Right now, I am in my final school placement of teacher's college. I've been loving my time in a senior girls phys ed class, and have been thinking back to what I might have been thinking if I were in the students' shoes. At 17, I was in the midst of escalating body issues. Given that this week is also Eating Disorder Awareness week, I started to think about what I would say to my 17-year-old self...
You’re having a hard time right now, but it won’t always be this way.
In the next few years, the line between health and obsession will blur for you. You’ll turn a healthy coping mechanism into one that you take too far. You’ll get caught up in the compliments, the thrill, and the obsession. You’ll take things too far and your eating disorder will take over your life. You’ll hurt yourself. At first, you won’t realize what you’re doing. You’ll think you’re just trying to be healthy. At some point, you’ll realize your habits are actually harming you, but you won’t be able to stop—and you’ll hate yourself for it. You won’t know it at the time, but you’ll come to realize later that the disorder, as shitty as it was, felt safe. It was the only coping mechanism you had, and you were doing the best you could.
But things will change for you, my dear. You’ll read books. You’ll talk to people—ones you know, ones you’ve just met, ones you pay, and ones in your head. You will go to dietitians, counselors, psychologists, life coaches, support groups. You’ll read blogs. You’ll write blogs. You’ll go to conferences on the topic, listen to speeches about it, and give talks about your own experiences. And you will cry.
Things will get better, and they’ll get worse. And then they’ll get better. And then they’ll get worse. Over time, the general trend will be up. The same stubbornness that made your eating disorder so difficult to shake will fuel the determination you’ll need to move in the direction of recovery. The same deep ability to feel you tried so hard to keep at bay will be part of what makes your life so rich and worth living without the disorder. After you get over the anger of feeling like the disorder took away some of the best years of your life, you’ll see the way in which it opened the door for you, and invited you to get to know yourself on a level you know many people won’t ever dare go.
You’ll learn that there is so much more to life than your body. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ll start to look at that body of yours differently. It won’t be because you arrive at your goal weight or find your abs. Your perspective will shift because you’ll realize we’re not here for very long. You’ll get hurt and learn that we’re not invincible. You’ll meet people who inspire you by the way they embrace their bodies and more importantly, their lives. You will begin to see your body not so much as a project to be managed, but as the vessel you’ve been given to live a pretty awesome life. You’ll recognize all of the amazing things your body does do for you—not just those triathlons or workouts but the way it moves you through your days. Your sister will have a baby and you’ll appreciate even more the gift you’ve been given.
You’ll meet a man who’ll show you that we don’t fall in love with people because they have perfect bodies. You’ll realize that he doesn’t love you despite what you think are too big of thighs a stomach that isn’t flat enough, but that he loves you on a whole different level which has nothing to do with the size or shape you come in.
Think about the most inspirational woman in your life. Who inspires you to live a better life? Who do you wish you could be more like? And why? My bet is that you didn’t name someone because of their six pack or the way their butt looks in lululemon tights. And the point there is that we don’t leave a mark on the world by virtue of having the perfect body. We are inspired by the way people live their lives—not how they look doing it. We look up to people for the messages they put out, not for the size or shape of their bodies. So why are we so worried about our own?
These aren’t questions we’re used to asking. Our day-to-day involves going with the flow, which unfortunately involves a whole lot of being told our bodies need fixing. Making change won’t be easy. We live in a world where women in particular are constantly told they’re not good enough. We’re bombarded by photoshopped images and remedies to fix whatever flaw we’re convinced we have. But this quote should provide some perspective: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which the flower grows, not the environment.” Your body is not the problem—it’s the ideas we’ve been handed about our bodies being somehow wrong which need to be seen for the bullshit that they are.
Change might be tough, but it can happen. It starts with you, one choice at a time. It starts with defining the relationship we want with our bodies and how we want our lives to look. It takes time and honesty, and a daily commitment to making choices that really take care of ourselves. You need to know that hating your body is not the answer. It won't make the tough stuff any easier, and wasting all of your energy worrying about how you look will just keep you from putting that energy into creating a life you enjoy living. Don't fool yourself into thinking the answer is in perfecting your body. You'll never be perfect. But you'll always be perfectly fine, perfectly capable, and perfectly divine. The best things in life aren't perfect, after all--they're messy, grey, and filled with surprises. Your body is a gift, and the sooner you start to treat it as one--challenging it, nurturing it, respecting it--the better.
Take care of yourself, kid. You’re gonna make it.