Dear Dr. Stacey,
I am new to your blog, and for the past few days I've been reading it as voraciously as I would a paperback, mystery beach-read. You really hammer home issues that I've both consciously pondered and avoided. Although I would like us to be a community of body-happy women, I selfishly can take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my struggles.
Up until a couple of years ago, I always thought I had a healthy body image. One of my best friends in high school struggled with anorexia, then bulimia, then a vicious cycle of both. I was the closest to her at the time, and my own worry for her well-being, coupled with teenage angst, caused me to lose a bit of weight as well. I never really considered it at the time, with all the eating issues that circulated high school, I was healthy in comparison. Only now can I look back and see that I seemed to have a little of what was going around. Throughout college, my weight was never an issue, I noticed when I got stressed that pounds would actually, subconsciously, drop away. I'm an outdoorsy, sporty person, but never made a task of going to the gym. Only when I graduated, moved to NY (land of delicious take out) and started a more desk/sedentary lifestyle did I begin to notice my clothes were a little tighter...
About two years ago, I made a conscious decision to start eating healthier and got a gym membership. The token '5 lbs' that I had wanted to lose came off, and I continued on my new routine. My weight dropped lower. I've always been athletic, and at 5'3 am probably healthiest at my average weight of 120. A few pounds may not mean much, but working out daily and restricting calories caused a loss that dropped me into a less practical range. I thought this weight loss was akin to health, but my constant hunger, and increasing unwillingness to take a day off from the gym lest I feel guilty, told me otherwise.
I didn't listen to these signals, and one day found myself devouring whatever I could find in the apartment. Food was always on my mind; I wasn't even finished chewing my first meal of the day, while already plotting & yearning for my second. My 'splurge' takeout meal on Sunday nights would get me through the week, and once I got there I'd eat so much, preparing for the hibernation of the week to come, causing the most uncomfortable feeling. Overall, I was confused by these binges- I was eating so healthily, why did I have to do this? I started eating bigger meals at night and eased up on the restriction, but the binging continued sporadically. I still remember the day that I decided I hated being so uncomfortably full, and decided to purge. I was angry and baffled at myself, and all I could think of was my friend from high school. I was in my mid-twenties- why was this happening to me now? I saw girls go through it, and I know the havoc it can wreak on your body and emotions, but here I was, voluntarily putting myself in the same position. My frustration continued, the binges continued, and so did the occasional purging, for about a year. It still frustrates me that I put myself through this situation, after all, I never wanted to be stick thin, and I believe when I look in the mirror I do see the real me, but I still chose to lose a few pounds because I felt tired and uncomfortable a lot of the time.
I gained a few pounds back- a struggle- but with that, I think I've gained some really healthy perspective. You asked a question a while ago in your blog if sites like yours are truly helpful, or detrimental, in the long run. I have to say, without sites like yours, it wouldn't have clicked that there was an actual explanation (D.I.E.T.) to what jump started such a rough period. I still struggle to get to the point where my body and food aren't daily worries, but I've learned to really listen to what I need to sustain myself. It sounds so elementary, but such an important reminder.
Unfortunately, I also truly believe in your title. Because of my own body insecurities, it's easier to recognize them in others. People who seem so comfortable in their own skin, as I'm sure I do to many, have their own quirks that betray an inner discomfort. My own roommate, curvy and beautiful, has always been uncomfortable in her own skin for as long as I've known her (6th grade) and will be the first to admit she doesn't like to be touched. She's recently dropped a few pounds and started dressing for her actual size, but said to me just yesterday how uncomfortable it makes her feel when someone compliments her. Even with our differing body-comfort zones, compliments pushed me to further my workout routine, and I feel they're doing the same subconsciously for her. I try to tell her how great she looks (she hasn't always gotten that) without harping on the subject. I've picked up a new tactic- with your help- 'refrain from comment.' For example, when out with friends or family, I try not to dwell on the 'indulgence' of the food, or reply if someone makes the token comment about how bad it is for them. I keep telling myself to just enjoy, it's OK. I'm trying to take the same course when comments are made about someone's figure, negative or positive- just refrain and let it play out as it may. It sure is tough to not shout at the TV when yet another spot on Jessica Simpson's (beautiful) body comes on!
I started this email simply to thank you for an informative and supportive blog; although I occasionally peruse sites like this, I'm never a commenter, so apologies for just letting loose in an email to you. I'd be surprised if you don't come across emails like this all the time! I could go on and on with my own thoughts and feelings, there are just endless things to say on the subject of body image in today's world.
Keep up the good work. . .
Monday, March 30, 2009
Stories: Part VI
I heart mail (reprinted with permission):