I have struggled with body image issues for as long as I can remember. I remember being a teen and looking at magazines with celebrities who looked perfect and deciding I should eat only salads. Not surprisingly, that failed. I became a vegetarian. Then the guilt crept in and I decided I should become vegan. At the time I didn’t know much about veganism, so I basically lived on potato chips. I could eventually fit into much smaller size pants. There were times where I nearly fainted. The doctor said my potassium was very low and obviously I was not eating nearly enough.
Food has always been an issue for me. Growing up and feeling like we never had enough or once the food stamps ran out, how were we going to get more food? Feeling guilt for just being a vegetarian and not a vegan. Eating a cookie and then beating myself up. Not eating one cookie and then eventually caving and eating six instead.
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Our society as a whole is messed up when it comes to food. I am grateful to have learned about diet culture. There are so many little messages, spoken and unspoken, about what we should or shouldn’t consume if we want the “perfect” body like the ones I saw in magazines as a teen. Don’t drink anything but water. Don’t eat white bread. Don’t eat anything that comes in a package. Skip meals. Drink water or chew gum to curb your hunger. Measure your food with a scale and then portion it out in different colored containers and don’t you dare eat more than what’s in those containers.
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The diet industry preys on our insecurities and promises weight loss. When one diet doesn’t work, we move on to the next. There are people on social media who work for companies like Beachbody (don’t get me started on the name of that company!) and recruit as many “boss babes” as possible so they themselves can get higher up within the company, all while selling overpriced shakes and acting like they own their own businesses. I’ve seen countless comments that say “#bodygoals” and not once have I seen these “boss babes” reply with “your body is great as it is.” It’s disturbing how companies prey on us like this and we’re not aware and don’t talk about it. It’s so ingrained in us that we don’t even see how harmful these behaviors can become.
All these years later and I can finally see how unhealthy it is to look at strangers and wish you looked like them. It’s not our fault we do this because it’s so normalized in this world. It’s not our fault companies sell makeup that will hide all of our “flaws.” But we can take the time to learn about what these companies do to keep us coming back for more. We can question the photos we see in magazines (hello Photoshop). We can read about body acceptance. We can eat and just let it be food, no good or bad. We can exercise for mental well-being and energy, not to achieve smaller bodies. We can sit down and thank the parts of our bodies we’ve been taught to hate (thighs, bellies, etc) for allowing us to move and giving us cues that it’s time to eat again. We can just be grateful for our bodies and what they do and not get lost in how they look.
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I wish I had been taught all these things when I was growing up. I wouldn’t have tried to shrink myself in order to been seen as beautiful or worthy or good enough. I believe that’s all it is really. When we try to shrink ourselves and mold ourselves into this sickeningly narrow ideal of what it takes to be enough/beautiful, we’re telling ourselves we’re not enough as we are. I’ve done that for so long and I’m tired.
Read more stories like this on The Mighty:
How Body Dysmorphic Disorder Has Affected Me Since I Was 2 Years Old
How I’m Learning to Embrace My Body, Even Though It Fails Me
What This Photo Project Taught Me About Body Positivity
How Writing Helped My Recovery From Body Dysmorphic Disorder