For better or for worse, the way we see ourselves is intrinsically tangled up in the way others see us. The moments big and small that help to form our self-image begin before we’re even conscious of them and very often come by way of outside forces.
My view of my own body feels to me like a patchwork quilt, each square a different memory, sewed together as I age, accumulating rows as I do years. Some squares I remember more vividly than others. Some squares bring back happy memories of my body and its power and beauty. Others are painful and make my chest tighten and my eyes well up with tears.
I want to share some squares with you.
I am seven years old. I’m at recess with my best friend. We hear an older girl has started a club in the corner of the playground and we go to check it out. She tells us it’s a Skinny Club and glares at me as she says that my friend can stay but I cannot. My best friend grabs my hand and storms away, pulling me along behind her.
I am nine years old. I’m wearing a black and neon two piece bathing suit that I love, but for the first time, I take in how my body looks different from other girls in their suits. I decide to stop wearing two-piece bathing suits.
I am ten years old. I am shopping with my mom and all her tags say small, but mine says large, and none of the clothes fit on my body like I think they’re supposed to.
I am 12 years old. We are visiting family and something happens involving me and food. I don’t remember if I was caught eating something I shouldn’t or if I was whining about being hungry, but I do remember that, in his frustration, my dad snaps, “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?!” We tour a chocolate factory later that day and I won’t allow myself to taste the free samples at the end.
I am 13 years old. My family has moved to a new town and I’m a freshman in a school where I know no one. A boy yells “MASSIVE!” after me in the hallways for weeks.
I am 14 years old. I grow a few inches and lose a little baby fat. Tanned from a summer in California, I secretly think I look good in the pictures from my trip, but I’ve already figured out I’m not supposed to admit that out loud.
I am 17 years old. I listen to one of my best friends turn down compliments over and over again and it bothers me. I decide to accept every compliment that is paid to me and say thank you, even if I don’t believe it myself, and in doing so I slowly start believing.
I am 18 years old. Immersing myself in theater makes me feel accepted, inside and out.
I am 20 years old. I pose nude for a friend to paint me and am shocked to find that I love the finished product. Seeing myself through the strokes of her pastels gives me a new appreciation for the softness of my body.
I am 21 years old. I’m asked to lose weight for a role, but it doesn’t hurt me the way I always anticipated it would. My parents help me buy groceries because I can’t afford to eat well on my own. I eat whole foods and take yoga classes and lose a small amount of weight in a healthy, well-paced way. My director is pleased.
I am 23 years old. I’m in my first relationship and I feel sexy and powerful. I am walking taller and wearing tighter clothes. I feel so good in my body.
I am 25 years old. My boyfriend asks me to lose weight. He doesn’t even get the full sentence out, but I know what’s coming. I can hear the words before he’s even said them because they’re my worst fear and because I’ve whispered them to myself a thousand times before. He’s talking about taking up bodybuilding again and says, “I’d like to be bigger, and well…I’d like for you to be sma…“ I cut him off before he can finish and sob in disbelief.
I am 25 years old. I’ve told no one what my boyfriend’s said because I’m afraid they’ll tell me to leave him. Friends and family watch me develop an addiction to exercise and highly disordered eating habits. I run a 5K race while on a diet that has me consuming 900 calories a day. I fall in love with sweating and getting stronger, but very quickly lose 40 pounds in six months and am unable to sustain it.
I am 27 years old. I complete my first Whole30 and I feel a subtle but certain shift in myself. I don’t realize that the food I eat has my stomach in a near-constant state of discomfort until I’m on the Whole30 and everything feels…comfortable. For the first time in so long, I start to consider how food can be a tool to nourish my body rather than punish it. I don’t notice that I’m still caught in a cycle of restricting and bingeing.
I am 28 years old. I cross the finish line of two Spartan races in the summer and I feel strong and accomplished. My focus on fitness shifts for the first time from trying to lose weight to trying to acquire new skills.
I am 29 years old. I am having a particularly good day, feeling centered and confident after a yoga class, when I’m blindsided by a text from an old trainer that reads, “You looking a little soft.”
I am 30 years old. I still think about what my ex said to me all the time. I think about it every time I’m about to go on a first date, fearful that the man will look disgusted by the large body walking toward him. Have I posted enough accurate full body shots on my profile? I think about it when I overeat, actively hoping to grow bigger to spite him.
I am 33 years old. It’s looking like I’ll need surgery for my hip and a nurse flippantly says over the phone that my BMI might be too high for the procedure. I’ve read dozens of articles about how outdated BMI metrics are and I still burst into tears on the street because I know that even if I wanted or needed to lose weight, I no longer trust myself to even try to do it in a way that isn’t harmful.
I am 33 years old. I’m working with a nutritionist for the first time in my life. I’m finally paying someone educated and experienced rather than an Instagram influencer with a one-size-fits-all chicken and asparagus meal plan. She challenges me to actually pay attention to my body because for all the time I spend obsessing over how it looks, I’ve forgotten how to listen to it. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be anything in between the extremes of Panic Hunger and So Full I Might Throw Up. She asks me to remove moral judgment from my food. She gives me the ultimate gift: bread, back in my life after being long ago filed away as Bad.
I am 33 years old now. I don’t love that I spend so much time and energy considering this quilt, but I know I’ll take it with me throughout my life, to every new apartment, to every bed. I’ve learned to accept its presence in my life and so I try now to have a larger part in its creation, ignoring squares that others try to give me and covering myself instead with love and gratitude for a body that carries me through it all.
If you like this article, check out : https://www.harnessmagazine.com/how-to-cultivate-meaningful-friendships-in-your-30s/