i used to hate myself.
I used to hate myself. Used to hate so much about my appearance. My hair when it wasn’t “done”, meaning perfectly straight, which it is naturally incapable of ever being. My body because it wasn’t slim enough; too much muscle and too much fat in comparison to the svelte bodies I began to crave mine to be. I absorbed all the images this society and its media dished out to me about what was beautiful, and by omission, what was not beautiful. The regarded beauty was all white and almost none of it reflected the characteristics inherent to my ethnicity, whose beauty was dismissed to the point of disappearance.
Hate is a strong word and when I use it in reference to someone else’s feelings about themselves, they always resist. “I don’t hate myself.” Oh, okay. It is a hard pill to swallow.
What I’m talking about is a deep, urgent, secret longing to be “other” than what you already are. A strong desire to give up that which you have and are for that which you don’t have and aren’t, but want and want to be. On a spectrum gauging love and hate, these remorseful feelings of self-rejection sit opposite of love and squarely in conjunction with hate. If the word stings a bit or feels like a knife to the heart, good; one cannot love oneself and reject oneself at the same time. Some truths hurt so much, we choose to ignore them, to not face them; yet, what we resist persists.
To remedy the problem I had with my body, I became obsessed with managing what I put in my body. The irony is that I learned how to have an eating disorder from a television special warning about the dangers of having an eating disorder. Throw up your food or refrain from eating altogether. I thought it was brilliant, really. I thought I was in control. I was wrong.
For years, I resisted the idea of having a problem or needing to get help. I used diet pills and laxatives, exercised two hours a day, counted calories, micromanaged my diet, deliberately skipped meals, binged, and induced vomiting after eating.
This behavior went on for twelve years, off and on. During my senior year in college, I took an online nutrition course. I knew so much, I rarely referenced the book and completed the entire eleven week course in less than a week. That class, although it didn’t teach me too much new, was important for me to face myself. There was a chapter on eating disorders. When looking at the list of symptoms for anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating, I had most of the symptoms of each one. No longer could I deny what I’d been trying to for the previous ten years. Contrary to the 90’s myth, black girls could, in fact, have eating disorders and I was proof. So much so that I couldn’t even peg just one of them down.
I was still too ashamed to say anything or get help, but that realization stuck with me. Two years later, I told someone for the first time. Turned out, she too had disordered eating patters. She knew what it was like to look in the mirror and pick apart your entire anatomy as I’d done.
Cheeks too full. Shoulders too round. Arms too soft. Breasts not high enough. Stomach not tight enough. Hips too wide. Butt too big. Thighs too fat. Knees not pointy enough. What was I satisfied with?
The challenge is that long after the behavior that accompanies disordered eating disappears, the psychology remains. I still struggle with finding a balance within myself. I still struggle with wanting to look, feel, and be my personal best without being excessively harsh and judgmental. Still, I’ve finally found an appreciation and connection with my body that soothes me.
Being vulnerable and honest enough to share this with someone was one of the best decisions I made. Together, my friend and I resolved to get better. I abandoned the behavior and started working with a personal trainer. He specialized in women’s body building and provided a reference that was even more extreme than any behavior I’d exhibited in the past. I was able to find a middle ground on the road to healthy discipline. Additionally, I discovered how much I enjoyed physical challenges and being aware of what my body needed to perform optimally. Now, being active is mandatory, not to satisfy a quest for perfection, but because my body longs for movement, for strength, for connection. When I’m not active, I don’t feel right. I feel just as disconnected from my body as I did when I was in my inactive youth.
Eating disorders are common, yet private. Subscribing to neither our stories nor our struggles are our own, I recognize the healing potential in taking off our masks and revealing our scars. Once upon a time, I was really embarrassed to admit I had low self-esteem and had an eating disorder. Now, I see the blessing. In learning to love myself, I can share that journey to the countless others embarking upon the same task. In learning to love myself, I recognize the various manifestations of not loving oneself. In learning to love myself, I have empathy for those struggling with the same feelings.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Avoid the trap of thinking that all that is or has been is all that can be. Transform your challenges into virtue-building experiences.
This issue is very close to my heart. If you need to connect with someone about your self-image issues, I’m here for you.
Image source: Amy Spanos