It’s Easter weekend and I’ve just taken a bite of a coconut macaron that my aunt has baked for the occasion. “You look like a fat chipmunk”, he says. “Watch out, if you keep eating so many cookies you’re going to get fat”. Who taught you how to hate yourself?
I stand in front of the mirror for too long every day. Staring at myself from different angles. Scrutinising every little inch of fat on my body, how my thighs move and jiggle, how my stomach rolls when I bend over, my double chin, my puffy cheeks, my flabby arms, and my non-existent abs. How will I ever learn to accept and live with this body? How will I ever feel like this is okay and not something that I have to constantly work at trying to fix?
We’re all brought into this world as equals, blank slates. As kids, we don’t worry about what clothes we wear, how our hair looks, what or if we should eat, and we don’t notice if our stomach creases when we sit down.
Somewhere in those years of growing into teenagers and adults, we become aware of – and burdened with – the notion that we are flawed. We learn that we are supposed to look a certain way, eat a certain way, and be a certain way to fit in. To be okay. To be enough. And because this outline of a perfect being is increasingly unrealistic and unattainable, we come to hate ourselves for our failure to fulfil these demands.
I learned early on from magazines, tv shows, and supermodels what an ideal body looks like. What success, fame, happiness, and attention looks like. I tuned into the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show every year to gawk at the perfect bodies and dream of one day looking like that.
It took nothing more than a quick look in the mirror to conclude that I did not appear to be what society labeled as beauty.
In my early teens, before I developed an eating disorder, I had notebooks hidden away, scribbled full of calorie calculations, food and exercise plans, and magazine cut outs of stick thin models I wanted nothing more than to look just like. But it wasn’t until I started getting comments from other people that learned that not being as thin as those Victoria’s Secret models wasn’t okay.
In my teens (and less than a year before I developed my eating disorder), I was dating a guy who would unfailingly comment on every “hot girl” he saw. “Oh wow, did you see that girl?” he’d say to me, as he turned around to have a second look at the stick-thin blonde with big boobs who’d just passed us by. As if he was having a banter with one of his dudes. He’d do the same with overweight people, only instead commenting on how disgusted he was by them. When we went out to eat he’d suggest I order the children’s size portion, and when he ordered take away pizza for himself for dinner, he’d order a salad for me.
With my confidence already scarred from my then boyfriend’s comments, little hints were piled on from other people in my life too. Over Easter that year, we visited family abroad. For the duration of the Easter weekend my uncle would tirelessly comment on everything I was eating. He’d tell me I should cut back on the sweets, watch what I was eating, not have so many cookies.
Or else I’d get fat.
He even took the liberty of calling me a “fat chipmunk” as I bit into one of my favourite coconut macaroons that my aunt had baked for the occasion.
And then there was the comment from a close friend when I’d lost so much weight from eating nothing and exercising for hours every day. I had confided in her when I, for the first time, felt like my “dieting” was out of my control. Her only response to my weight loss confession both surprised and hurt me: “Yeah, I’ve noticed, how did you do it?”
She wasn’t concerned. She was curious, and excited, to learn how to do the same.
And of course the aforementioned boyfriend commented on my weight loss with compliments as well, “The long walks are paying off, keep it up, you’re looking amazing”.
My behaviour was being encouraged by the people around me. I felt miserable and wanted to find an end to this diet nightmare, but how could I stop when everyone was cheering me on, telling me this was a good thing, the right thing to do?
When my body eventually had enough of the starvation, I fell into a binging and restricting pattern. I would cave and eat what I considered to be a lot of food, and then feel painfully guilty and ashamed about it. To counteract my failures and forbidden behaviour, I would spend the following days starving myself. This of course became a vicious – and never ending – circle. And despite my starving, I wasn’t able to prevent myself from gaining weight. My irregular eating patterns wreaked such havoc and caused such confusion to my body that it would hold onto whatever food I did give it, causing me to gain weight.
To this day, gaining weight feels like the ultimate failure to me. The slightest weight gain or change in how my body looks or feels and I feel extremely ashamed of myself and my body.
And how could I not? For years people have complimented me for being so determined and for having such discipline with my assumed healthy eating and exercise. How then, can I not feel guilt and shame, and the constant need to fix this broken body? How can I not keep feeling this taught and learned self hate?
I find this topic very interesting – the notion that we are taught to dislike different aspects of our bodies or ourselves. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments, or email me.