losing weight was much harder for me as someone who had a genetic predisposition to weight gain.
So what’s the point I’m trying to make by telling you all these stories? I’m glad you asked!
Body image is a horrible, horrible beast that has hung over my life for as long as I remember. Because of the way I struggled when I was younger, and a size 8 (and a gorgeous girl, if I might add) I look at who I am now, and I cannot even fathom how people could tolerate the person I’ve become let alone find it to be something worthy of love. If that girl got made fun of and had a hard time finding people who found her attractive, what hope does the woman I am now have?
(The woman I am now)
This is the way I think. Every. Single. Day.
What’s different now is that people are nice enough not to mock me to my face or tell me how they really feel because they recognize it’s probably rude to call someone a “pink whale”, regardless of how rooted in truth the statement is. My weight and subsequent shame surrounding my weight has held me back from SO MANY THINGS I would love to do, and I hate it so much.
When people want to go to shows, or concerts, or theaters, or theme parks, I have to worry about whether or not I will fit in a chair. Like – what? That’s insane, but it’s a very real concern I have now whenever I do an activity and it’s even more embarrassing at the event when my whole body is uncomfortably spilling over the sides of chairs and touching everyone around me and I’m hot and sweating and just generally a monsterous beast. I have to worry about how much I’m going to sweat if we walk around a lot, or if I’ll be in pain because I’m not used to doing that much physical activity. I hate it so much because when you’re with a group of other people you never want to be the one that holds other people back, so I have adopted this philosophy of just not going to avoid ruining the good time for others. If I don’t go – I can’t feel ashamed by the fact that I can’t fit in a chair. If I don’t go – no one has to go slower so I can keep up.
But in adopting this philosophy, I feel like I’ve missed out on so much and I’ve gotten in this cycle of just not doing anything. I don’t have fun at events because I’m so anxious about what will happen, or I simply don’t attend at all and feel isolated and alone. It becomes this vicious cycle, too, because I think about trying to meet someone or go on dates and realize I’m a really boring person. Not because I’m actually boring or want to be, but because my weight has literally isolated me from being able to experience life the way others do. I do the same, boring things, day in and day out, not because I necessarily want to, but because physically I am limited in what I am able to do comfortably. And don’t get me started on what my weight has done for the idea of sharing intimacy with another person…
Well, fine, since you asked – how can I possibly date anyone if I’m so ashamed of my body I don’t want to be seen in public let alone intimately? That fear has basically stopped my dating life in it’s tracks. You see, I’m not the girl who gets noticed because you find me physically attractive – this I know – but I am someone people generally like talking to and interacting with because as I mentioned before, I am privileged in that I’m smart, talented and humorous (I’m also SO modest) so I can be quite engaging when you get to know me. At any rate, despite the fact that people like to talk to me and find me to be interesting, I’m never the girl people want to date, and I believe a lot of that is due to my body image. I don’t look like the girl you want to bring home. I look like the girl you want to ask for advice or tell your problems to before you call your girlfriend to go out that night.
But more importantly – even if I was the girl you wanted to bring home – I wouldn’t be able to believe you. I wouldn’t know how to trust that you were genuinely attracted to me because I am so disgusted by myself that I can’t fathom someone else may have a different opinion than mine. And my body image has left me with such negative self-worth and isolation that I’ve inherently cut myself off from attracting other people. There’s nothing attractive about someone who’s self-conscious and self-deprecating. People aren’t attracted to the girl who’s always putting herself down. But I don’t know how to be anything else. I don’t know how to change my own opinion.
How do you learn how to love yourself?
I’ve never been able to answer that question and I think it’s ultimately led to a big hole in my life and is the fundamental reason I’m not happy.
Now, the response I will get here is likely “oh my gosh, you have so much to offer though! You’ll find someone. The right person is out there who will love you for you!” and I’m not saying that those aren’t kind things to say, or even false things, but also – it doesn’t make it suck any less.
I have not been in a relationship in like 6 years. I have developed this sarcastic, hilarious exterior that talks about how much I hate cuddling, and I don’t want your hot breath on my face when you sleep next to me, boys are too demanding, I don’t want to compromise my wants and needs to take care of someone else – and honestly, those are actually all true things – but it’s not representative of the way I truly feel towards relationships, it’s just easier to say all of that then be the pathetic single friend in your group of all married and committed couples who are buying homes and having kids together while you’re going home every night and re-watching the Office for the 13th time alone while you eat pizza and troll Instagram.
What I want, is to start a family and share my life with someone who is genuinely interested in me. I want to have a partner to grow with. Someone to invest my time into and support while they do the same for me. I want to be loved in a way that only a relationship can give (I know I have a lot of people who love me, and I’m so grateful for that, but this is a different need). I want to trust that someone truly wants me as their partner and loves the person that I am.
What shatters that whole desire is my body image. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to trust that someone could love me for me. Can they love my personality? Sure. That’s easy (until I become irrational and start tweaking out for no reason other than I’m a girl and the wind is blowing outside- that’s for another day, though). I don’t know that I’ll ever be happy with how I look and feel. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make fun plans and not start a long chain of endless thoughts on the “what ifs” that will come with me doing that activity.
I just don’t know.
And I hope that someday this will go away. But for a girl who’s overweight, this is the biggest obstacle in my path right now. This is something that plagues my thoughts every single day in almost every activity I do.
Some days, it’s just really freaking hard to deal with.