“And I said to my body, softly, ‘I want to be your friend,’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’” –Nayyirah Waheed
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.
Join the conversation “On Body Image” on ProjectBeyondBlue.com, the new depression community.
Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.
Originally published on Sanity Break.
I can relate. I’m in my 60s & have struggled with depression and body image my whole life. Even though I say I’m not struggling with how I look so much now, I’m still very modest (I’d wear a burqa if I could get away with it! but then I’d get even more attention which as an introvert is not what I’m looking for) & wear shorts & a T-shirt when swimming instead of a swim suit. But I have learned to love my body. It’s gotten me through 5 births. It expanded to fit those babies, and worked with a mind of its own to get them born. It has carried me through my whole life, takes me everywhere I’ve needed to go, sits me down to rest, lies me down to sleep, digests whatever I put into my mouth to fuel me, provided me with the senses to enjoy the world. It has been amazingly generous with me, far more than I with it. It has taught me that it and I are one, and as I pay more attention to it and give it more care, I’m finding my whole self, body & all the rest, are getting more well. I know you also have this gratitude, as you are a much more physical (running, swimming) person than I. I’m learning it sort of late in life, and remembering the blessings of the body is making the depression easier to bear and the future more hopeful. Thanks for a great post!
Thank you, Holly. I appreciate your comment … so hopeful!
I love the appreciation you have learned for your body. I will remember your words.
Therese you have all my sympathy for your undiagnosed digestive problem. Although my experience may well be with something totally different, it sure sounds like what I have suffered with ever since my teens. My belly used to swell like a balloon so I could hardly fit in my clothes at times and having always been very body-conscious, I was very depressed about it. I know stress always made it worse. From the age of 12 I had back problems but it was not until my late 50’s that I was diagnosed with scoliosis as well as degenerative disc disease. I ended up having a multi level spinal fusion which totally changed the shape of the lower part of my body and since that time I have only rarely suffered from the swelling-belly thing. My theory (one of them, I have lots) is that because of the scoliosis, my lower intestines were too cramped and like a hosepipe that so easily gets kinked, my intestines would knot up.It was particularly bad if I had to sit for long periods, like when I was in college or on a long ‘plane trip. My belly would be like a basketball. At least that is what it felt like . Now that I am a more normal shape, things are working better. Not perfect, of course, as we all know antidepressants and painkillers have side effects, but I tend not to get the swollen belly very much. I still suffer with acid reflux but you are the first person I have ever heard describe the problem I had for so long. I really thought this was just another “Carolyn” problem. I am so sorry to hear that you suffer from it and I only wish I had something to suggest for you.
Thank you, Carolyn. I have tested positive for SIBO, small intestine bacteria overgrowth, and possibly Crohn’s disease. So I think I’m finally heading down the path to understand it. But it’s been a frustrating journey!
When I tried a certain anti-depressant, my stomach got very bloated and I experienced a lot of gas discomfort. The drug did give me some relief, but the gas, bloating and stomach distension were too much ……..and this was a factor from the start, so I’m sure you would have put two and two together if this was the result of starting a new med. I did look like I was pregnant though. Now I, like a lot of mothers do have a small “stomach”, but nothing like what I had when I was on the Abilify.
Thank you, Rita!