I'm about to get a little personal...you've been warned.
Recently, a client asked me if I ever have body image issues. It's actually a question I am asked fairly often, doing what I do. Therapists have varying comfort levels with self-disclosure and I would say I am pretty open with my clients when I think it will be helpful in their growth. So, my truthful answer to this woman was yes, once in a while I don't feel all that great about my body. Usually those "body blah" days are cyclical and I can relate them to certain times of the month but they'll also come up randomly. Since I am fairly attuned to my body's fluctuations, I can let those negative thoughts slip away fairly easily. Sometimes I whine to my husband for a minute that I am not feeling my best; he comforts me and assures me that I am perfect the way I am. And I believe him. Do I feel any less negative about my body than other women? That's hard to say since I don't know the inner dialogue that goes on in my friends and acquaintances, but I am pretty confident in my own skin.
This week is the National Eating Disorder Association's (NEDA) Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The theme this year is "Everybody Knows Somebody." Yep, we all know somebody who has dealt with disordered eating whether it is ourselves, someone close to us, or someone we just know in passing. The goal of this week is to raise awareness of the hideous, and dangerous, nature of the eating disorder and to help promote treatment and early intervention. I've been involved with this week over the years in many manifestations but this year, my participation is small. I've committed to being loving toward and forgiving of my own body. Before you think to yourself, "Get off your high horse, Allison!" understand the process that got me to this point.
I abused my body for many years through overexercise, laxative abuse, purging, and starving. I couldn't be thin enough, couldn't push myself enough, and didn't care if what I was doing took years off my life. I was depressed to the point of wanting to end it all, anything to end the pain of hating myself and my body, especially, so much. After ten years I waved the white flag, surrendering to recovery. I was tired of that life and knew there had to be some greater purpose.
This is where I wish I could tell you my decision to embrace recovery transformed my thoughts about my body into magical self love. My friends, it did not. I think one of the biggest surprises about recovery was that I was going to have to actually work to accept my body. I just thought if I ate and stopped abusing myself that I would like what I saw in the mirror, but I was still focused on the flaws; the lumps and bumps were still there. It took deliberate self-talk, lots of prayer and intentionality, and friends who could relate to where I was to help me through this residual eating disorder brain stuff.
Over the past ten years, I have noticed a gradual slipping away of the cruel thoughts I had about my body. It's much easier for me to see a strong, capable woman in the mirror than one with an imperfect form. Now I can lovingly look at my arms in the mirror and smile at how much they look like my dad's. I chuckle at my stomach pooch which is just going to be there when I bend over, having been stretched by two big baby boys. I embrace my small breasts which fed my sons for a cumulative 30 months, even though they look nothing like they used to. I see the eye crinkles and white hairs that sprout at my temples and recognize them as a badge of honor - they represent hardships overcome and happiness experienced. That's not to say I am not using retinol cream and visiting my salon to take care of the little hair situation...come on, I'm human! But I don't dwell on these things as being BAD. They just ARE.
My four-year-old has his school pictures taken today, so he was all spruced up with a haircut and a nice ironed shirt. While he was brushing his teeth in the bathroom and we were looking in the mirror, I told him how grown up and handsome he looked. He looked at his reflection and said, "Mom, I know I am!" Like, duh. Of course we also tell him he is smart and funny and observant and thoughtful but he IS handsome. And I am glad he knows it. If we could all look in the mirror while brushing our teeth and confidently say, "I am looking GOOD," what a different world we'd live in.
I adore Anne Lamott. I read her work and think, "YES!! She gets it!" Take the time to read this piece, an oldie but goodie. She sums it up a million times better than I ever could, but I think we both agree that we are fine, just as we are.