There was a time when I thought I would never write this post. The battle against my body seemed to be the one mountain I would never climb. I would go around in circles, coming up against the same obstacles; bingeing, emotional eating, restrictive dieting and hating what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I honestly thought it was something I would struggle with for the rest of my life. I think every woman knows this journey, some have walked the path before, others are waiting to begin – each of us up against years of conditioning, programming and subconscious messaging designed to keep us small (literally). This is the story of how I took my power back, went from self loathing to self love and healed my relationship with food and my body.
It’s Australia Day, 2008. My sister and I are riding our bikes around the small town we grew up in, jumping in and out of the crystal clear water wherever we can find the space. The path along the creek is teeming with families and kids our age walking around drinking UDL’s and cans of Smirnoff. Despite already being self conscious about my fifteen year old body, I’m feeling particularly brave wearing just a pair of shorts and my bikini top.
As we climb out of the water and mount our bikes to head home, a guy a few years older than me walks passed with his girlfriend. He looks me up and down and slurs, “Yeah, keep riding,” with a smirk on his face. His girlfriend slaps him playfully, looking back over her shoulder to mouth an apology, but it’s too late. My stomach drops, my world crumbles. Everything I ever feared about myself is true. I’m not attractive, I’m not desirable, I’m not worthy and I’m not enough.
I scroll pro-ana blogs and experiment to see how long I can go without food. I practice putting two fingers down my throat, trying to dredge up the shame I swallowed with that second chocolate brownie. I lament to my mother about the size and softness of my stomach, she shows me which ab exercises reduce belly fat.
My breasts grow almost overnight and suddenly I’m the subject of gossip and the butt of jokes.
Relatives and strangers comment on my changing shape, as though my body is public domain to be deliberated. I learn that my body is not my own. I walk into the kitchen after dinner out with friends, “You can’t possibly still be hungry.” I learn that my bodies signals can’t be trusted.
I hold myself up against billboards and pictures on the internet and they all tell me one thing; shrink. Shrink and you will be beautiful, and before anything else, beautiful is what you should aspire to be. I stand in front of the mirror and pinch, suck, poke and prod. I squeeze a tape measure around every inch of skin, using the numbers to define how much I’m worth that week. I hide in the pantry, looking for something to fill me. My mind blanks as I reach for packets and jars, a brief reprieve before the guilt kicks in and I berate myself ceaselessly for a lack of self control.
I’m desperate to be noticed. I crave being seen. I take photos on my phone and send them to boys. When I’m drowning in a sea of insecurity, their shallow compliments keep me afloat.
I grew up believing that fat was the worst thing a person could be. Worse than being mean, selfish or boring, fat was the ultimate failure. The subconscious messaging I received was that to be overweight meant you lacked discipline and self control. I thought that being skinny was synonymous with being happy. That having the perfect body somehow made you immune to sadness or other negative emotions. Like, how bad could things possibly get if you looked amazing in a bikini? If you were thin then people paid attention to you; boys wanted to be with you and other girls wanted to be like you. To be thin, was to be beautiful – and to be beautiful was to be adored, cherished, loved. Life was an endless exodus away from fatness and toward thinness.
You can imagine the war that started internally when my e-cup boobs came in overnight. Dance costumes had to be altered, bras and bikinis had to be special ordered and I was constantly asking for a bigger size in change rooms. The changes in my body sparked a downward spiral in my self esteem. In my mind, with every kilo I gained I was becoming less important; my ideas less valid, personality less loveable and my dreams less achievable.
By the time I was sixteen, my body was a tool I used to validate my dwindling sense of self worth. I used it when it suited me, to get attention and validation from guys. The more I was willing to show of it and the more I was willing to do with it, the more approval I got. It made me feel powerful. I traded recognition for respect and mistook attention for love. The rest of the time I either berated it with criticism or ignored it completely.
For most of my teens and early twenties, I felt like a floating head walking around completely disconnected from my body. I didn’t identify as my body, it felt like an annoying attachment that kept betraying me by not doing what I wanted it to do or looking the way I wanted it to look. I hated how easily I could be brought down or carried away by the emotions that arose inside me; a wave of insecurity that would leave me hiding under the covers for days, a flash of anger that always left a wake of destruction in its path. It was too risky and far too painful living in my body, so I checked out. For almost a decade, I didn’t look down in the shower and I couldn’t touch my stomach without a wave of nausea flooding through me. I dreaded walking past mirrors or shop fronts and I used to yell at my mum for taking photos of me when I wasn’t looking.
By the time I left home at eighteen, it became apparent that in addition to my negative body image, I had also developed a pretty damaging relationship with food. Food was my anchor and my security blanket. When everything else in my life was uncertain, I could always count on the jar of peanut butter in the fridge. I would use food to suppress negative emotions; discomfort, anxiety, boredom. Even positive emotions – excitement, joy, happiness – were always accompanied by something to eat. It was as though I couldn’t bare to feel anything fully, so I sought a way to dull the experience.
“Compulsive eating is basically a refusal to be fully alive. No matter what we weigh, those of us who are compulsive eaters have anorexia of the soul. We refuse to take in what sustains us. We live lives of deprivation, and when we can’t stand it any longer, we binge.”
Geneen Roth, Women, Food and God
Before I even knew what it was, bingeing was a regular part of my life. If had a bad day, a fight with my parents or an assignment due, bingeing offered an incredibly effective distraction. There was no thought or awareness, I would stand at the fridge and put whatever was on the shelf into my mouth. Because I refused to have anything unhealthy in the house, bingeing usually meant raiding my housemates cupboards for whatever had the highest sugar or fat content; four slices of toast with tablespoons of honey, two wraps, half a packet of biscuits and coconut oil straight from the jar. It wasn’t until after I had consumed the entire contents of my kitchen that the guilt kicked in. I felt totally helpless and completely out of control.
The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life.
In 2013, I lost nine kilos leading up to my twenty first birthday. I was eating broccoli with chicken or tinned tuna for every almost meal and smashing myself in the gym 5-7 times a week. Everything in my life revolved around getting the numbers on the scale to drop. I kept a food diary on my phone and wrote down everything that passed my lips and at the end of the day I’d give myself a rating based on how ‘well’ I’d done. A smiley face meant it was a good day, an angry face meant I better try harder tomorrow.
I would measure and weigh myself in the morning and my mood for the entire day depended on what I saw on the scale. I was obsessed with #fitspo blogs and instagram accounts and would spend hours drooling over photos of girls lifting weights or posing effortlessly in bikinis. I would deprive myself all week and have a ‘cheat day’ on the week end, which usually meant buying a block of chocolate on the way home from the gym and making myself sick by finishing off the whole thing in one sitting. A few weeks before my birthday I started taking OxyElite and would happily pop four a day – made me shake and pee constantly – completely ignoring the liver failure warning on the label.
But even when I was at my skinniest, my anxiety didn’t fade and I wasn’t any happier. I still had bad days and moments when I felt unworthy and insecure, and I was so preoccupied maintaining my new weight, I didn’t have time to focus on anything else or enjoy my life. As soon as my birthday was over and I didn’t have a goal to work towards, the weight came back and the battle raged on.
As I watched women my mums age berate themselves for eating an extra slice of cake, apologise for taking up too much space and obsess over their physical ‘flaws’, I started to think maybe this was just part of life as a woman. I hated the idea of passing my insecurities on to my future daughter, but I couldn’t see a way to break the cycle.
So I started working with coaches (including this amazing woman) and read and listened to every intuitive eating, eating psychology and body positive book, blog post and podcast I could get my hands on. There wasn’t one pivotal moment, but a series of small but deeply significant revelations that healed my relationship with food and lead me back to my body…
1. I got angry.
When I discovered the extent to which mainstream media tries to keep us small – literally – as a form of disempowerment, I got angry. By making thinness the ideal and celebrating women who shrink, we get the message that we are not allowed to take up space, a subconscious belief that ingrains itself in our collective psyche. It’s the same belief that stops us from speaking up when we are being taken advantage of, it stops us demanding more from partners who mistreat us, and it stops us creating epic shit and sharing our unique gifts with the world.
As I continued pulling back the veil to expose the corporate agenda behind our BS beauty standards, it got easier to rally against my own inner critic because I knew they were both just trying to stop me wielding the full force of my power as a conscious woman. A woman confident in her own skin is no longer an obedient consumer, she no longer drains her time, energy and resources trying to “fix herself”. She shows up fully as her authentic self. She is a force to be reckoned with.
Physical beauty is great for selling, but a beautiful mind is great for healing, planning, dreaming, creating and loving. Beautiful minds will save the world.
2. I focused on my strengths.
That insta-famous bikini model posting photos of herself looking toned and tanned in various exotic locations? Yes, she could have done a lot of editing/had surgery/spend thousands on a celebrity trainer, but you know what? Some girls really look like that – and that’s amazing! Go them! You have your own set of unique gifts and God-given talents that are exactly what you need to enact your purpose on this earth, and they might not have anything to do with how you look. Say it with me now, “I was not born to be an instagram model.” (Unless you were, then carry on your merry way). Being trapped in jealousy or comparison is usually a sign we aren’t fully embracing our Genius. Ask yourself, ‘What am I really good at? What do I do really well?’ then go do that.
3. I shifted my perspective from the external to the internal.
My journey this year has been letting go of the belief that people will only listen to what I have to say if they like the package it comes in. As women, we are taught from such a young age that beauty equals success, and for so long I was hung up on this idea that in order for my thoughts, opinions or ideas to be taken seriously, I would need to measure up to societies standards of beauty. That belief kept me from showing up fully in my business and in my life.
How many of us are held back from the work we are meant to do and the joy we are meant to experience because of our obsession with living up to someone else’s idea of beauty? How many of us delay happiness and postpone joy, waiting until after we’ve lost the weight or dropped a dress size, to be active participants in sucking the marrow out of our lives?
These days, I’m focusing less on impressing people with my looks and more on empowering them with my energy. I realised I would so much rather invest my time cultivating compassion, sharpening my intellect and developing the kind of inner radiance that inspires people than forcing my body to take on a shape that isn’t natural for me.
I get that some people absolutely love pushing their body to see how far it can go, but when I think about how much effort it took to maintain my ‘goal weight’, I can honestly say it’s just not worth it. As with anything in life, you have to ask yourself, do you want it because that’s the experience your soul is longing to have, or because everyone tells you that’s what you should want? Is it your dream or someone else’s dream for you?
4. I let go of my obsession with losing weight.
After nearly a decade of trying to get smaller, the thought of giving up scared the shit out of me. I clung to diets because they gave me a purpose, losing weight made me feel accomplished. It was easier to write a meal plan than it was to map out a plan for my future. And it was easier trying to change my body than it was to change the world.
I also thought that if I wasn’t following a strict eating and exercise ‘plan’, I would completely lose control and binge until I was the size of a house. And for a while, I did go a little crazy. I had to rebuild the trust between me and my body. I needed to prove that I was sticking to my word this time and I wasn’t going to deprive it any more.
But when I stopped labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and started giving myself unconditional permission to eat whatever I wanted, eating an entire block of chocolate lost its appeal. I could have it, so I didn’t want it. If I did end up over eating, I quickly forgave myself and moved on. No judgement, criticism or shame, just unconditional acceptance. I quickly learnt that most of the time I didn’t actually want the chocolate, I wanted the way it made me feel; worthy, deserving, full.
Instead of using food to suppress my emotions, I wanted to tap into my bodies natural wisdom. I started by opening up the lines of communication. I wrote her letters in my journal, apologising for all the times I had ignored her, made her sick and used her to satisfy my ego desires. I promised to take care of her, trust her and always ask her what she needed. I spoke to her like I would my best friend or little sister. Much to my delight, she started talking back.
I love you.
I love you too.
Today, my relationship with my body feels like rekindling a romance with a long lost lover; we’re both still marvelling at all the things we can do together, getting excited about what this means for our future and falling more in love with each other every day. Like any great relationship, ours is based on trust, communication and mutual respect. I speak kind words to my body, I don’t make her do things she doesn’t want to do, and I trust that she knows what she needs in any given moment. Sometimes that means making a big fat pasta dish, sometimes it means stopping when there’s still food left on the plate. I still apologise if I drink too much wine and wake up with a hangover. She forgives me and we go and do something to make us feel amazing again.
Exercise doesn’t feel like a chore, it’s a way to expend all the beautiful energy that runs through my body. I don’t slog it out at the gym to burn calories or punish myself for overeating, I move in ways that feel good. Lifting weights makes me feel powerful, dancing makes me feel sexy as hell. My body is an incredible vehicle I have been given to fully engage in this earthly experience, and I love it regardless of its shape or size.
I know this is an ongoing process – as my body changes, I will need to continue practicing self love and some times are going to be harder than others, but never again will I let insecurity hold me back. The beauty standards set by society will continue to change, but I reserve the right to decide what’s beautiful to me, and my definition of beauty is all encompassing – there is room for everyone. I am so excited to see – in our lifetime – a generation of women liberated from the shackles of self loathing, free to share their unique gifts with the world and I am so grateful for the women before me who have publicly embraced their bodies at every size.
Wherever you are on the journey, may these words guide your way home.
Do not be afraid to take up space. Consciously expand until your presence rivals galaxies. Should your body say anything about Who You Are, let it say nothing of willpower or self-control, let it tell the story of your curiosity, your bravery, your compassion. Should you seek to be less of anything, may you be less worried about making yourself look acceptable.
May the only picture of your progress be a reminder of how much your spirit has grown. When you go looking for validation or proof of your worthiness, may you go only to the Source of all fulfilment that lives inside of you. May you appreciate your body as the temporary home your soul chose for you to inhabit. May you defend her sovereignty and honour her wisdom. May you praise her in public and pleasure her in private.
When you look at your body may you see our mother earth incarnate; in every crevice and fault line, in the veins that run like rivers, in all the mountains and valleys that ripple across your skin. And when the time comes for you to leave, may it be with gratitude as the veil is lifted and the joy of returning to the infinite oneness from which you came, can no longer be contained.
All my love,
If you are looking for more on this topic, check out the recommended resources below and, if you feel called, I would love for you to share your story in the comments below.
Embrace the documentary – https://bodyimagemovement.com/embrace-the-documentary/
The Well-Fed Woman – www.rachelwcole.com/blog
Poodle Science – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H89QQfXtc-k
I Didn’t Wake up Like this – https://www.buzzfeed.com/sonamkapoor/i-didnt-wake-up-like-this?utm_term=.clmdDBLaw#.kboeY8g6O
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating – http://www.intuitiveeating.com/content/10-principles-intuitive-eating
Psychology of Eating Podcast – http://psychologyofeating.com/podcasts/
Lauren Beckett, Body Love Coach – http://dropthestruggle.com/