Tuesday, 20 October 2015

My Journey To Body Positivity

In the body image game, we’ve been set up to lose from the start. How many of us can remember the first time we saw an impossibly beautiful magazine body, and compared it to our own?
How many of us can remember the first cruel comment, the first torturous diet, the first night spent gazing desperately into the mirror and picking ourselves to pieces? I want you to know that you’re not alone in your body image struggles, and you’re also not to blame.
As I sit writing this, hunched over my laptop screen, my bedroom mirror shows me my reflection: I see belly rolls, I see cellulite, I see a million flaws that have previously sent me spiraling into self hatred. But this time, I also see happiness. I see beauty, beyond the one dimensional photoshopped form we’re taught to aspire to. I see worth, that extends far past the physical. My vision is no longer clouded by the ‘not good enough’ mentality we’ve all been taught about ourselves.
Thanks to body positivity, I can finally see clearly. My journey to this point was far from easy, but, spoiler alert, it was worth it!
The first time I remember comparing my body to someone else’s was at 5 years old. I was terrified that my new classmates would see my stomach fold as I sat down, would notice how my thighs filled so much more of that tiny plastic chair than the girl next to me – slim, pretty, a reflection of everything I thought I wasn’t.
You see, within 5 years of being on the planet, it was already ingrained in my mind that fat was the worst thing a person could be, and that beautiful (read as ‘thin’), was the best thing a person could be. It’s unsurprising that over the years my insecurities grew into all consuming demons, and at 14 I was diagnosed with an eating disorder.
It took me 2 years to claw my way out of anorexia. 2 years, one institutionalization, one hospitalization, and countless tears from the family member’s hearts I’d broken along the way. I had chased the holy grail of thin with everything I had, traded in every part of me to end up 65lbs, barely alive, still worried that people would see my stomach fold as I sat in my hospital bed.
Recovery is a blur for me, fueled by anger, an unrelenting rage at having had those years stolen from me, and a refusal to lose any more. I tripled my body weight in a year, and was thrown right back into a world of diet talk and airbrushed ideals, in a newly chubby body that I was disgusted with. That I spent years being disgusted with, cycling through crash diets and binge eating, losing and gaining hundreds of pounds in total over the next 5 years.
My weight never relapsed back down to dangerously low, but my mind never truly recovered. Being weight restored and being recovered are two very different things, and in a culture that’s so fixated on what our bodies look like, it’s no wonder that so many people never feel truly recovered. And I didn’t either, until I stumbled across something on Instagram last year, that changed me forever.
I was on my final excruciating diet and exercise routine, and I was searching for the usual (seriously damaging) fitsperation to fuel my unhealthy weight loss goals. Somehow I stumbled across a body positive hashtag, and saw all these people of every shape and size unapologetically loving themselves. Bikinis and all! I put them to the back of my mind and went on with my punishing daily workout, convincing myself that I could never be like them.
But I just couldn’t get them out of my mind, and slowly, reluctantly, something dawned on me: I just could not live the rest of my life hating myself. I didn’t want to diet forever. I didn’t want to be brainwashed by the medias unattainable ‘ideal body’ lies any longer. Deep down I knew that thinness would never actually equate to happiness, despite what we’re taught. I decided that enough was enough, and I’m willing to bet that a lot of you are currently feeling the same way.
I stopped following people I idolised for supernatural beauty alone. I stopped watching TV channels that promoted unrealistic body expectations. I filled up my social media with body diversity, plus size models and body positive activists. I threw out magazines with front page diet tips and celebrity body shaming. I found books like The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf), Health at Every Size (Linda Bacon) and Fat? So! (Marilyn Wann) that changed by whole worldview.
I stopped grabbing and poking the parts of my body I didn’t like, and started touching them with kindness instead. I stopped tearing my body apart for its physical appearance, and started appreciating everything that it let me do. All the ways it allowed me to live, cared for me, healed me, despite all I’d put it through. And most of all, the real secret to my body positive transformation: I got angry again. And once more, I refused to let the body image demons that had been planted into my mind by our culture, steal any more of my life from me.
Every time we don’t wear something, or eat something, or do something, because we think we aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve it, we let a little bit of life slip through our fingers. We tie ourselves down with chains of ‘I’ll do that when I lose weight’ and ‘I can’t do that how I look now’, and we give up our current happiness for a promise that never comes.
We let our power be controlled by huge multibillion dollar diet and beauty industries that profit from our self hatred, and teach us self hatred for exactly that purpose.
I’d like to tell you all something, in case nobody has ever let you know before.
You do not exist to look like that impossibly beautiful magazine body you compared yourself to all those years ago.
You do not exist to be looked at by other people.
You are not an object.
Your body is not here for the viewing pleasure of the public.
Your body is here to let you LIVE! To let you exist so far beyond what you see in the mirror!
You are capable of so much, of LOVE, of JOY, of ADVENTURE, of CREATIVITY and INTELLIGENCE and KINDNESS and COMPASSION and SO MUCH MORE THAN LOOKING A CERTAIN WAY!
Whatever you’ve been taught to hate about yourself, whether it’s your weight, your height, your skin colour, your gender, your age, your ability – you are more than that thing. Yes, you deserve to embrace and love that part of yourself, because it is truly beautiful (you’ve probably guessed by now, you get to decide what beautiful means!), but you also deserve to recognise your wonder outside of that part.
Your purpose, whatever it may be, that is so much more than your outer shell.
So however you feel about your body right now, please believe that it can get better. You can learn to love every part of yourself, without changing a thing. And you deserve that. Take it from someone who never thought they’d find a way out, there is hope, and happiness, and freedom on the other side of self hatred.
And I know that you can make the jump.