I have a rough history with food. And my body image. And how I merged those two into a give-and-take concept.
I grew up in the ’90s; a time when Paris Hilton thin was everywhere and jeans sat snugly on the hips; just enough to cover your buttcrack, though not a women’s perfectly jeweled g-string.
The ’90s gave way to the early 2000s, and the images in the magazine of beauty remained the same: thin, blonde, and ribs often protruding.
In high school, I learned that what I ate equated to how I looked. I mean, I looked like any lanky, awkward high schooler that dabbled in sports here and there. It was ingrained in my mind, though, that wasn’t enough. I enrolled in my first gym membership at age 17 in an attempt to lose weight.
When I went off to college, the inevitable (and often described as the worst thing that could occur to an 18-year old) happened: I packed on the “freshman 15” in the form of late-night McDonald’s, and gallons of Budweiser guzzled through beer bongs.
I grew up in central Florida, and partying was all we knew. I mean, what else would you do for fun than canoe down the river with a 6-pack in tow? So I may have put on some weight, which bothered me, but at least we all did.
Then I transferred colleges and moved across the country to California, which changed everything. The new culture of Los Angeles enamored me: the sunny weather, spotting movies stars out and about, and how absolutely beautiful everyone was.
I felt out of place and over my head. I loved my new home, but I also didn’t know many people. A part-time job at the Cheesecake Factory was my savior in that department though. I quickly made friends, most of them actors, which eventually led me to my very short-lived side hustle as an actress.
As a sophomore, still young and completely new to acting, I was utterly susceptible to everything the city was known for: your image.
During one of my few auditions, I met my first boyfriend in California. He was suave; walking into the room with a James Dean-esque vibe to him with his quaffed hair and white t-shirt.
Things moved quickly, and before I knew it, I had my new actor/model boyfriend secretly living with me in my studio apartment while I attended USC.
What started as a romantic story — one filled with surf lessons in Huntington Beach and gazing at the stars in Griffith Park — soon became my absolute worst nightmare. Endearing comments gave way to stark criticism. Caring gestures replaced with careless word daggers.
I allowed a man I loved to tell me I wasn’t good enough: that I held too much fat in my arms; that I should look like the models he worked with; that I was stupid; that only he could love me.
And instead of leaving, I began developing habits to control what I could: what and how much I ate.
I used my newfound interest in veganism to hide what became a very severe eating disorder. I’d go all day eating very little and try to knock out two CrossFit classes at my gym downtown. On the weekends, I’d come back from work, secretly gorge on food, and then purge while my boyfriend was asleep.
These habits became a lifestyle that lasted two years. When I finally admitted I needed help, I lost a lot: not just my period and a ton of weight, but any grip I had on reality.
A therapist diagnosed me with anorexia and orthorexia (a year later, bulimia was added onto that list). But another aspect of eating disorders that people don’t talk about is a little thing called body dysmorphia.
A lot of people have a hard time understanding this disorder. But if you believe at all that our thoughts create our reality and therefore what we see, then you’ll understand. Body dysmorphia is a disorder that people experience in how they perceive their bodies. They could be in great shape, but their thoughts literally warp what they see when they look in the mirror at themselves.
It’s an eerie feeling genuinely believing you were born into the wrong body. That, when you look in a mirror, you feel like you’re trapped in an alien suit that wasn’t meant for you.
For me, in the thick of things, I knew I was meant to be skinny like the models I always saw my boyfriend with. So why was I cursed with this body with no thigh gap?
The hate I had for myself was made exceptionally worse once I started recovery, though. I spent years stripping my body of fat it was always meant to have. So when I started to consume food regularly, I quickly gained the weight back. I may have looked like I was getting better on the outside, but inside I felt like I was losing control.
It’s a hard part of recovery to go from being much thinner than you’re supposed to be, to what is healthy for you. When you start to gain the weight back, you feel like a fat cow in the latter because you’ve experienced the former. The saying, “once you see it, you can’t unsee it,” applies perfectly to the mental struggle of eating disorder recovery.
It took years to work past this idea. Many nights crying into my pillow, convinced that I was broken. Years in therapy weeding out my “healthy thoughts” from my “disordered thoughts.” A stint in eating disorder rehab so I could connect with other people going through similar struggles. And a whole lot of yoga, journaling, meditating, hating meditating, inner work, and all the woo-woo shit you can imagine that comes with trying to basically re-discover yourself.
The biggest obstacle that came with this challenge was learning to love the body I was always meant to have. For so long, I mourned the loss of my sick body. I didn’t want this new form with all its extra curves and dimples; I wanted the body I starved myself to get.
But that was my body dysmorphia talking, and I knew I needed to work on accepting myself as I was. Because, if there is one sure thing, it’s that my body wasn’t going anywhere. I have one meat-sack vessel in this life, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to waste any more of my time hating it.
So I did all the work you could imagine. I began to listen to that little voice inside my head and realized how mean she was. I stopped her from taking all those little insulting jabs at how I looked and replaced them with simple words of love. Sure, at first it felt forced, but somewhere along the way the “You look so ugly,” comments just disappeared.
I let go of all my clothes from when I was sick. I realized that holding on to them was feeding into hope; hope that one day I would be able to fit back into them. And when I remembered how sick my mind was when I could fit into those black skinny jeans from college, I gladly threw them out.
I started to look at myself naked in the mirror every day. I’d take a deep breath and observe my body; the new curves I never knew I could have, how strong my thighs looked, how much I loved my butt. I saw a version of myself that was taking up space in the world that I never allowed myself to.
Because not only was I not allowing my body to look how it was meant to, I also wasn’t allowing myself to be authentic. I didn’t have it in me to stand up to my college boyfriend. I was too scared not to be known as the skinny girl. But it all came from a place of not accepting myself first; over everyone else.
It may have been a bumpy way to spend my early 20’s, but now I have a new appreciation for the way I am meant to show up in this world: big arms and thighs included.