My Struggle With Body Confidence

I want people to know that it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to have conflicting feelings about your body. Some days I love my body and feel confident, and some days I hate my body and avoid mirrors. It’s okay. The important thing is to recognize these patterns and notice the things that make you feel better about your body, and do that more! 

It’s funny how sometimes music and lyrics can seem particularly applicable to life. I vividly remember scrawling Dashboard Confessional lyrics in my notebook in high school as a way to chronicle my teen angst. Now as an adult, I find myself humming the tune of Billy Joel’s “I Go To Extremes” in my session as my therapist points out that I frequently have extremes in my thought patterns about myself and my body.

 

Too High or Too Low, There Ain’t No In-Betweens

I’ve been many different sizes in my life. In high school I floated between a size 12 and size 14. I was considered “fat” by my peers and was incredibly self conscious about my body. I went to college and started losing weight as my body adjusted to walking all over campus for classes. Once November hit, and my oft-cheating boyfriend broke up with me for what would be the last time, I fell into a deep depression. I stopped eating. I ate just enough to not starve to death, but no more. I went from 188 pounds to 132 pounds in about 6 months. Suddenly I was a size 6. I was buying bikinis and tube tops and wearing clothes I had only dreamed about as a chubby high school girl. Was I satisfied with my body? Oh heavens no. I still looked at my stomach and saw fat. My best friend finally called me out and told me that I was anorexic. I didn’t believe her. I told myself she was jealous. I looked at pictures of myself and saw the tiny bulges and assured myself that skinny girls did not have such bulges, so I was clearly not skinny. I saw pictures of me with other girls and thought I was definitely the fattest person in the picture. I knew that I had lost weight–the clear difference in pants size was a testament to that. I still wasn’t willing to let myself believe that I was beautiful, though.

Then there would be days that I loved my body. I was so thrilled that I was finally getting attention from guys (a trend that was sorely lacking in high school) that I was convinced that my new “thinner” (I couldn’t say thin) self was the cause. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to handle the attention. I had sex with almost anyone that wanted to have sex with me. I became someone I didn’t recognize. No condoms? Whatever. You have a girlfriend? Don’t care. How I managed to avoid getting an STI at that point in my life still baffles me. I cheated on a guy I dated for a few months because he wouldn’t have sex with me. I lied to my best friend about the weight I’d lost. I “pity fucked” a guy who desperately wanted to lose his virginity. I was not in a healthy place by any means, mentally or physically. I still had no self esteem.

me silly

 

Me at the beach, Summer 2006

 

It’s All or Nothing At All

Not eating was my early college coping mechanism. Eating everything in sight was my late college and grad school coping mechanism. I never exercised in all of it–all the weight I lost was from not eating. So naturally, when I started eating again, the weight came back with a vengeance. Suddenly that 188 pound girl from high school had a body that I wished I could have again. My then-boyfriend complained that he missed my “hot body” and started cheating on me with girls half my size. Let me tell you what that did for my self esteem. And what comforted me in my depression? Food.

Not only do I have an extreme relationship with my body, I have an extreme relationship with food. Depression can either send me into a period of fasting or bingeing. There is rarely an in-between. I can tell myself that I’m enjoying life and as a foodie, experience all that the culinary world has to offer. Then again, I don’t think most foodies eat ice cream straight from the container at 3 am hoping that their partners don’t come out and find them eating. Yep, that’s right. I started secretly bingeing. I felt guilty but couldn’t stop myself. Food was my comfort. Stressed about bills? Have some peanut butter cups. Shitty day at work? Sounds like mac and cheese for dinner. In and of itself, loving food is not a bad thing. If I were eating incredibly high quality food that was rich in nutrients, it wouldn’t be terrible. The problem was, being broke meant buying mac and cheese, ramen, and any other high caloric item that was on the 10 for 10 shelf that week.

TBTN Rally

 

Me at the Philly Take Back the Night Rally, April 2013 (Michael Albany Photography)

 

Out of the Darkness, Into the Light

Sometime well-meaning people in my life will tell me, “you’ll feel so much better about yourself once you lose some weight.” I’m here to tell you, that is utterly false. I hated my body as much at 132 pounds as I do at over 250 pounds. The only difference is that at this weight, a lot of other people hate my body too. I think about the cruel comments my surgeon made to me and wonder if this is what the rest of my life is going to be like. Will I ever find balance between these two extremes? I don’t want to bounce between my current weight and 132lbs.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I am comfortable in my body and feel love for my curves. I definitely love my ample bosom. When I wrote articles about loving my body and , feeling confident I did feel those things. It’s just that those feelings are often fleeting. I always tell people that healing is not a linear process. There are twists and turns, progress and pitfalls. Some days I will take three steps forward, others I will take five steps back. I feel really guilty about that sometimes though. Here I am, preaching about loving your body and accepting yourself for who you are, and I struggle with it daily. Does that make me a fraud? No, I think it just makes me human. I think everyone struggles, even the most confident person. Part of the reason I wanted to write this was because I want people to know that it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to have conflicting feelings about your body. Some days I love my body and feel confident, and some days I hate my body and avoid mirrors. It’s okay. The important thing is to recognize these patterns and notice the things that make you feel better about your body, and do that more! It’s not about weight, it never was for me. It’s about having a balanced relationship with food, sex, and everything else in my life. It’s something I’m still working on. And that’s okay too.

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  • commented 2013-11-24 09:30:12 -0800
    Thank you
  • commented 2013-10-02 13:57:58 -0700
    Thank you so much, Will! I appreciate your warmth and support! I think it’s great that we can share our stories and feel more connected, especially about things like this. You sound pretty awesome yourself, so go us! :-)
  • commented 2013-10-02 13:53:37 -0700
    I agree so much with all of this. I dealt with a lot myself growing up, being bullied (My nickname was “the Flaming Marshmallow” for about 4 years). I too struggle, but I’m getting better about things. I know I need to lose weight for health reasons, but having every person on my ass only makes it worse

    I’ve done the not eating thing, and I’ve done the live off of ramen and whatever is cheapest (which usually equates to the absolute most horrid for you) and bounced back and forth between weights.

    This is a great post, if only for being so personal and so real. I commend you Ashley.

    No one is perfect, and you are quite gorgeous the way you are.

    Keep doing you :-)

    Go you!

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