I’m a good person, I matter, I’m surrounded by people who love me, my life is worth living. I recite these statements to myself, per my therapist’s recommendations, whenever I feel self-conscious or scared. I wish I was a confident, independent woman who knew what she wanted and who loved her body. But I’m not, and I don’t know if I will ever be that woman.
There have been so many campaigns lately encouraging women to love themselves as they are. With each campaign I come across, I stop and look at myself and try to come up with something positive to say, but instead I’m usually met with my own criticism. After several hours of reflection following my discovery of a certain article, I came to the realization that something needs to change. I need to one day accept myself for who I am and break away from who others want me to be. Life is too short to live a life that is not your own.
Growing up, I lived with a family who demanded perfection. Who put emphasis on appearances rather than intellect. My issues probably began back in high school when I felt the pressure to be beautiful and thin. Daily weigh ins were a norm, followed by a stomach tracing that that even today makes me cringe. I thought I had left these pressures behind when I headed to the west coast in search of a new and exciting life. I was wrong.
It had always been my dream to move to California: the sunshine, the people, the classic California fashion scene and celebrities, this lifestyle was always something I wanted to become a part of. Shortly after moving out to the west coast, I found an opportunity to work in the fashion industry, a field I have always been fascinated in. I loved the idea of being able to express myself through clothing. I couldn’t wait to dive in and soak up everything about the industry. I was ready to learn.
Nothing could have prepared me for the reality that comes with working in fashion. After just a few days on the job, I began to criticize myself. For the first time in my life, at a size 2, I was considered as one of the “bigger girls” in the office. I began to curse my curves, I hated my bone structure, my freckles, my hair, my height, even the size of my fingers and toes. Lunch had become a battle. It was a test of wills, who can last all day without eating. Birthday parties and holiday celebrations were always a charade. Buy adorable cupcakes, snap a pic, post to Instargram with a witty caption illustrating how we’re going to eat the whole box, but in reality, they were all thrown away. Success seemed to be measured by how many times you could turn down food.
Searching for models to recruit for photoshoots became a nightmare, with each comment on a young girl’s appearance cutting into my soul. She’s too thin; she’s too fat; she’s cute, but look at her nose. So weird. These women were gorgeous, and if they didn’t make the cut, who was I to think that I was pretty?
With each mile I ran, each serving of food not eaten, I told myself I was being healthy. I would even give excuses for why it’s healthy to use laxatives. I’m willing to do anything to become skinny and beautiful. I measured my success and worth by how large of a gap I had between my thighs, and the inches around my waist. I canceled on plans with friends for an extra session at the gym; I was no longer interested in date night’s out with my husband, because navigating a dinner menu gave me high anxiety. How many calories are in this? Is that high in sodium? What do you cook your meats with? Where do you buy your produce from? I had transformed into a walking calorie counter. Appearances, food and fitness were, and still are, the only three things I cared about. I have stopped doing things I once enjoyed, because they take time away from the gym. My relationships with friends and family have suffered. I no longer have to cancel on plans, because I’m no longer invited to things.
I have lost my sense of self, no longer excited or happy, flooded with thoughts of ending the pain for good. How easy it would be to slip into the abyss and let my worries and frustrations melt away. No longer tormented by my thoughts of feeling worthless.
When I finally gave into the idea that I have a problem and visited a doctor last year, I became excited when I was given the official diagnosis of having an eating disorder. I felt like I had finally made it. Feeling like I’m part of an elite group of people who are disciplined and have the unique ability of self-control. I’m finally worthy of their acceptance. Now, I feel ashamed that I ever felt this way. A disease like this should not be something to aspire to, yet I can’t shake this feeling of success for having made it to this point of madness. The magazines lied. This disease is not glamorous, it wreaks havoc on your body, mind and relationships. I’ve lost hair, have a string of vitamin deficiencies, neuropathy, hallucinations, psychosis, loss of clarity, and have ultimately lost myself to the throes of depression.
I have become someone I hate and no longer recognize. I’m a liar, always sneaking off after dinners to throw up quietly in the bathroom. A skill mastered after hours of watching youtube tutorials. I thought I could stop counting, stop running, anytime I wanted but when I finally tried I found that stopping isn’t an option. I cry if I miss a session at the gym, or if we run out of almond milk for my cereal (regular milk is forbidden). I know I’m in a bad place but don’t know how to crawl out of this darkness and let go of my obsession.
I’m like a cancer when it comes to relationships, turning my husband and friends into shells of their former selves. Walking zombies, who rarely feel happiness. I have broken them and I don’t know how to repair what I have destroyed.
While I’ve started down the path to recovery, it’s a tough road. The path is much harder than I ever realized.
The good days are beginning to outweigh the bad ones, but I still can’t shake the voice inside my head telling me I can’t eat certain things if I want to be beautiful. It takes strength to push those thoughts aside and convince yourself you’re so much more than your looks. You deserve to be happy and healthy.
Stop punishing yourself for things out of your control. Celebrate the little victories and the big wins. Surround yourself with people who value you and who care about your well-being.
I know we are strong enough to fight this, and while these thoughts and feelings may never truly go away, we can learn to manage them and persevere.
I’m ready to be myself again. I don’t want to be a Marilyn, or an Audrey; I’m ready to go through life as Brittany.
Who is she? I don’t know yet, but I can’t wait to find out.