T/W: Discussions of mental illness, eating disorders, and poor body image.
Hello readers, I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season with whatever you celebrate. If you celebrate nothing, that’s totally fine too and I hope you’re having a lovely winter season.
I want to talk about body image and the holidays today—how they go hand-in-hand and why we need to stop commenting on each other’s bodies!
I am going to start by telling my own story. If you’re new to my blog, or just haven’t read my post about my history with eating disorders, I am going to tell you that I have struggled for over 10 years at this point with multiple. The diagnosis has cycled and changed throughout time but now has settled on Bulimia.
When I first developed my eating disorder, I didn’t even know that it was a thing. I didn’t necessarily see it as a bad thing, and yet I did go to great lengths to hide what I was doing. I believe this is because my disorder stemmed from my depression.
I had a severe bout of depression (still do but at this time I was not diagnosed and untreated). I was thirteen close to fourteen years old. I would go to school and then come home feeling totally empty and drained. I never felt that anything I did was good enough, I was struggling to put any time into school, and I just wanted to be alone and do nothing else. This included eating.
As my depression got worse, food got harder to eat. I would go days with little to no food in my system and I felt ok with that. At this time it wasn’t with the intention to lose weight, but the feeling of just wanting to disappear.
I soon noticed however, that I was losing weight from this. Something that my body had seemingly never done before. I gained or maintained—losing weight never seemed attainable for the chubby girl that I had always been. So needless to say, I was excited. Even more so because people noticed! That’s when the fear started to creep in…
The fear that I would gain all of my weight back. The fear that I would be huge and alone and miserable like before. The kicker is, I was still miserable this way, but now I had a challenge, a secret, something that I wanted to “succeed” at.
So I continued to not eat. I would go to great lengths to eat as little as possible and continue to blame my “tiredness” (because depression was not in my vocabulary yet). Until one day, my mom had made dinner and she was on her way out. She didn’t expect me to eat—at that point I hadn’t expected it either—she still let me know that it was there if I wanted it.
Then she left. I was alone. Just me and the food. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was hungry…starving. I remember fighting with my own brain. Going back and forth about how I didn’t need it, that I would be ok, that we were fine with whatever menial thing we’d consumed that day (if anything). The cramping and gurgling in my stomach got so bad that I could no longer control my urge. It felt like a switch flipped in my brain and suddenly I was a ravenous animal staring down my prey.
I tore into the food—eating, eating, eating until my stomach was rounded and swollen and tears were dripping down my face. I was disgusted. That’s when things changed. I spit out the rest of the food in my mouth and that was the beginning. I thought then, maybe I could eat and then just get rid of it somehow. Quite literally having my cake and eating it too.
Anyway, this went on for many years. I still struggle now, because recovery is forever and some days are way better than others. Still, things are much better than they were. However, I still catch my brain wandering to thoughts filled with diet culture mentality—especially this time of year.
Why is that?
Well, I know exactly why. It’s the norm—the society we’re raised in. We’re conditioned to indulge during the holidays like it’s the last meals we’ll ever have and then immediately are shamed for it and are told to “reset” on January first. If you don’t “get your body back” in time for summer, then you’ve failed somehow.
That’s bullshit, but it’s hard to see that. Especially when even the people you love the most who can be the most caring people in the world spout similar thoughts of “we can start working out together”, “I’ve been so bad this week with my eating”, and “once New Years starts I’m done with ‘junk food’”.
And of course, we trust those that we love. We take what they say to heart and in turn, model ourselves after their words wanting that acceptance and praise from them—acknowledgment of a good job, even if they never meant to put you in that box at all.
See, there is no “junk food”. It’s just food—like all foods, some have different ingredients in them and so some might have more carbs or sugars but that doesn’t make them “bad”, just different. You don’t have to repent because you ate a cookie that somebody brought on a platter for a Christmas party. I assure you that it’s not going to make a huge difference on your “figure” and it’s ok to live and let yourself snack when you want to.
Even if you gained weight, you don’t have to “get your body back”. That logic is flawed. First of all, you didn’t lose your body, it’s still yours—it still gets you from point a to point b, takes you through your day, helps you survive, and it’s still beautiful. Yet, we say things like “get my body back” because the notion of gaining weight is so horrifying and frowned upon that we literally separate ourselves from our bodies until they are once again “acceptable”.
It’s sad and only pushes the agenda further that every bump, wrinkle, and curve is something to hate and get rid of. It doesn’t have to be this way though.
Sure, if you feel like exercising because it makes you happy and feel good then do it! That’s why I do it. Same with food—if there are foods that sit better with you and make you feel better then eat them! I just hope that it’s not based on the notion that you need to be less of you than you are right now.
I have been there—I still go there sometimes—and I can just tell you that not only is it not necessary but it’s so much more trouble than it’s worth just to fit an expectation that we didn’t even set for ourselves. These “rules” of what we should do and how we should look are so “one-size-fits-all” that not only is it impossible that it would even work for everyone (because we are all naturally different) but it is also harmful because it causes so many of us to set unattainable goals for ourselves—goals that cause many of us to actually do more harm than any potential good.
We have to love ourselves always. Depending on others comments and advice to get you through will only take you so far—often times it’s not a good place to go anyway. Also, commenting on someone’s body at all, even if it’s a “compliment” is shitty. We are so much more than these homes for the things that actually make us go and who we are. We need to give more praise and respect to what’s inside while also accepting what we are on the outside and that we are all beautiful and valid in appearing and existing in our own ways.
It’s also important to note that if you’re commenting “out of concern” that’s also bad. Consider, if you comment on how thin someone is getting you could potentially be encouraging poor behaviors if that person happens to be mentally ill. They could even just be physically sick, and it’s a side effect but somehow now you’re putting it into their head that they have a desired look, adding a whole new issue to what could be going on. They could also just be losing it in a “normal” way, but comments aren’t necessary because they put unnecessary pressure on something that was never anyone else’s business to begin with. Same thing with commenting on weight gain.
This is the bottom line, you’re not helping, you’re not being encouraging, and you’re not influencing change. This person knows what they look like. There could be a million reasons why their body looks a certain way but none of them are up for your opinion. Keep comments to yourself, focus on you and how you feel.
We need to try and stop putting these absurd expectations on each other and accept that we’re all here to take up space and live as we need to and that it’s ok! Especially during the holiday season. Indulge, or don’t, exercise, or don’t, have aspirations and goals, or don’t—it’s all fine, but stop putting it on others. This doesn’t have to be the season for us to hate ourselves. We could be happy, focus on us, and put that energy to being better people this year.
I hope that this helps somebody out there who is struggling know that you’re not alone. I also hope it opens the eyes of some people who need to focus their eyes more on themselves and less on others. Please, give each other grace and love. There are other ways and things to praise and compliment. Take up space, enjoy the holiday and the season. Please, love each other and love yourself.