I was an active, athletic child. I played softball and was a competitive cheerleader all through high school. I wore shorts quite a bit back then - as a cheerleader, it was practically required. Then as I reached puberty and began to grow into adulthood, my body changed, and I also grew into poor coping mechanisms and unhealthy habits surrounding food. Plus, I started experiencing these new feelings of guilt and shame associated with it all. I was no longer the “little Nicky” that I had been growing up. Although even in those days, I remember being insecure about my belly all the way back to middle school (and probably earlier) when I was just a tiny little thing. Never wanting to wear bathing suits or tight shirts. Always self-conscious.
But when I got older, it truly felt like I had a secret to keep. Like the way I hoped the world saw me, the way I needed the world to see me (small and cute), was not real. It was just a facade that I did my best to keep up.
So all along, I had been dealing with inner turmoil about my body. But then, in addition to watching my girlfriends transition beautifully into their perfect (to me) early womanhood bodies while I struggled with mine, people in my life started making comments to me that have stuck with me through so many phases of my life. Words like “I didn’t realize your ankles were bigger than mine,” “thunder thighs,” “thick,” “round.” None of these things were said with malice, but when I realized that what I felt inside was visible to the outside world, it felt like my facade had completely shattered.
My secret was out. I felt like I was living in someone else’s body. I felt like a fraud. I hated becoming a woman, because it didn’t feel natural to me. I was supposed to be small. I wasn’t supposed to take up so much space. I wanted to have a beautiful body like my friends. I wanted to go back to the time when I was often the smallest person in the room.
In a desperate attempt to regain control over this narrative, I tried everything to shrink myself. I tried “healthy eating and exercise,” but I didn’t have any good life models in that area, and I was uninformed on how to actually go about it in a sustainable way. I barely knew what “healthy” eating even looked like.
Unfortunately, there were many women in my life who struggled with eating disorders, so I also tried restricting. I tried purging. Rationally, as I had seen the struggle of so many close to me, I knew that was a path I didn’t want to travel. But I also couldn’t deal with the way I was feeling about myself and my body, and I thought shrinking was the solution. I still thought that I was meant to be small. That I was supposed to take up less space. I would’ve tried anything.
This body I was living in felt like a stranger to me, and I wanted to crawl my way out, emerging as the sweet and petite human I was supposed to be. The “real” me.
After many tears on the bathroom floor, self-battles at an open refrigerator door, and hate-filled stares in the mirror, I was never able to fully follow through with the restricting or the purging. I shamed myself for not having enough control. For not being as “disciplined as those other girls.” For being weak. Gluttonous.
On the other hand, exercise felt like something I could kind of control, so I went through phases of exercising a lot. I’d weigh and measure myself every morning, keep track of the numbers in a notebook, and also write down every single thing I ate that day. If the weight would go up a pound or two from the previous day, I’d add a sad face next to the number and adjust my food intake and amount of movement accordingly.
My weight would fluctuate with these phases, dipping down to numbers that should have made me happy, but my negative body image remained steady. My self-worth dependent on the size of my physical vessel.
Through it all, I still felt as if I was hiding something, like I was wearing a mask. I felt super clever - like I could hide my real body with the clothes I wore and the angles I found in photos. I could trick the world into thinking I was smaller than I was, because that’s how I felt I was supposed to be. Even when, by most of society’s standards, I was already small.
I also felt that if I took this mask off, if I revealed how I actually looked, that no one would love me. For years, in order to keep my secret, I avoided intimate relationships with guys I liked, I avoided fun with friends, I NEVER went swimming, I wouldn’t even change in front of my closest friends. I never wore shorts or tank tops in public. I did everything I could to keep up the act of remaining this smaller version of myself I thought (I hoped) everyone perceived me to be.
Eventually I found yoga, plant-based living (which feels anything but restrictive for me personally), and other self-love practices that have changed my life by bringing me a little closer every day to my true self. A little closer to seeing that my value does not lie in the size of my body and all of its individual parts.
It’s a constant journey, and it’s definitely not without its ups and downs. Don’t get me wrong - I still have my days where these old thought patterns creep in. I still have my insecurities when wearing certain clothes or when “too much” skin is showing. Occasionally, with a less-than-kind tone, I’ll refer to my legs as “thick.” I still catch myself in feelings of guilt or shame or comparison in regards to specific food rules or body aesthetic. My weight and size and shape still fluctuate (because I’m a human being, living a full life).
But I am proud to say that, in my 30th year of life, I wear shorts and tank tops in public. I eat what I want with less guilt (most of the time). And when I do feel myself spiraling into shame, I have better tools to show myself kindness. Mostly, I feel like I am exactly who I am “supposed” to be, no matter what phase my body is currently in, and that I am always worthy of my own love.
This is my story. And in talking to countless other women, it seems that I am not even close to alone in this. So many of us have had similar experiences, and I wanted to share mine to remind you that you are not alone.
I used to think that since I never actually suffered from a severe eating disorder, my story was irrelevant. I felt silly talking about it, because in comparison to others, my struggles seemed minor. I also felt like I was meant to help support women struggling with these kinds of issues, so I couldn’t let on that I was struggling myself.
But I see now that my experience is valid. And so is yours, no matter what it looks like. For many of us, these struggles are simply symptoms of a deeper issue. It’s time to take our power back. It’s time to get down to the roots and start healing from there, so that we can enjoy our lives & fall in love with our bodies (or at least treat them w/ love) in each moment, no matter what. We deserve that & so much more.
My friend Lauren (@thesimplestself on Instagram) is a trauma-informed yoga instructor and empowerment coach who offers so much support in these areas. I highly recommend following her and checking out her work if this resonates with you. Her website is www.thesimplestself.com.