Body image. The elusive positive body image that your treatment team constantly chatters about. Sure it would be nice to love your body, but let’s be real here, the notion of loving your body after spending years hating it is frankly insane.
Love my body? That was not in the cards for me unless I lost weight. My eating disorder told me that I could not be happy, I could not go out with friends, I could not go to prom unless I was a certain weight or size. I believed the only way to love my body was to be a size perfect with flat abs and narrow hips. I spent fifteen years in the grips of an eating disorder, killing myself to achieve that perfect body. I was dying to find happiness, but ‘size perfect’ meant anything but joy. It meant sadness. It meant sick.
Even after I spent three months in treatment, I still hated my body, probably even more than before! I really had to ‘white-knuckle it’ through some days. I no longer wanted eating disorder symptoms and behaviors to rule my life, but I could hardly stand the body that I was left with. It was truly painful to sit with the anxiety and dissatisfaction I had with my body. On those difficult ‘white-knuckle’ days, I relied on the people I had come to trust most in this world: my treatment team. They always said that body image would be the last thing to come around. And while it seemed nearly impossible to believe them, I trusted them and knew that one day it would get better.
I know I am not alone in this mindset of body perfection being the key to happiness. Eating disorder or not, we are inundated with messages telling us to eat this and wear that. We see countless images a day of unrealistic (and unattainable) bodies. These images become what we hold our own body image standards to, which ultimately leads to failure because the images are not real to begin with.
Like most of us who have battled an eating disorder, I am also a recovering perfectionist who lived in a world of black and white extremes. My ideas surrounding body image acceptance did not escape my extreme black and white thinking. I thought you had to love your body 24/7 to have a healthy relationship with it. In my mind, positive body image meant running down the beach in a thong bikini screaming, “I love my body.” Eventually, I snapped out of my black and white brain and began to live life in the “Body Grey.”
Body Grey is a practice of love and acceptance. Loving your body and being in the Body Grey is about being present in YOUR skin. It is about acceptance and freedom from those consuming thoughts, pressures and worries. To not care what your eating disorder (and the media) says and to know you are accepted and loved just as you are. Positive body image isn’t about looking a certain way, being a certain size or even loving your body day in and day out. Just like recovery, not everyday with your body is going to be a thousand rainbows and sunny skies. We will still have our ‘yuck’ body days. And guess what? That’s okay!
Finding peace with your body can feels impossible and the journey can be exhausting at times. It is not easy. It is a process of patience, trust and more patience. But I can personally attest that it is possible to learn to love your body. After years of abusing my body, my relationship with it has come full circle. What I have come to understand through the journey of recovery is that being happy with your body starts with acceptance: accepting yourself from the INSIDE out. Once I let go of what I thought my body ‘should’ look like and began to love the person that I was, I found myself in a functional and happy relationship with my body.
Today, I am proud to say I live a delightful life in the grey. Gone are the days of extreme thinking and body hate. Here to stay is the love I have found for my body in the grey. Won’t you join me in learning to love your body in the grey?
Photo by David Humphries