I want to love myself. I want to quit caring about my size. I don’t even care about my looks, guys, it literally is just my size. I’ll go to the grocery store with no make-up, wicked bedhead and no bra and not even think twice about it. But if I thought my love handles were noticeable I’d wear a snowsuit in July to cover it up. And I’d think about it all. Day. Long.
In the above photo, my friends and I got together to make these wreaths.They’re cool, right? And these ladies are the very best. The best. I couldn’t really enjoy them, though. Wanna know why? All I could think about was how much weight I’d gained since I started therapy. I pictured myself as a goliath next to them, and it made me uncomfortable. Around people I love. Now I want to be a hermit and not be around anyone. This is a huge problem.
I go to my dietician. She’s mean, but she does it so nicely. Always smiling. I ask the question. How in the hell am I going to get over this chasm? This mammoth division between what I know to be true about human worth, and what I believe about my own? She asks how my meals are going.
Fine. They are going really, really well. I have no more guilt about food. I don’t squirm at dinner time. I don’t hyper-focus on macro-nutrients or calories. I don’t skip meals. I don’t over-eat. I’m comfortable.
Except I hate myself. And I want to quit therapy and go on a diet. Like, now.
She looks at me long and hard. Probably to assess whether or not I’m lying about the ease with which I ditched the eating disorder behaviors. But I told the truth. I’ve been going to group therapy. I’ve been doing my one-on one sessions. I meet with her weekly. And yet….
“I’m so huge. I’ve gained so much weight.”
“That’s the body dysmorphia talking.”
“My eyes aren’t broken.”
“I know. But your filters are.”
Great. My eyes aren’t broken. My brain is.
She thinks it’s time to address the body image issues. This, people, is the real heart of my eating disorder. The behaviors are not the issue. I don’t starve myself, or make myself throw up, or punish my body with hours of ruthless work-outs. The ideas about myself are doing the real damage. She makes me buy a workbook. That’s right, I had to spend my own money on the next new torture device.
Assignment number one: Assessments. A series of tests designed to tell me whether or not I have a poor body image. Uh. Why else would I buy the book? It wasn’t pretty. They took an hour, and I was a mess for several hours after. Results: I have poor body image.
Assignment number two: Stand in front of a mirror and describe yourself head to toe, out loud, as if you were describing a stranger to a sketch artist. You may not use any subjective or critical language. You must use unbiased and objective language. Describe a stranger to a stranger.
From head to shoulders was ok. After that, it hurt. That exercise was to be repeated daily for four days, alternating toe to head and head to toe, and eventually wearing nothing but underwear. Not my fave. But, on day two I noticed that describing myself in a non-judgy tone was a relief from the constant barrage of disapproving messages I typically send myself. Huh.
Assignment number 3: Go back to your childhood and revisit significant memories that shaped your body image. Memories of elementary school flood my mind. Really, flood it. And in every one, I felt so inadequate, and so determined to hide it. I was in a constant state of competition. It was as if I didn’t believe I had value, but that I had to prove it to others. Or earn it. Prove, prove, prove. Earn, earn, earn. Always on stage. But I couldn’t pinpoint where or why it started.
I talked to my mom about it, and she told me that when I was three people would come up to her and say, “Your kids are so cute. Rachel doesn’t look like them.” They meant that my older siblings were blond and I was brunette, I’m sure. But little me didn’t take it that way. One day I tearfully apologized to my mom for not being cute. I apologized. That means at three, not only did I feel badly about not being cute, I felt a responsibility to my mother to be cute. I owed it to her.
I still don’t really know what to do with that information, but it’s pretty obvious that we’re trying to undo more damage than I thought. And I don’t know how. I asked my therapist. I told him the story and asked what I’m supposed to do to get a better body image. In case you thought the therapy world had any better answers than the rest of the world for basically any problem you can let go of that right now. He gave me the two worst ones. Practice. And time.