I was body shamed as a kid, and then I was diagnosed with PCOS as a teenager. So since childhood, I didn’t just have to deal with my family members, teachers and friends taunting me to lose weight, but also doctors and other medical professionals.
I tried all kinds of fad diets to fit into society (and not to forget, skinny jeans). When nothing worked, I lost weight by counting calories, starving myself, and burning out twice the calories I’d eat. Yup, it’s problematic, but no one pointed that out to me because, everyone was too busy telling me 1) how thin (read: sunken eyed, pale skin, extremely weak) and 2) ‘pretty’ I was. They told me I could finally go on dates, wear short dresses, and (ironically) be myself. But that was all background noise, because the only thing I heard was that I was finally accepted.
That acceptance faded out really quickly when I steadily gained weight in the past year. If you are reading this piece looking for a reason for my weight gain, I could tell you that it’s because I enjoy food now, I decided to ‘YOLO’, or that I finally started loving my body for all that it does and is - but none of that is true. I gained weight with no apparent reason in sight (apart from my eating and exercising for survival, obviously) - and I hated every bit of it.
No one talks about it, but this discomfort of dealing with disordered eating is real. I’d stopped looking at my body in the mirror for some time. I constantly looked for reassurance from people around me; I desperately needed someone to say that I looked pretty (- meaning I look thin - meaning I will not be shamed - meaning I am accepted). Then I realised over time that the first (not so fun) stage of being okay with weight gain is constantly worrying that people will judge (or worse, leave) you because you’re not the same person anymore.
But you know what’s worse than being judged by others? Being shamed by my own mind. There’s this record constantly playing in my head that’s scolding me for eating ice cream, or telling me to workout for at least 2 hours to make up for the quarter pint of vanilla. Yes, I sit and rationalise these thoughts and sure, it gets easier after a point, but it’s still hurtful. I hate that I talk to myself like that; it makes me feel insecure, and truth be told, disgusted by my own body and mind. I’m not going to lie, there’ve been times where I thought I’d be calmer if I went back to eating less and exercising a lot more because it felt easier to work on my body with anger than with acceptance.
I’m not saying that these thoughts and feelings never dissipate. I have days where I don’t think of food as my arch nemesis, and I love it. What I’m trying to highlight is that if you are struggling with body image or disordered eating concerns, more often than not, it will take you years of discomfort to reach actual ‘acceptance and love’ for yourself. And no one talks about it. That crucial switch from negative to positive (or even neutral) is not as easy as most people make it out to be. It takes guts (and a lot of courage) to actually just go to a bakery and look at their menu for what it is. Because for us, it’s more than just tasty, decadent desserts. It’s also numbers, nutritional values and anxiety.
The first time I went to a cake shop just to eat a slice of cake because I was craving some chocolate, I silently cried on my way back. So, yes, it’s freeing - but the healing is tiresome, extremely uncomfortable and never linear. You might think of food as energy components, till one fine day, it becomes about the amount of fats and carbs in that one plate, and suddenly you're anxious again.
It’s been a few months since I told everyone that I’ve healed from my disordered eating. But over time, I’ve realised that I am not completely there yet. I still cannot see myself gaining weight, I hate not fitting into my skinny jeans and I dislike the extra curves. I know I’m still on that path of healing but it’s going to take me a few more years, lots of rationalising, and therapy to reach a point of acceptance. It’s a long work in progress situation, and that’s exactly why I'm here writing about it.
From what I’ve seen on the internet over the past few years, I know people don’t talk about the ugly side of body image issues. I might say ‘I love myself’, ‘I eat for my body’, or that ‘I gained weight and that’s okay’, but it takes a lot more than that to actually understand and believe those words. The shame we have internalised can and will be very painful and will affect us for the entirety of our lives. That’s precisely why reaching a space of acceptance doesn't have to be only hearts, positivity and affirmations. We also have to acknowledge that puddle of shame, disgust and dislike we feel towards ourselves because that’s where it all started anyway, right?
So start from there - start from your own self-talk and sense of self.
Talk about the shame. It’s the first step you didn’t know that you needed.