Why I don’t love my body and I don’t really care
Loving your body is seen as the Holy Grail of eating disorder recovery. It’s taught and preached from every street corner in the ED world. Loving your body and your appearance is seen as both the key to preventing EDs and recovering from them.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: I’m in recovery and I don’t love my body.
There. I said it. I don’t love my body and my recovery is JUST FINE, thank you very much.
I’ve had body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember. I was at my 6th birthday party and horrified to learn that my new clothes were size 6X. When I turned 4, I wore size 4T. When I turned 5, I wore size 5. But now at age 6, I had somehow skipped over the 6’s and straight into 6X. I was completely mortified. I don’t think it had anything to do with culture–it was myself and my own idiosyncrasies. But there you have it.
I always overestimated by own size. I (mostly) didn’t care because, for a long time, I had no idea that I even was overestimating my size. I never questioned it because I never had a reason to question it.
While the ongoing body dysmorphia probably helped to spur along the idea that eating better, exercising more, and losing a few pounds would help with my crushing depression, I didn’t get seriously delusional about my size until after the onset of anorexia. Even then, I didn’t so much perceive myself as obese as much as it just never really registered in my brain that I had lost weight. I saw and felt the same person I always did, no matter how much I shrunk. I couldn’t see why people were worried.
I only really felt “huge” if one of my anorexic rituals was broken or interrupted. Then, the feelings of “fat” were very much like my OCD contamination fears. Only instead of germs, I felt contaminated with fat. Instead of washing my hands or scrubbing my house, I exercised, starved, or purged.
When I began to regain weight, however, I seriously lost my mind. It was awful. You had the interruption of the AN rituals plus the inability to alleviate those feelings with ED behaviors. I repeatedly self-harmed because I just couldn’t stand it. I wore either ginormous, baggy clothing to hide my figure or really tight, “sick” clothes in outright denial that anything had changed. As I adjusted to the “new normal” of regular eating, healthy activity, and no purging, the intense, paranoid, delusional body dysmorphia began its slow retreat.
But it never disappeared. Not really.
Here I am today, mostly behavior free (I have my very occasional moments, let’s face it), and I still can’t estimate my true size for crap, and I still don’t like my body. So what gives?
For one, I have learned to be much more calm and rational about what my feelings of body dysmorphia mean. I know I overestimate my size. I know feelings of anxiety and depression often mean the body dysmorphia ramps up (as do the ED urges, though they seem to be parallel rather than the body dysmorphia driving the ED or vice versa). I also know that these feelings don’t reflect reality. My body dysmorphia can be a complete roller coaster, but my weight has been exactly the same (within a 1-2 pound range) for at least the last 6 months, with small exceptions for illness. Clearly, my feelings about the size and shape of my body aren’t reflected in reality.
For another, I have learned to separate my feelings about my body with my own self-worth. Outside of the ED, my body dysmorphia wasn’t a strong driver of my low self-esteem and self-worth. It was a factor, sure, but not a very large one. I always preferred to be valued for my work, academic achievements, and other things that how I looked. The ED changed that somewhat, in part because I used my weight and appearance as a marker of how well I was doing at the AN behaviors. If my weight was low or at least on the way down, then it meant I wasn’t eating too much or being “lazy.”
Lastly, I worked on accepting my size and shape. I don’t like it, and I don’t have to. But unless I want to stay immersed in the ED, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. My family is from Eastern Europe, which generally doesn’t produce large numbers of tall, thin people. At least it doesn’t in my family.
I talked with my therapist about this issue for quite some time, and I flat-out laughed at the idea of looking at myself in the mirror and repeating affirmations telling myself I was a sexy beast and that I loved my body. I couldn’t do it. So instead, we began working on not letting my body dysmorphia interfere with the life I wanted to live. I met friends at the beach last summer. I didn’t particularly like the idea, but I valued the friendship and I went. Once I got there, it really wasn’t a big deal. Going to the beach in a bathing suit might not be the easiest thing (also, I’m a ginger and I burn really easily, so there are other factors besides putting on a swimsuit that make the idea less than appealing), but I know I can do it. My friends mean more than any possible bad feelings I might have about wearing Spandex in public.
And that has really made the difference. The body dysmorphia is still there, but doing what I need to do (eating no matter how shitty I feel, wearing the bathing suit to the beach to be with friends) has made it less of an issue for me. Instead of a blaring TV program that you can’t help but pay attention to, the body dysmorphia has now turned the volume way down. Only rarely do I really pay attention, and I can usually refocus on what I need or want to do rather than become utterly transfixed.
Is this ideal? I don’t know. But it works for me. I don’t need to love my body, I don’t need to value my appearance. It’s such a small part of who I am. If I’m going to get upset about a part of myself that isn’t ideal, I’d rather worry about my skills as a writer and my ability to be a good friend and family member.
So I don’t love my body. So what?