06. January 2017 · 1 comment · Categories: 365 Project · Tags:

A few Christmases ago, my husband gave me these flaming red (I’m gonna call them) hot pants. I’ve worn them all of three times.

Two of those times were in the last two weeks.

These red pants are clearly awesome. Clearly. But it takes a certain degree of confidence to walk into the gym, or anywhere, wearing red hot pants (because people will look at you). A few Christmases ago I didn’t have much confidence so I wasn’t comfortable with people looking at me. I couldn’t handle the thought of people looking at me and judging the way my body looked.

My body image has evolved dramatically over the last two years. At the beginning of my recovery in 2015, my eating disorder controlled most of my thoughts. And she was a bully. A mean, nasty bully who loved nothing more than to make me feel horrible and then play the hero and numb the pain (that she caused).

During recovery, I focused a lot of my time and attention on building up and strengthening my healthy self. That meant first identifying I had a healthy self (I did!) Once I found her and heard her voice, I started noticing her more.

I noticed how every time she said something the eating disorder shut her down, belittled her, degraded her.

I noticed how sometimes she wouldn’t say anything because she knew she’d be ignored. Or how sometimes she kept quiet just to have a respite from the harassment.

The more I noticed her, the more I wanted to help her. Nurture her. Love her. So I started listening to her. Asking what she needed and then meeting those needs. She got stronger.  As my healthy self got stronger, the eating disorder got smaller. Quieter.

Eventually, the berating and belittling faded away and I was able to say goodbye to my eating disordered self (see A Dialogue). For the first time in forty years, I didn’t have to hide, numb or defend myself against an unrelenting bully. Finally, I had a safe space on the inside to continue healing.

Healing takes time (even in a safe space) so I didn’t immediately fall in love with my body. But for the first time in my life, I didn’t hate it either.

In Cease-fire, I wrote:

By changing how I looked at my body, I was able to heal my body image. My body image now hovers at “neutral, with positive tendencies.” I focus on who I am and what I can do as opposed to what I look like. Maintaining and improving my body image is still a work in progress and continues to yield high returns. I am free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors and, although you may not be able to see it or measure it, I’ve changed. And its changed everything.

Changing the way I looked at my body took patience and practice. And while my eating disorder wasn’t around to tell me that my body and I weren’t good enough, diet and intentional weight loss culture and popular culture made sure I got the message.

I spent the better part of 2016 learning how to love my body (I wrote about it here). My journey took almost a full year because it was full of triggers (ahem, diet and intentional weight loss culture and popular culture). Sometimes it took me a day, a week or a month to defuse and process through a trigger (self care, self care, self care).

I challenged, broke down and rebuilt many of my core values about being a woman in this world. I confronted my deeply held beliefs on health, weight, and beauty. I challenged the way I talk to and relate to myself and others. It took a lot of patience, self love and trial and error but I did it.

I’m still doing it.

Today, I wear my awesome flaming red hotpants, not because I love the way my body looks but because of the loving way I look at my body. I love the way my body feels. I love what my body does. I love that my body gives me the ability to live my life.

It’s like Taryn Brumfitt says, “My body is not an ornament, it is the vehicle to my dreams.”

Have a great weekend!

 

 

Flower

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a negative body image. The crippling doubt, loneliness, shame and depression that accompanied my self-hatred started long before eating disordered thoughts and behaviors showed up and remained after the eating disorder thoughts and behaviors disappeared. While I received my fair share of wounds from other people, the most detrimental  wounds to my self-esteem came from the sniper inside the face in the mirror.

I wanted to change. I wanted to love myself or, at the very least, like myself. I thought the only way to change was to change the way my body looked. If other people liked my body, then I would like my body. The only way I thought other people would like my body was if it fit the objective standard of beauty set by our society…Thin.

Consequently, what I weighed and what I looked like became more important than who I was. From the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, I focused on losing weight. I was “good” if I ate food and did activities to facilitate weight loss. I was “bad” if I veered even the slightest bit from my weight-loss plan. I was “bad” if I didn’t work out and would beat myself up about it. I was “bad” if I had even a bite of something not on my “good” list. I knew if I had a bite of something “bad” then the day would be ruined and I would continue eating “bad” things the rest of the day. I would go to bed hating myself, thinking I was failure and no wonder I was so fat and miserable. I’d tell myself that tomorrow I would be “good,” but in the back of my head I knew I would fail.

It took me almost three decades, and a significant amount of therapy and hard work, to realize the fundamental flaw in my line of reasoning. I can’t read minds. I can only interpret what I think other people think of my body. And since all my thoughts filtered through my “Ali Sucks” lens, I was locked in a vicious cycle chasing an illusion.

I also operated under the misguided belief that change only mattered if it could be seen, measured and validated by other people. I was wrong. So wrong. Improving my body image was not about changing the way my body looked, it was about changing the way I looked at my body.

Changing the way I looked at my body wasn’t easy. I had to call a cease-fire. Eating Disorder Ali had to stop belittling and demeaning me at every turn (even Healthy Ali has an inner critic that I sometimes need to remind to be kind). Rather than beat myself down when I looked in the mirror or said or did something I thought was stupid, I gave myself a break. I told myself that I was enough. No matter what I did or said or looked like, I was worthy of love and belonging. To be fair, I didn’t believe it at first. But the positive affirmations helped me maintain the cease-fire and without the constant barrage of negative self statements, my self-esteem began to heal.

I also had to stop trying to change the way my body looked. That involved letting go of a decades long obsession with trying to lose weight. Letting go of something that defined my existence for so long seemed impossible. In Writing Assignment #2: Exploring My Phase of Recovery, I wrote:

I pictured myself adrift in an ocean holding tightly to a lifesaver that read “WEIGHT LOSS AS A GOAL.”  For whatever reason, I had been clinging to that lifesaver my whole life. Holding on for dear life. So I started letting go. It was scary, no terrifying, but little by little I began to realize that I didn’t need that lifesaver anymore. It turned out it wasn’t a lifesaver at all, it was an anchor.

Letting go of weight-loss as a goal was a monumental step and I will go into much more detail about this step in another post. I have also forsworn the dark side of The Force, or “the scale” as others call it. It is incredible how much power a little inanimate object can hold over a human being. I haven’t stepped on a scale since March 2015 and I have zero intention of ever doing so again.

By changing how I looked at my body, I was able to heal my body image. My body image now hovers at “neutral, with positive tendencies.” I focus on who I am and what I can do as opposed to what I look like. Maintaining and improving my body image is still a work in progress and continues to yield high returns. I am free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors and, although you may not be able to see it or measure it, I’ve changed. And its changed everything.