Body Image: The War Nobody Wins

131 comments

kz2eOG2JfpXzDuQ8aJHbaO78XEuKKzDAIyfJKtd0zVcPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
I'm having a tough month, guys. Sorry, I wish this could be an uplifting, inspiring, go get 'em column, but I promised to be honest with you, and I am honestly struggling. It's just part of the deal when you're attempting real change (is what I tell myself on days like today). I'm having a rough time with body image, and it sucks. It doesn't suck in the way that getting up early for the gym sucks, and sorting out issues with emotional eating sucks. It's just painful and crummy, and all I really want to do is go home right now and watch The West Wing for 11 hours. But, I doubt my lovely bosses would approve of that decision, and anyway, I'm supposed to be doing healthy things now. So, I guess I have to sit here and talk about it. FINE.

Sitting here typing this, I'm forced to look at my own image hovering in the corner of my copy: a round-faced woman in a pink-orange dress, trying to obscure her tummy behind a handbag. It makes me feel pathetic. And, if I'm not careful, I'm going to keep wandering down that hole, name-calling myself all the way to the bottom: fat, useless, embarrassing. I can have all the revelations I want, become a mindful eater in far better health than I was last year (which I am, and which I'm thrilled about), but one full-length picture of me can send me into a shame spiral so great, I want to pack my bags, change my name, and move to Neptune just so I never have to see anyone who has ever seen that photograph of me.

On the other hand — the hand with a better attitude — look at me. How many women my size like to be photographed? How many of us volunteer to put that round face out there for all to see twice a month? How hard have I fought for every inch of self-esteem that I have, despite the disdain of peers, family members, even friends who directly or inadvertently reinforced the notion that women like me are not meant to be seen? Pretty damn hard. So, high five.

Rejecting dieting and prioritizing fitness is not the same as embracing your body. Clearly. I started this project with the intent of neutralizing my toxic relationship with food and learning to integrate exercise into my daily life. But, of course I wanted to lose weight, too — I still do. It's just not the end goal. When you really become an intuitive eater, your body finds its normal weight range naturally. You eat the foods your body really wants when you're actually hungry, you consume the amount you need, and stop when you're full. So, things even out. But, there are so, so many steps along that path and they're not all in one straight line.

A couple months ago, friends started commenting that I was losing weight. In the past, those were the comments I lived for, my one and only source of true validation (oof, talk about embarrassing). And, even though I'm not in that one-track, weight-loss mind anymore, it shook me up. It thrilled me, of course, because my project was working. I really was eating what I wanted, whether it was Brussels sprouts or pizza, exercising in a regular, non-obsessive way, and my body was finding its way to normal. But, when you're used to being invisible, it's startling to suddenly be noticed — even when that's all you've ever wanted. Sometimes it feels safer to run from success.

When those comments began, I ran in a hundred different directions. I ran around like a dog who doesn't realize the balloon tied to his tail is not actually going to get him. I wanted to hang on to my success, keep the weight-loss going, and so my mind kicked back into diet mode. I started over-thinking meals again, told myself I didn't actually want a hamburger but that the hamburger was a symbol of stress eating and therefore I shouldn't eat it because I was supposed to be giving up emotion-based eating, right!? No. I just wanted a hamburger, and I should have had it, because then I probably wouldn't have eaten a salad the size of a Volkswagen just to fill myself up, when a six-ounce hamburger was all I really needed.

5mBPXJFglVMWrQROo586c4Mz2Grwi0eKHGlJcaPjeYkPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
I want to say I slipped. I feel like I back-tracked. But, as Theresa always reminds me, that is all-or-nothing thinking. That is my old, diet-addled brain that thinks in terms of "cheat days" and "backsliding." It's bullshit, in other words. Life's never going to go in a straight line where things get better and better until everything's finally perfect. Things will always come up. Well-meaning comments will cause weird reactions. Not every photo will be flattering. And, change — even positive, thrilling change — is always going to be scary.

To make things more complicated, I decided to change in public. That's not to say the support and commiseration I've gotten from all over the world hasn't been incredible. It absolutely has been. That's not even a strong enough word — it has been supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I truly don't think I could do this without you, stranger on the other side of the screen.

But, yeah, there's always a downside. Taking this process public means that everyone — coworkers, journalists, strangers — constantly ask me something along the lines of, "So, is it working? Have you lost any weight?" When I get that question, I wish that I could zero in on the single most painful personal challenge they've ever faced and say, "Great! How are all your infertility treatments going? Are you pregnant yet?!" But, I don't say that because I'm not a monster. They're not monsters either, they just don't get it. At. All.

Being looked at makes me look at myself, and that's not easy, but I (usually) know that it's necessary. It's part exposure therapy and part self care. It forces me to get my head on straight because I just can't go through the rest of my life looking at myself through that mean-girl lens. What's the point? Even if I did lose a ton of weight instantly, the mean girl would still be there. She lives way down in the deep; it's not easy to find her and she doesn't want to talk to me when I do. My belly's not really the problem — she is.

When I see a current photo of myself, I think of that weird phenomenon that happens when you look back at old pictures. I may have thought that senior portrait was hideous, monstrous in high school. But, when I look at it now, I think I'm kind of adorable. And, what about the pictures in this very post? Will I need to wait ten years to be able to see them as un-ugly? I don't want to waste any more of my life not seeing my own loveliness. I've never met another person whom I thought was sincerely grotesque, and never, not even at my most cruel, have I thought the vicious thoughts about someone else's body that I think about mine every day without even realizing it. So, I'd better realize it. When I forget, I'll have to realize it again. It might take many rounds and I might need to walk this path back and forth a few more times before I really get my bearings and find the mean girl where she lives. Somehow, though, I'm determined to make friends.

The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. Follow my progress (read: sweaty gym selfies and food that doesn't come in a 100-calorie pack) on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject — and hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments! I love checking in on your journeys (and sweaty faces) too!