“One of the last things to go with an eating disorder is body image issues, ” my treatment team used to tell me often. I didn’t know what that meant until now. Body shaming and general body image issues hang on tight, even when you feel like you have the food relationship mostly healed. You may no longer compare what’s on your plate to what’s on the plate of your friends or loved ones, and yet you still size up your body with them in subtle ways. It’s almost like an unconscious thing that happens. You suddenly feel icky and you don’t know why. Then you remember that you were looking at your social media feed hours earlier and saw your friend who you think looks thinner in the face than you do. Then it clicks. The lightbulb goes off. I feel icky because I was comparing my face to my friend’s face only a few hours ago, which is leading me to fat shame myself while I stand in front of the mirror after a shower and I notice all the curves of my body. Suddenly, it dawns on you. You are hanging on to comparing your body to others still. And the sad news is, you don’t need to be suffering from an eating disorder to have body image issues. It is something that many women suffer from.
This relationship with your body remains tumultuous until you are willing to let go. Let go of what other people think. Let go of what society deems as beautiful. Let go of what society believes is an acceptable body. Let go of your own biases against size and shape of a body. And let go of comparing yourself to superstars and your own friends! Once you start practicing this, it becomes a little easier to stay in your own body while others around you are hell-bent on changing theirs. Is it easy? Hell no. Is it rewarding? Hell YES!!
One way I have done my own work in this space was to write a love letter to my body. My body has endured a lot and it is the only body I will ever get here on earth. I can love it or continue to ostracize it, which will start a shaming fest, which will trigger my old wounds to eat for comfort. Here’s my love letter to my body. I encourage you to write one yourself, even if you are not ready to love every bone in your body, because you have to start somewhere before you can heal inside.
You sure have endured a lot over the years. You’ve given birth to two beautiful children. You’ve attempted to pass three kidney stones on your own. You’ve successfully reworked the gallbladder’s job when it had to be removed. You recovered from chicken pox, diverticulosis, a sprained wrist, an ankle run over by a vehicle, vertigo, an ulcer, a fissure, extraction of wisdom teeth, and a swollen leg (that was not a blood clot thank goodness!). You are preparing for an upcoming hysterectomy and I am sure you will allow me to recover nicely from that too. You are gracefully recovering from an eating disorder in mid-life, which most likely started after years of putting you through diet after diet. You continue to work your best through bouts of occasional headaches and migraines, plantar fasciitis, anxiety, depression, asthma, menopause and arthritis. And you allow me to take nearly 20,000 breaths of air each day. That is simply amazing!
I want you to know how much I appreciate you. You have endured a lot. From the moment you were teased on the playground in the 5th grade, you started to be something that needed to be changed. I didn’t know how to offer self-compassion to you when those boys teased me. It turned in to years of putting you down and trying to change you. I called you names. I pinched you in places I hated. I shamed you in the mirror. And some days, I could not even look at you in the mirror. I covered you with a washcloth whenever naked in the tub. I didn’t think you were good enough. I thought the more I criticized you, the more you’d work to shed the weight. I was never happy with you. At the height of my eating disorder, I was completely ashamed of you. I allowed others to determine what beauty looked like.
And for all of this, I am truly and deeply sorry. You didn’t deserve any of this. You simply deserved my utmost respect. You are the vessel that is getting me through this life on earth. That is a huge job with so many external factors outside of your control. You’ve endured much and I’ve not been grateful for any of it. Until now. From now on, I vow to give you nothing but respect. And compassion. I want to smother you with respect and compassion because this might help erase an ounce of the harm I’ve caused you.
Thank you for all you’ve done for me. With much love and gratitude for you, XOXO Teresa.