Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Age 15

Every time I look down at my legs, a feeling of disgust, satisfaction or extreme happiness overcomes me. At different times of the day, I feel completely different emotions regarding my body – one second I think that I'm too thin, the next I feel as though I'm too fat and other times I finally believe I'm perfect.

I'm a high school long-distance athlete, so my legs have lean muscle. However, just a few months ago during spring track my legs were literally half the length as they are now. Back then, when I had my small legs, people would comment on my body saying, "You're stick thin." "I wish I had your collarbones." "I wish I had your legs." "You look sick with legs that tiny." "How much do you even eat? You're so tiny." "Your legs are absolutely perfect." So many contradicting comments filled my head I couldn't decide which ones to believe. Over the summer, I gained weight and my thighs grew with the rest of me. I didn't know what to think of my legs…and to be honest, I still don't. I grew into my old jeans that used to be so saggy and loose that I couldn't wear them, even just around the house. My thighs touched for the first time in a year and a half.

I started eating more unhealthy foods this past summer and my relationship with food started to get distorted. As soon as I noticed this, I tried to eat healthier to mend my relationship with food before it got bad. I began a journey to a healthier lifestyle. From the time I began this journey to now, I can say I feel more confident with my body. I now know that since I feed my body healthy, plant-based, homemade food then I must be healthy too.

So forget thigh gaps, ribs, hip bones and collarbones, we never needed to see these things anyway. Bones are meant to be kept safe, not protruding like some walking skeleton. If you see an animal where their ribs protrude, you wouldn't say, “Oh, how beautiful.” So why say that to yourself?

Nobody needs a thigh gap. And you know what? Believe it or not, I actually like my body more now than I did before. Skinny doesn't bring confidence, healthy does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Age 42

I have a healthy relationship with food even though I measure my portions and count my calories - I have learned the hard way that I gain weight easily, and because of my small stature, a little becomes very noticeable very quickly and it is much easier to maintain a healthy weight than to lose it once I have become overweight. I like food and eating out and indulge when we eat at restaurants - not binge, enjoy - but most days I cook healthy meals for our family. I often wish I were still a picky little kid who spent hours sitting at the table because I wouldn't eat things I didn't like, though - it would be much easier to maintain if I still didn't know that cheese came in flavors other than orange, or that fried chicken prepared properly is one of the most delicious foods ever.

As that picky little kid got older and junk food became an easy substitute for the unappealing meals that my stepmom prepared with my dad's unrefined palate in mind, I gained weight for the first time in middle school. I was still very active outside the house - I had two PE classes (regular and something alternative, such as aerobics or swimming) and ran track - but after school I was mostly confined to the house and there was little to do but eat and watch TV.

When I finally moved from dad's to my mom's, I magically dropped 15 pounds without even trying, and probably maintained that weight for years after, although I don't really know how much I weighed anymore than I knew what I really should be eating or how much. What I did know was, regardless of weight, I hadn't been an attractive kid, and I didn't feel like an attractive teen, and marrying a guy who was always critical of my appearance (especially my big ass) didn't help. I also had no idea how to dress and wore baggy, oversized clothes most of the time - not that I could afford to properly attire myself anyway, as that same husband was a chronically un/underemployed spender, so we were constantly struggling even just to pay the rent.

As the years passed and the husband who had always made derogatory comments about my weight gained and gained himself, my eating habits got healthier. I stopped drinking regular soda (I still sometimes drink diet, despite how "bad" it is supposed to be for you) and eventually, less junk food (although I've never stopped entirely, because, again, it's good to indulge sometimes!) When I left him, I weighed 112 pounds.

From that point on, my weight went up (127!) and back down (107?) as I went through life changes and at one point got a gym membership. When I met my current husband, I probably only weighed about 107 (at 5'1") but I probably still felt "fat" because, the thing is, no matter how little I weigh, I always have fat on me.

Today, (after having gained a bunch of weight again, all the way up to 145, and then whittling myself back down to my current 120-ish), I would say that I have a VERY healthy body image. Not because I think my body is perfect, or even because I accept its flaws, but because I am realistic.

I look in the mirror and I see that most of my body is fine. Good even. In some places, even THIN. Because I work out, my arms have just a little definition to them - not so much that they look lumpy or manly, just enough - and in that chest area above my boobs, you can kind of see that upper rib definition that many people equate to "skinny". BUT. My waist isn't super small - it's fine, and on a good day, I can even see some ab definition without even flexing those muscles! But other days, my "muffin" flubs over the tops of my pants, or my belly protrudes like a kid in a third world country.

My legs aren't great, but in a pair of heels, my calves are shapely and pretty well defined, and my quads are also defined, but not too bulky. The problem comes in that area from my belly button to about halfway down my thighs - when I am facing the mirror, blobs of fat hang off my otherwise toned legs. Saddlebags. Squarebutt. Whatever you want to call it. When I turn to the side, I can clearly see my "second" butt, or underbutt. Like an extra cheek underneath each normal cheek.

I actually get a lot of compliments on my appearance, on my body - even on my blobby, fat butt - mostly because I have learned how to dress in a way that disguises my shape, that smooths the lumps and bumps and makes them just look like curves. With my clothes off, it is clear that those lumps and blobs of fat are alien, they don't belong.

Realistically, I know that they will probably be there forever, no matter how much exercise I do or how carefully I eat. That doesn't mean that I won't stop making the effort to melt them away, that I won't stop trying to be the best me I can, that I'll ever stop researching the best foods to eat or new ways to burn fat. I don't accept that imperfection in my body, even if I do realize that I probably can't change it, or that, overall, I'm doing really well. I'm healthy and fit, and in the big scheme of things, as attractive as anyone else, even if some of my features are awkward or unusual. I'll never leave the house in dumpy sweats, or without doing my hair or putting on makeup, but when I do step out, I don't feel bad about the way I look. Only when I stand in front of the mirror undressed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Age 16

When I look in the mirror, I see my past, present and future play out before me. I am in recovery from anorexia and it has made me hyperaware of each and every detail of my body. When I was a child, I was told I still had my "baby fat." I was called "chubby" and "out of shape." After I went through puberty and a natural growth spurt, people told me they were "jealous of my body." They called me "pretty" and told me I "could be a model." When, out of fear, desperation and deep sorrow, I starved myself and exercised to exhaustion, people told me I was "skin and bones" and called me a "disgusting skeleton."

None of those labels define me. I am INTELLIGENT. I am STRONG. I am BEAUTIFUL. I am WHOLE. I have a future, and no one's opinion of my body can change the fact that I accept myself fully and completely. I am imperfect and flawed, and I love it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Age 24

Sometimes when I look in the mirror I feel powerless.

My once perfectly flat stomach is rounded and hangs over my jeans when I bend over. My thighs are naturally voluptuous and covered in self-inflicted scars. My body makes me aware of its imperfections as I carry out daily activities. My thighs rub together when I walk, it takes me ten minutes to pull up the zip on a dress; I find crumbs in the creases on my stomach when I am eating in bed.

I feel ugly.

But other times I look in the mirror and I feel…

Robust.

Strong.

My body has presence. My body has power. It has carried me this far and will carry me further. It has healed when I have damaged it. It has been the object of many people's desires and admiration. It has swum for hours in the sun, danced all night and made love to wonderful people.

And when I catch myself feeling this way, I am overwhelmed by how beautiful I am. How fortunate I am to have this amazing body.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Age 20

Every. Single. Reflective surface. I cannot look away. I am constantly looking…not out of vanity, but concern. I look and I critique. My stomach (Does it puff out too much?), my thighs (Is there cellulite? Why are they so thick?), even my head (Why does it look so big? Why do my cheeks puff out so much?). I’m told that I’m beautiful. Gorgeous even. Their words are hollow and empty to me. To myself I am disgusting and cannot be convinced otherwise. How do they not see what I see? When I squeeze my thigh I see a bumpy ripple of cellulite. When I squeeze my stomach there is a thin layer of fat. 

I run cross-country and distance track. I love to run, but even when running I cannot run away from myself. Short, muscular legs feel disgusting to me. I want to be a svelte, graceful runner that makes everything look easy. Running is easy when you have long legs, right?

After I binge I feel heavy and tired. The twisting pang in my stomach and headache I get when I do not eat enrages me. Why am I so obsessed with food? Why is that all I seem to think about? WHY CAN I NOT HAVE A FUCKING NORMAL RELATIONSHIP WITH FUCKING FOOD?! Food. Food and exercise. Food and exercise and mirrors. When I was little, my body was a comfortable home that I cuddled with, played with and cared for. Why has it become a prison? How? I am trying so hard. When will it get easier? I am almost 21 and have felt these struggles since I was 13 when my health teacher taught us about calories and how you should have 2,000 each day. You also must exercise every day. Potato chips are bad. High fructose corn syrup is bad. If you follow THE RULES you will be good. You will be happy. Why am I not happy?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Age 20

The dieting started when I was only 12 years old. My "best friend" at the time always had something to say about how I looked or what I wore. I felt as if I really had no friends and no control over my life.

That girl, I thought, was the best thing to ever happen to me; she was like the stylish older sister that I never had – she always had cool tips and advice for me and made me feel like I belonged somewhere. For once in my life, I didn't feel friendless and alone at school. But she took advantage of that.

Her bullying worsened through that seventh grade year when I began my battle with anorexia nervosa. I even told her hoping, as my best friend, she would help. From there she only saw my weakness and escalated the teasing after that. When my mom started to notice my eating, I began eating dinner...and with that I gained weight. I couldn't take it any longer and before I knew it I was purging.

I was 14 the first time I tried to stop, but I only relieved the symptoms, not the disorder. The longing for the feeling starving, binging and purging had given me lingered for years. Throughout high school I relapsed a few times, but never really recovered. It wasn't until I went away to college that I began to heal and now I can say that I am truly cured…and will never return. I haven't spoken to the girl I called my "best friend" in four years and it's been a long 8 year struggle with my disorder. But it gets easier with every passing day…and I feel stronger as a result of it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Age 18

All my other Asian friends are skinny. Size 0, 25 inch waists, beautiful slim figures. And then there’s me. The short, “chubby" Asian who eats healthy but unfortunately doesn’t look very “slim" for her religiously attained healthy lifestyle. Okay, I know that I’m not fat. But only factually. 5’2”, 120 lbs. Rock solid quads from endless hours of cardio and strength training. No bulgy stomach…just a thick looking waist. Some people even say I’m attractive. That I have a princess face. I don’t see it.

My skinniest was at the peak of my diet back in 2012. I got down to 110 lbs in three short months in the summer. I was the “happiest” I had ever been with myself and my sense of self-esteem was actually present. Since then, after reverting to my pre-diet eating plans that didn’t consist of consuming half a bagel for breakfast, the other half for lunch and half a bowl of veggies and/or meat for dinner, I (of course) gained all that weight back. Even today, I look back to that summer diet for “fitspiration” and motivation.

To this day, I can remember every single thing that goes into my mouth on a daily basis. I workout at least 2 hours a day when I can. Every thought that passes through my mind daily is what I should eat for the next meal and when my next workout session should be. I am afraid of junk foods like chips, Starbucks beverages, cookies, ice cream, you name it. When I DO eat those foods on occasion, I feel like killing myself on the inside. I always have to compare what I’m eating with what other people are eating – is my meal healthier than theirs? Did I pick a lower calorie option? Am I eating less than they are?

EDNOS. It may not always show as plainly as anorexia nervosa, but hating my body and myself for eating food, the very thing that keeps me alive, is no doubt my own disturbed perception. I haven’t told anyone else because I’m afraid that people will think I want attention. The reaction I’ve gotten when I hinted my problem to my family is that I’m just thinking too much.

They’re right. I’m thinking way too much. About food. It’s all I think about. Eating it, not eating it, burning it off, fueling with it, crying from it, regretting it, hating it. And hating myself.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Age 19

I eat. I am a size double zero. I am 5’1. I have big, green eyes. I have straight teeth. I have silky, dirty-blonde hair that shines in the sun. I have abs when I engage my core and a tight little stomach when I do not. I have toned, beautiful legs. I can do the splits, I can run four miles and for a petite lady, I can jump very high.

90% of the time, I cannot see these beautiful features in myself. It drives my friends and family crazy.

I am a pre-professional dancer. I am surrounded by the pressures and demands of this strange, beautiful field.

“Hold in your stomach!”

“Hollow stomachs, ladies.”

“You think you’re working hard now? You’re barely skimming the surface.”

“There is always something to be improved.”

“Study everything. Practice outside of class.”

“If you question whether you want to be here, if you have doubts, then this field is obviously not right for you.”

Body hate tends to be an unspoken necessity to the job description. It’s ironic, because the dancers are the most physically fit, active students at my school. We can do the superhuman, yet most of us can’t stand what we see. Staring at myself in a leotard and tights in front of a mirror for six hours a day does nothing for my body-appreciation. Especially not in such a competitive environment.

I am cruel to my body.

I read a quote somewhere that was along the lines of, “Would you have any friends if you speak to them the way you speak to yourself?” This quote completely describes me. Although I suffered from a nasty bout of EDNOS that was sending me towards the low 90lb range, today I am maintaining a stable weight. I am physically very healthy. The ruthless self-hate talk is all that remains. It is obsessive. It is anxiety-driven. It is unfair.

“If you don’t work out today, you will become fat.”

“You can’t wear that outfit, it will show your flaws. Go put on a baggy, black t-shirt.”

“You don’t deserve two desserts in one day! No one needs that. Eat some fruit instead.”

“You are out of control.”

“You can’t risk losing your figure. You do want a job, don’t you?”

“You are a failure. You will make nothing of yourself.”

I could never speak like that to a friend. Or a child. It dawned on me this evening that some parents do speak like that to their children. I tried to imagine how much worse off I would be if my mother spoke to me like I speak to myself. I wouldn’t want to be her friend or her daughter.

If I wouldn’t tolerate that kind of talk from anyone else, why should I tolerate it from myself? Why should it be something normal to think? It would make me angry if someone else told me that I wouldn’t get a job if I gained some weight. Or that I didn’t deserve two desserts – frankly, when should food be something to be earned? It is a human need.

Here’s to the people who understand what it feels like to be your own worst enemy. The beautiful thing about this is that we have the power to turn it around. The only thing we can control is how we feel about ourselves.