For years I suffered with bulimia, and even as I phrase this in the past tense I know this is a demon I will always struggle with and potentially never be completely “free” from; just like a clean alcoholic is still an alcoholic, I see myself as a recovering bulimic. Whilst I fully understand that the origins and perpetuating factors of my eating disorder are not all directly linked with food and have a relationship, instead, with shame, it would be foolish not to recognise that a good few have strong links with both eating and body image. The full list is extensive, but to name a few: shame about my weight, shame about the food I have just eaten, shame about lack of control, shame about not having the “perfect” body, shame about who I am, shame at not being someone else, shame about the things I feel, shame at not being able to stop myself, shame at not getting a hold on my shame. I therefore know first-hand how damaging it is when we compare ourselves to others and when we pass judgement on one another; two things I see happening more and more when it comes to our bodies.
I can get dressed in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and feel good about myself. I can then step out the front door and be faced with someone more pretty/slim/short/petite/graceful/lean/fit than I am and any ounce of self-confidence I had moments before vanishes into dust. I work so hard on loving and accepting myself as I am, but it becomes increasingly difficult when we are continually told how we should look and what size/shape our bodies should be, and what is and isn’t good enough. When we are blasted for being too fat or too thin, when we are publicly body shamed. When we pass any judgement on how someone physically looks. When we put it under so much scrutiny and attack.
I have literally tormented myself over something I have eaten – I resorted to secret eating followed by secret punishment because I am embarrassed both by how I look and what I eat. To battle this I am working on moving towards compassion and moving away from punishment – if I want to eat something then I will, and I won’t do it in private, and I will try to know when to stop but if I don’t and happen to eat too much then I won’t feel shame or beat myself up about it. Sure, I may be dumpy round the edges, more bulge than curve, but my body isn’t here to look good in or out of clothes. I like to think that it can sometimes look good, but it can also do so much more that.
It can rhythmically respond to music that touches my soul. It can curl up in a self-nurturing ball and keep me warm. It can hold those I care about in comfort and affection. It can gesticulate wildly and speak for me when I become passionate. It can feed, clean and dress me. It can express love and intimacy to my partner. It can run away or towards as if my life depended on it. It carries me when I no longer have the energy to carry myself. It can take me forth into the wild unknown and pull me back for protection. It can be energised and fluid for sports, or still and sturdy for supporting others. It can create new life. It carries my life.
My body is mine; not yours, not anyone else’s. It is not fair game. It belongs to me. My body is my only tool; it is worth celebrating, not verbally destroying.
But aside from that, I have so many other things to offer that have absolutely nothing to do with my body. The size and shape of my body hasn’t influenced my intellect or my academic achievements. It doesn’t impact how hard you laugh at my jokes or how witty I may be. It doesn’t make me a better or worse friend. It doesn’t light the fire that flames both my anger and my passion. The number on the scales is not the total sum of my relationships. It doesn’t correlate to how much love I can give to my boyfriend. It doesn’t feed into how hard I work in my job. It doesn’t equate to how much I help others or try to sacrifice my own needs. It doesn’t form my creativity. It doesn’t determine my self-worth.
I am so much more than my body.