Body Positivity: What It Means To Me!





So. Body Positivity. It is a relatively new thing to me, and I’m still discovering all of the nuances and viewpoints and opinions. And I love so much of it, and it made me want to talk about it this week on Instagram (in maybe not the most eloquent or well thought out way, the drawbacks of INFP stream of consciousness writing! ;-0), because this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week*, and because well...I'm feeling a lot better lately. The more I try to love and accept myself and not tell myself my body is unacceptable "until I lose weight" the better I feel, and I guess I thought that was worth sharing.

I consider myself very lucky to have been mostly free of most disordered type thoughts for quite a while now. But the truth is it can be a lifelong battle, and I do think it takes constant positive, not negative reinforcement, something that the fitness industry and/or social media “fitspo” gets wrong sometimes. My ventures into exercise and calorie counting last year did remind me that when I feel like I am failing at weight loss, some old, unhealthy thoughts start creeping back in if I’m not super vigilant.

So in relation to this recovery thing being a marathon and not a sprint, and taking an honest look at where I'm at, where I've come from, I want to talk about a relapse I had that I never told anyone about at the time or since. I fully admit I wrote and clicked publish on the Instagram post and went “uh holy sh*t why did I share that?!” and regretted it. So yes… this is why I kind of feel like I am not being wholly truthful if I ever talk about my eating disordered past as ancient history that I totally got over after I hit my early twenties...because I did have a brief but scary relapse AFTER I had cancer.

Yup. Which I guess is why I was embarassed or ashamed to admit it. I told myself it was nothing, but in retrospect and in being honest with trying to have a real conversation about eating disorders being something we have to stay on top of with our mental health/self care regime, it sort of bubbled up, as these things inevitably do.

Yes, so, I went to a friend’s wedding in America a couple of years after I finished chemotherapy. For whatever reason I had lost some of my chemo weight but I still had pretty severe face fat/lymph fluid/I don’t honestly know, for several years after. It has improved a bit now but anyway…I looked a lot different than how I did before chemo. And someone who knew me said something about it, not meaning anything I am sure, but still. It hurt.  

And something inside me clicked; it wasn't even a conscious thought, but a sort of what I had wrongly assumed was a long dead, self sabotaging autopilot mode. And for the rest of the trip I ate virtually nothing. I went to NYC, and lived on iced coffee, save for the meals I picked at with friends. I was back, on my turf, a lone city girl, in control of her destiny, and I could not eat to my heart’s content. It was so easy.

It was May and very warm and I was hanging with friends and I felt so free...like a New Yorker again and…I liked this me. She felt momentarily legit, not like the insidious self loathing demon I know she always turns me into. And I won’t lie, I felt proud, that I could still “control” my hunger. As each day passed my self delusion increased. I lost 10 lbs by the time I came home. For the first week back home I didn’t eat anything during the day. I had a secret, my old familiar friend, and some very sick, very sad part of me wanted to continue, more than 10 years after I had last starved myself.

I had beaten cancer, but it seemed like I could never beat this girl who came out to play when I was feeling unsure or very vulnerable. Cancer treatment for a patient is a very long endurance event: during the treatment you are holding everything in that you can, just trying to keep it together, and I do think the effects of the weight gain/the stress of it all were probably inevitably going to lead to a relapse, looking back on it. Somehow I managed to snap myself out of it, with no small amount of willpower.

The trouble was it felt good to be her again, the girl “in control”, the girl who wasn’t a powerless cancer victim, but a girl in charge. If she didn't want to eat, no one could make her eat, and no one would be the wiser. Some sane part of me stopped her, but that girl inside me, she called me a failure for not being able to cut it anymore. And I had missed her. She felt like an old friend, who I had to force myself to say goodbye to yet again, but honestly, I know she’s always there if I don’t watch out for myself.

So yes…I  try and embrace things like body positivity, which tells me it’s ok to love myself as I am, that if I want to be healthier that’s cool, but mostly, we need to stop blaming ourselves for not fitting a certain mould, a shape that is a "goal", for not having a body fuelled by lean proteins and vegetables primarily because that is the price we pay to look good. I have an eating disordered wired brain, I always will have, to some extent, and learning to respect that and steer clear of overly restrictive diets and unrealistic "goals" has only taken me uh...almost three decades.

I do think there are just too many shades of body shaming that creep in to a lot of it, this fitspo lark, once your eyes are opened. This article has some typical examples of what is becoming more and more mainstream in our feeds, and just how unhealthy that can be.

For me in particular, I feel like I can't escape women showing off their (#healthy  (me)... #eyeroll) tummies on Instagram, and yeah, it's a problem for me, it's my issue. It's great if you love your body and are proud, but please stop presuming that your body type or shape is a universal fitness goal for other women. Because some of us will NEVER look like that, and that's ok too. 

Our "fit" and our "healthy" will never look like identical to anyone else's, so why are we allowing anyone who looks a certain way to be held up as a barometer for other women? I weighed 110 lbs when I was 18 and I still didn’t have a flat tummy, because I am narrow of hip and broad of shoulder; it’s simply the way I am shaped. 

I still remember when I was at peak starvation as a teen, lying in bed at night and feeling my hip bones protruding by the day, and yet still, I always had this little round belly where my perfect flat stomach was meant to be, damn it. Why couldn’t it be flat, it was SUPPOSED to be flat, after all! I never had the confidence to wear crop tops or bikinis when I was younger, because my stomach never looked a certain way, the "right" amount of flat.

How many articles and pictures and exercises have I subjected my poor, round, inadequate stomach to over the years, damning it straight to hell for stopping me from being "perfect"...societal body expectations are a beast, and I guess I just don't believe we should be carelessly re-inforcing them if we can help it.

And so last week I did something unheard of for me. I started stroking my belly, looking at it, and telling it I loved it…until I actually, truly meant it. It took a few days...which really, is a small miracle, after years of hating my belly. Because I know my belly will never be perfect or worthy of admiration, whatever shape I am in, it’s my round belly, small or big, it’s always with me. I know it might sound dumb or small to anyone who has never genuinely hated a body part, but it made me feel strong and happy, and it’s a feeling I would like to keep hold of and grow.

For me, the body positive movement and avoiding any unhealthy for me fitspo, where possible, is the best way right now to feel better about myself and more connected to other women who feel the same way/are in the same boat as me. It doesn’t mean I don’t support or think other people are awesome for pursuing their own fitness and health goals in their own way, whatever works for them is great. We are all different.

I know what doesn’t work for me, and I think it’s ok to have a voice about that too, especially when, let’s be honest, you are in the minority if you don’t treat weight gain/weight loss/diet and exercise in a certain prescribed way. It doesn’t mean I am not going to try to eat healthier, on my own terms, or exercise. But I can’t be inspired by putting myself down or laughing at memes of fat babies in bikinis or lying to myself that nothing is as important or feels as good as a "fit" body. 

All bodies are good, all bodies are beautiful, all bodies are life. The more we love ourselves the better we will be, it’s a lesson it took me years of self-hatred and body punishment to learn, and I am pretty excited to try to live life this way.



DO Follow @bodypositivememes if you enjoy seeing negative toned fitspo turned on its head!


21 comments

  1. Lovely! Keep up the positivity. xoxoxo #weekendblogshare

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  2. We share a history. I too had an eating disorder once. I am just winding-up cancer treatment now. I understand the shadow eating disorders cast over your life. Glad to hear you are finally embracing yourself. X

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    1. Thanks, all the best to you! xx

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  3. Bless you Steff. I cried reading this.

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    1. Oh no!!Sorry! Not my intent to upset anyone. :-( xx

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  4. It must have been hard writing this but it is something that is quite common and people should be made aware that it could be happening around them or even to them. Eating disorders is an easy path to go down if you are in that frame of mind as it can just take that one comment or event to happen in life to push you in that direction. xx

    The Life of Dee

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  5. It doesn't sound dumb or small. Even people who have a healthy attitude to their bodies find it difficult to look their reflection in the eye and say "I love you". Or anything nice. Or even just to smile. What a brave post, Steff. x

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    1. Why is it so hard to say & think nice things about ourselves? It's sort of essential, really! Thanks for reading :-) x

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  6. Thanks for sharing and being so honest with your experiences! I'm glad you've been having some positive thoughts about your body :)

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  7. I am so happy you found your happy self again. Thank you for assuring us that a single comment should not bother us. A lovely brave post Steff!
    #weekendblogdhare
    http://oryxlandlife.com

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  8. Thank you for sharing this! Really well written and it meant a lot to me, especially the confession of the "liking her" part. I think that's an element that is more common than people acknowledge and it doesn't get written about much, it's still basically stigmatized and there is a lot of shame around the "liking her/feeling proud" element that goes along with eating disorders, which needs to stop in order to help people heal. This is my opinion. I am not an expert.

    I loved the article you shared with the frustrating/damaging fitspo quotes. I've seen lots of those (especially on pinterest) and they drive me nuts. (I've probably pinned some of them - guilty.)

    This post is amazing!

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    1. Thanks so much Becky. The fitspo thing can be confusing, I have also pinned bad ones I am sure too. I actually started a Pinterest board of fitspo I find unhelpful/negative (it's private still because I want to remove the corresponding captions/replace with my words). The trouble with it too is that searching for the good body positive stuff also brings up lots of unhealthy stuff too(face palm).xo

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  9. Such a honest and open post. I totally get that it must feel good to have control over something when cancer had taken control of you before. I'm also glad for you that you overcame that, and are back in a more positive place again. #WeekendBlogShare

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  10. I cannot even start to think how hard was to put this post online. I hope that you will accept yourself everyday more and more. You are absolutely an incredible person inside and out! Love, pugs and kisses! Iga http://www.igaberry.com

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