I just finished packing up for our family vacation to California this year. It’s pretty chaotic trying to pack for three tiny humans and myself, but I thought we had everything we needed. Until, I paused for a second, like I always do, while packing my bathing suit.
I looked at it and I imagined how I would look on the beach in it. Would I look fat? Would my stretch marks show? Did I have a cover-up that I could wear on top of it? I don’t want anyone to see what my body has become. Whenever these thoughts come up, I cry. I cry a lot.
I cry because I have spent most of my life telling myself that my body is perfect the way it is. I cry because I never want my daughters to experience the self-hate that I have been drowning in since I was a kid. I cry because I don’t know how to change the narrative in my mind about the way I look.
Earlier this summer the girls and I spent a week at my in-laws. They have a beautiful, heated pool that my kids love. I didn’t pack a bathing suit for that trip. I had just had a baby. I was fat. I was ugly. I was lazy. I planned on sitting on the deck and watching them enjoy the water with their Grandma and Papa.
After a few days of watching them splash and giggle with glee, I convinced myself that I needed to be part of this. I needed them to have the memory of their mommy with her postpartum body, wearing a bathing suit and enjoying the water with them. I needed that memory for myself, as well.
It has never been easy to practice self-love. When I get dressed up to go out, I have to text my sister. I send her pictures of what I’m wearing from every angle. I need her to tell me how I look, because my own view of myself is so distorted. She is a beautiful and extremely self aware eighteen year old. I can’t trust myself, but I have always been able to trust her.
I am thirty-one years old and I can’t look at myself in the mirror and smile.
*I wanted liposuction when I took this picture*
That’s fucked up. That’s STUPID. I can’t answer this question, but I am constantly asking myself, “Why am I placing my self-value on how I look? That’s all I have to offer this world?”
When I was twelve there were a lot of changes happening in my world. I was about to become a sister for the first time. I was going through puberty. I was moving into a new house. Looking back now, I can see those events as really happy times, but in the moment I felt completely out of control. I noticed how other girls my age looked at their bodies.
“OH. MY. GOD. Look at my chin. I have a double chin. I’m so fat!”
“My thighs are so huge.”
“My arms jiggle, they’re so gross.”
“I have cellulite everywhere!”
Instead of dealing with the changes in my life, I decided to change my body.
I entered the word of Anorexia with complete abandon. I decided to be strong. Strong girls don’t need to eat. I read that if I ate certain foods, I could actually burn calories while chewing and digesting them. I found every single book I could get my hands on about eating disorders and treated them like my bible.
I turned peoples stories of recovery into my own damnation. It was easy to slip into the abyss of hunger. No one noticed.
The hate I had for myself grew and grew. I would wake up everyday tired. I would worry about how many calories were in the orange juice my mom gave me with my breakfast. I would do crunches until my stomach hurt.
My best friend’s mom knew something was wrong, and she decided to reach out to my parents. They confronted me. We all cried. I went to the pediatrician and found out my urine had high levels of ketones in it. My body was in starvation mode and was literally eating itself. I was scared. I realized this was serious and I could die. I started seeing a therapist and tried to pretend that I was ok.
Fast forward a few years. I sat in an emergency room with my mom and dad waiting for the doctor to come in and give me a referral to an outpatient treatment place for eating disorders. I had cuts on my arms. I was puking everyday. I drank ipecac syrup. I binged on bread, bacon, ice cream, cereal, and anything I could get my hands on. I wanted to be numb and pretty.
If you had looked at me, you might not have known how sick I was. I wasn’t rail thin. I was skinny, but not too skinny. You never would have known how much my heart raced, how I couldn’t sleep, how I would count every calorie over and over again. I started outpatient at the Institute of Living in Connecticut my second semester of my sophomore year of high school. We told people I had mono. It was unimaginable to tell them I was slowly killing myself with starvation and purging.
I wrote earlier about the shame associated with postpartum depression. This was shameful too. I couldn’t tell people the truth. I would pick at my nails and think over and over again, “Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Fat. Fat. Fat.”.
Treatment was ok. I followed the rules. I met with the nutritionist. I did the art projects. I started to feel myself coming out of the fog.
I also spent every single second looking at my peers who were also in treatment and compared my body to them over and over. After a few weeks, I was discharged and went back to high school. I continued seeing a therapist and nutritionist and I allowed my family to believe I was better.
I was not better.
This awful cycle happened again and again until I was half way through my first year of college. I spent a few weeks at my mom and stepdad’s house during my winter break. I was binging and puking any chance I got. I was also fed up with doing this shit. FED UP. I wanted to live my life. I sat them down and told them I needed help again. They told me they were waiting for me to say something. They knew, but they wanted me to seek treatment for myself. So, I did.
This time was different. I was an adult. I had the world at my fingertips and I realized I was throwing my life away.
Eating disorders never go away. Just like an alcoholic, you can be sober, but you still have the disease. You can quiet the disease, but it’s always there like an annoying little parasite.
Every single time I see a mom in a bathing suit, I think to myself, “I wish I was that brave.” A few seconds later I also think to myself, “I wish I was that thin.”
I’ll never forget the moment when we found out our first baby was going to be a girl. I was prepared for a boy. I figured if we had a boy, I was less likely to fuck him up. I saw her beautiful little body on the ultrasound screen and felt such terror inside of myself.
I never wanted her to grow up hating herself the way I did.
I never wanted her to look at her adorable belly and call it fat.
I never wanted her to feel anything other than powerful, strong, capable, smart and beautiful.
*This picture was taken about a week after I gave birth to my first, and all I could think about was how fat I thought I looked*
I have to remind myself, almost daily, that this body that I’ve spent most of my life hating? This body has given birth to three human beings. This body has provided nutrition for those three babies. This body was meant for so much more than self-hate and self-doubt.
This body fucking rocks and I desperately want to wake up every day loving and respecting it. I have to be an example for my children. I refuse to watch them grow up denying themselves of so much joy, because they are so consumed with self-hate.
We have a rule in this house. We don’t use the F word.
Well, if I’m being totally honest, I will spell it out for my husband on particularly hard days. It’s not easy, but it’s our rule. It’s important.
FAT has no place in this house.
I wanted to share all of this, because I wanted to be able to hold myself accountable. It’s easy to say how I want to change my internal dialogue without making any actual changes. I have to start a new chapter with this body of mine. I have to show my girls that we are all beautiful, regardless of what the scale says.
I’m going to wear my fucking bathing suit in California. I’m going to feel the ocean on my body. I’m going to laugh as the waves tickle my daughters legs. I’m going to teach them how to ride a boogie board. I’m going to help them build sand castles and take in the ocean breeze.
I’m going to do all of this in that damn bathing suit and I’m going to feel fucking beautiful for once in my life.
*Blissfully enjoying Lake Michigan*
It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worth any value ever is. I look forward to the moment where I finally realize and acknowledge my own beauty, as a mother and as a person.