Every Memorial Day I am reminded that I am not yet my body’s friend. In fact, the day that marks the start of summer is more like Armageddon for anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder or poor body image . . . which is most women in this country.
In the United States, 20 million women suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. According to the Social Issues Research Center, as many as 80 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies, over-estimating their size. “Increasing numbers of normal, attractive women, with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders, look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat,” said a summary of research on body image. In a study at Brown University, 74.4 percent of the normal-weight women stated they thought about their weight or appearance “all the time” or “frequently.”
I don’t talk about my body-image issues or my recovery from an eating disorder much on this blog because I like to pretend I’m cured. However, all it takes is one comment, especially on show-your-body-off-for-the-first-time-this-season day to bring me right back to my anorexic days in ninth grade when I fretted the needle inching past 104 pounds. I had lost my period because I was so thin and was wearing long underwear underneath my jeans so that my mom wouldn’t notice how they hung off my hips. But when I looked into the mirror all I saw was an ugly, immense whale of a girl.
“Mom, you look pregnant,” my son said to me as my daughter and I were on our way out the door to the pool yesterday.
This is nothing new. My kids say it to me all the time. I have a gastrointestinal condition (yet to be diagnosed) that has me so bloated on certain days that I look anywhere between two to five months pregnant. I have been asked four times in the last two years by people (other than my family) if I am pregnant.
I looked at my husband, who has yet to lie to me about weight issues, “Do I?”
“Well…..,” he says, “it’s substantial.”
“Only two months,” David says.
“Let’s name him Tommy!” Katherine chimes in.
When we get to the pool, I don’t want to take off my clothes. I secure two chairs at the farthest end where no one will find us.
I study other women’s bodies. I compare them to mine.
“How in the world does Tina (who is wearing a skimpy brown bikini) have the time to get six-pack abs and the whole package that I KNOW takes a minimum of 20 hours of gym time per week?” I ask myself. “She works full time and has three kids.”
I presume I am doing something wrong, of course.
I swim 4,000 yards or run six miles each day and eat ridiculously healthy, but I appear maternal, on my way to labor, and she is a babe.
I see some friends and they invite me to sit with them.
One of them asks me if I’m pregnant.
This is before I have taken off my top.
I know she is not being mean. None of the other three meant to be cruel. She tries to make me feel better saying, “Someone who is as fit as you shouldn’t have such a bulge.”
That is the third time I’ve heard that.
I’m left feeling incredibly uncomfortable in my body, like I felt in the eighth grade, when my ballet teacher told me I wasn’t “THAT fat” because I wasn’t a waif like the other dancers who aspired to be professional ballerinas. I started losing weight and couldn’t stop. The typical anorexic, I got high off the control I suddenly had over my body. My disordered eating continued through high school and probably would have through college had my counselor at Saint Mary’s College not intervened and made me own up to the distortions in my head. Together we worked on a new relationship with food and my body. I promised her a few months into my freshman year that I would eat three meals a day.
I have kept that promise to this day.
But ouch. It is so incredibly hard to accept and love an imperfect body in today’s culture of bikini babes flaunting their stuff on Armageddon because their bodies match the ones in the magazines. It’s difficult to do even without little people and big people asking you if there’s a bun in the oven. And it’s
My challenge to love my body feels harder today than it was in my anorexic days because there may be nothing I can do about the bump but name it and laugh about it. However, I have to remember that the anxious, insecure girl wearing layers of clothes to hide an emaciated body was perfectly fine and beautiful then.
And she is fine and beautiful now.
Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.
Originally published on Sanity Break.