If you could read the journals I kept from my college days, you would read about how I was never thin enough or how I ate too many calories or how proud I was if I succeeded in not eating or eating very little.
The moment I started to fall down the rabbit hole of “body not good enough” is forever etched in my mind. But, before we to that point, it’s important to step into the mind of pre-college Erin.
Society likes to tell us how inadequate we are. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll fall into its trap and then you’ll pass it on. I recall my sister being teased for her weight when we were in elementary school. I now know that children can be cruel and beautiful girls can be made to feel “less than,” but to a plastic, young mind, these are things are beyond our full comprehension. When my sister lost the weight and seemed, in my young mind, to become popular and confident, the glamour of it all amazed me.
As a quiet, introverted child who lacked confidence in many areas and noticed her own body changing, the physical change in my sister formed an impression that the size of your body, at least in part, equaled your worth.
Although painfully aware of being socially different in the eighth grade, high school is where I started to consciously feel the inadequacy of my body and appearance. This was due, partly, by the school system implementing uniforms: khaki or blue pants and white, green, or blue shirts. In middle school I cherished the comfort of the bathroom stalls while changing into and out of my P.E. clothes. I was acutely ashamed of my semi-naked body but comfortable in my own clothes. With the uniforms I felt fat and uncomfortable. Additionally, the humidity from morning marching band practice wreaked havoc on my already frizzy hair.
Self-conscious Erin had arrived and so did the pretending that everything was fine. This was the beginning of my struggle to love, not only myself, but also my body.
But it wasn’t until a cold day in November while standing in the lobby of my college’s band room and eating almonds out of a zip lock bag that the epiphany happened. You see, I was busy with school, band, work, and my sorority and so I wasn’t eating much. This wasn’t intentional. At that moment, the realization that not eating led to weight loss for me was something new entirely.
Of course there’s more to this story (there always is). Of course I knew what eating disorders were before that moment, but I loved food too much to ever think that they would become a part of my life. But sometimes life can become too much and we can’t see the beauty in who we are.
There’s a lot of shitty things that have happened in my life between that moment and now. But more importantly, there have been amazing things too.
I want to leave you with how I’ve learned to live in a world that sells us the lie that our self-worth is determined by the size of our waist.
- Don’t let your thoughts define or control you. You can control your thoughts. Changing my mindset, letting go of the negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones, has been the greatest thing I have done for myself. This can be challenging at first because we have made it a habit to listen to the false stories that our minds make up. But it does get easier. Once you become aware of your thinking you can mindfully choose to stop them when they arise, to not get caught falling down the rabbit hole of the emotions and the story that comes with it. Pema Chödrön in her book How to Mediate talks about noticing when we are “hooked” and states, “Notice when you’re triggered or activated. That’s the first step: you acknowledge that emotion has arisen. Next, I advise students to drop the story line and lean in.” At first it will seem disingenuous to stop the negative thought of, “I am unworthy of love and belonging,” and change it to, “I am worthy of love and belonging,” or you won’t want to lean in to your emotions. But, the more you are able to do it, the easier it is to see your beauty beyond your body.
- Find a community or someone you can share your struggles with. Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone, to feel like you’re the only one. Reaching out to people who can empathize and not shame you more for your struggles is one of the most amazing things you can do for yourself. Whether that is a friend, family member, support group, or professional, talking about our shame is how we defeat it. We’ll be vulnerable but it’s worth it. Vulnerability is not weakness; it is courage and strength.
- Realize that it’s normal have self-doubt and to struggle. It’s part of being human. Everybody experiences thoughts of not being “good enough.” It is normal. You are not alone. Remember: you are good enough and you are worthy of love and belonging.
- You will falter and fail – this journey to self-love is not linear. There were many times I was better only to revert back to restricting and nit picking the parts of me that didn’t “fit.” But I got back up. You can get back up. When you do fall, reach out to that community or that person because they will help you get back up and to not feel alone. Even now I have good days and bad days. But I’ve learned my thoughts do not define me and I have support in place that helps me know I’m not the only one that falters.
- Seek and follow body loving and positive people. In this social media world where we spend too much time online, don’t follow negative people. Don’t follow people that make you feel less than. On your worst days, the positive people will lift you up. And on your best days you will feel empowered and like the beautiful person you are.
And please, if you or someone you know needs help, visit my Resource page to find links to many great organizations.