Last Monday, I went to the doctor and learned my BMI is in the “healthy” category again. At the time I was psyched because it meant I was finally at a healthier weight again…but then Friday came and I panicked because it finally sunk in that the news meant I had gained weight. So I binged. And then I fought bouts of restricting for the rest of the weekend. All this week, I have been struggling with experiencing my body. It’s felt disproportionate and confusing and weird and why the hell can’t I just be an amoeba?? Bodies can be difficult.
Even before I developed an eating disorder (or, at the very least, named it), I had issues with body image. I’m a young woman in the digital age — it’s not exactly a unique struggle. I never felt like I was round in the places that were supposed to be round and flat in the places that were supposed to be flat. My hair never swooped the right way and I couldn’t figure out how the hell to get my eyeshadow to blend nicely (since then, I’ve discovered these things called “hair product” and “makeup brushes”). Again, not really a unique struggle.
I still don’t know how to access the part of me that would let me wear something traditionally “sexy” without feeling like I’m wearing a costume (if such a part exists). Perhaps I’m still waiting for my rom-com makeover?
When I was doing my #30DaysOfLipstick challenge, the selfies I struggled with the most were often the colors that made me really feel my look. I would feel so good about how my hair was falling and my eyeliner wings and my lip color and my outfit…and then I’d have to take the stupid picture. Every time I saw myself in the camera, I suddenly felt acutely on display and couldn’t angle my head or purse my lips without thinking, “Wow, you look like a freakin’ idiot.” The second I tried to capture the confidence I was feeling, the lighting suddenly felt bad and my skin suddenly looked uneven and so on and so on to infinity. I have just always felt more at home in pictures where I’m making a goofy face or hiding behind a cat (or Morkie…or Chihuahua/Papillion/ Dachshund/god-knows-what-else mix…) because I don’t have to worry if people laugh or think it’s unflattering. That’s the point.
Anorexia has only made my inability to see my own attractiveness worse. I rarely felt sexy before I developed anorexia, and now that I’ve been wrestling with it for almost two years…yeah, “sexy” isn’t really much of a thing for me. There is literally no way for my body to exist in the right way. Before I began losing weight, my hips were too bumpy and my stomach was too soft and my arms were to squishy and (and…and…and…). After I lost weight, my ankles were too skinny but my hips were still disproportionately big and my stomach was too soft but my waistline was somehow too straight and my arms were too skinny and (and…and…and…). Once I started gaining weight back, there was a new set of wrongs that just keeps going (and going…and going…and going…).
My main problem is that anorexia tricks me into thinking skipping meals or over-exercising might help me control my shape into one I can finally be happy with. Can you appreciate the dramatic irony of seeing empirical evidence that this strategy doesn’t work while Katlyn in Practice does not? I just have a really tough time seeing my body without the distorted lenses of social pressure and eating disordered behavior. I struggle to accept my body’s malleability and softness, and understand that I may have rolls one moment in one position and more defined muscles the next. I can’t control my body because it’s not a static thing. It’s organic and constantly changing and alive. And that’s a good thing.
Last week was NEDA Week and a friend shared this post with me about learning to embrace yourself through recovery. I read it right after seeing Black Panther (highly recommended for so many reasons), so I was essentially ready to go to battle like the badass woman I felt like. At the end of the post, the author talked about the confidence boost that can come from posing in your bra and a leather jacket while listening to Beyoncé. Well, Boyfriend was home and there was no way I was playing music so he could hear, but I decided to do the rest of it and embrace my “take-on-the-world” moment. I posted to Instagram before I had the chance to talk myself out of it and managed to stop myself from removing the picture once my confidence hangover kicked in the next morning.
I wish I could say, “And then, I finally saw myself! I saw my sexiness! All of my body image problems are gone!” But (spoiler alert) that’s not really how it works. What I can say is that I had the courage to be seen in a very vulnerable space: My greatest insecurity, my stomach, completely exposed and fully bloated thanks to movie candy and pretzels. Probably the most daring lip color I own, my beloved teal. Shady apartment lighting (the sacrifices we must make for the coolest backdrop available in the moment). Skinny jeans for peak muffin top risk. NO FILTER.
It was terrifying and I still look at that photo and see so many things I wish I could change (why the hell didn’t I add a Valencia filter to make things look a little more toned?). It was even scarier choosing to add the picture I took sitting down to this post because it shows I’m a real human with a mushy stomach. It’s hard to accept your humanity and harder still to ask others to accept it in such a public way. It’s hard to accept that a body is not a thing you can control, it’s simply something you can try your best to take care of. It will rarely (if ever) look exactly the way you want it to. It will squish and sag and crinkle and bloat and curve and straighten in all the ways you wish it wouldn’t…but it will also hike a mountain in Peru and enjoy a really good ice cream cone and hug someone you care about and laugh and play and endure.
I still have a blind spot when it comes to my own beauty and sexiness. Maybe I always will. Right now, what I can see is a body that is becoming stronger because I am learning to take care of it again instead of just controlling it. I see a body that houses a smart, funny, compassionate mind that I can see the sexiness in. I feel the most attractive when I’m really nailing a project at work or writing a good blog post or finding a really awesome GIF for an email. I feel sexy after a really good workout because I feel strong, and when I laugh really hard at a really good joke. I may not yet know how to channel that “sexy” into a more outward representation, but that’s okay. I’ll get there when I get there, and for now I’ll take being able to appreciate myself for who and what I am. The sexy can come when it comes.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, there are plenty of resources to use! Something that has been helpful for me is the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website. I used their online screening tool before I began therapy, which was one of the things that encouraged me to seek out support. The NEDA website and toll-free Information and Referral Helpline, 1-800-931-2237, provide extensive resources nationwide.