I am 26 and I have never loved my body the way it deserves.
The hardest part about explaining a sensitive topic is stressing that I don’t want attention. I am not fishing for compliments. I am not looking to be told I am beautiful, or that I shouldn’t worry. Flattery, even while possibly genuine, means nothing.
For me, opening up about something like this has always been a risk, inevitably accompanied by ridicule and judgment. But, the moment we judge is the moment we fail. We fail our children, our friends, our classmates, and — most importantly — ourselves.
I have always allowed myself to dwell on the fear of not being understood. Like a trap, I imagine what people will say when I try to explain what’s going on in my head.
“Oh, Haley — just eat the cake.”
“You’re seriously going to the gym again? That’s insane.”
“Shut up, you’re really annoying. You look fine.”
As I sit here, my stomach is cramping. The waistline of my jean shorts feels like it’s getting tighter, and the anxiety is shooting through my body like a chill.
I have become somewhat self-aware with age, and I know that I was blessed with a petite figure. I’m 5'1, 123 pounds, and I wish someone had asked me to be the star of Super Size Me because, at times, that’s the way I want to eat. But here’s what some can’t — or don’t — understand: That really doesn’t matter.
My awareness of how I look on the outside, the way others might see me, will never be enough to change the way I choose to see myself.
I would take off my clothes, stare at myself, and start pinching all of the places on my body I hated.
I went to private school until I was in sixth grade. We wore uniforms, so the dresses were long, and everything else was an unflattering box shape. I never really put much thought into my outfits or how things fit me, and since everyone else around me looked basically the same, I never spent time wondering what anyone thought.
So when I started public school, I inevitably began to notice myself, my body. I stayed somewhat sheltered and untouched by people’s judgment at first, but once I was in high school, the whispers and comments were impossible to ignore.
I can’t even count how many hours I spent standing in front of the long mirror on the back of my bedroom door, crying. I would take off my clothes, stare at myself, and start pinching all of the places on my body I hated. I would pinch so hard — and for so long — that the bruises would immediately turn a reddish-blue color.
It sounds extreme, but I thought if I was too embarrassed to show the bruises, it would help me work hard enough to change all of those areas I didn’t like.
I wish I only did this for a week before coming to realize that it was absolutely not healthy, but it went on for a year or two before my feelings got more intense, harder to ignore.
For years, I had incorrectly assumed that when someone hates their body, it’s just because they wish they were thinner. While that was where my problems started, worrying about my weight was only the beginning.
My nose has a round tip and turns up just slightly. When I was 16, a group of girls decided I had a pig nose. At first, they would walk behind me and oink, making comments about my nose and sometimes my body. Then they started leaving pictures of pigs on my locker, or throwing them in the form of paper airplanes at me during lunch. But what still hurts — and will always seem unbelievable to me — is when these girls posted a picture online of them holding their noses up, like pigs. And when I scrolled through the comments, other classmates said it looked like me.
After years of ridiculing my own body, my biggest insecurity became something I couldn’t pinch obsessively, or hide under clothes. I was no longer looking in the mirror and just hating the extra skin on my stomach, or the fact that my thighs touched. I now had things to hate that were completely out of my control. So, what did I do? Well, I tried to break it. If I could do that, then someone would have to fix it — fix me.
I remember standing with my back against the frame of my bedroom door, slamming the door into my face as hard as I could, over and over again. I was sobbing, and I can still remember that sadness — the feeling of emptiness, and in a lot of ways, embarrassment. Luckily, to my naive surprise, I realized that it’s kind of hard to break your own nose.
Since I couldn’t change my more permanent features, I started obsessing over what — and how much — I ate. In my head, this was how I could fix everything. People would have to stop pointing and laughing at my face if my body was something they liked.
If I shouldn’t be comparing my appearance to anyone else’s, then I shouldn’t be comparing my pain.
I could go days without a morsel of real food. If I was really hungry, I would eat ice chips, or splurge on an ice pop just so I could have some flavor. The frustrating part about this was that I immediately expected to drop weight, to feel better about myself, and that wasn’t what happened. I was miserable at best.
One day, my body decided it was done being hungry. Malnourished, I collapsed and tumbled down the stairs.
I will never forget the look on my mom’s face. It was fear, anger, sadness, and guilt, somehow all pouring out of her eyes while she held me. I knew in that moment I had to make a change. I couldn’t live my life in this dark place forever.
That was almost 10 years ago. And, as I write this, I wish I could say I love myself, my body, my nose — but I don’t always. Every time I fail in any fashion, I resort to self-criticism. Sometimes, I am really just mad at myself for not being better. Not being thinner, having nicer legs, a smaller nose, bigger boobs, less of a child-like face.
While there are people struggling with this worse than I have, I still struggle. If I shouldn’t be comparing my appearance to anyone else’s, then I shouldn’t be comparing my pain.
I’ll be honest, it’s not easy to eat three meals a day. But I make sure that I do. With practice, exercising became less of a way to be thinner and more of a desire to be stronger. I still argue with myself almost every day about what I see in the mirror, but at least now I am able to hug myself instead of pinch and starve. I have accepted that this is something I will deal with forever, but I want to show myself I can survive my own criticism.
When I put something on that makes me feel bad about my body, I just get rid of it. On the days I feel good, I embrace it. When I want McDonalds, I fucking eat it.
I am beautiful. I am strong. I am trying to love my body the way it deserves.