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I've always been more interested in what my body can do than what it looks like. Way back in biblical times, the Apostle Paul said, "Your body is your temple,"meaning we should cherish and care for our bodies. Somewhere between biblical times and 2020, we began treating our bodies not like the living, breathing human organisms they are, but like problems that needed to be fixed, or like a sleeping bag that needs to be pushed and prodded and smashed into the receptacle in which it came. If you've never had to stuff a large sleeping bag into a very small bag, you won't know this particular struggle.
I recently stopped seeing a therapist for my eating disorder, and I've considered myself "recovered" for a long time in that I've stopped starving myself, binging/purging, and generally feeling miserable. But my dietitian had me read "Neural Rewiring for Eating Disorder Recovery" by Tabitha Farrar, which distills how deeply disordered habits become ingrained, and how difficult it is to fully break all of them, not just the really bad ones like starving or binging. This brings up the very valid question, "when are you 'recovered' from an eating disorder?" I'll address that in a later post, since it will necessarily consume more space than a paragraph or two.
But, even though I am "recovered" from my eating disorder, negative thoughts still creep in. I become unduly focused on my body and can spiral pretty quickly into negativity because of it. I recently learned about something called proprioception, which is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. People with eating disorders often have skewed proprioception, and because of this, we can't really tell how big or small we are. We have a flawed conception of our bodies in space. I remember feeling enormous when I weighed 110 pounds. Looking back on photos of myself, I realize how small I really was. And now, at a very healthy weight of 150, I still can't really conceptualize how big/small I am. It's quite a mind fuck, if I do say so myself. I'll order pants or a shirt two sizes too big, because that's the size I think I am. I'll nitpick myself in my full-length bathroom mirror one day, and notice my toned muscles the next. All of this goes to show that body image is highly unrelated to our actual bodies.
Through recovering from an all-encompassing eating disorder, I've learned to value myself outside of my body, meaning that when I think about my worth as a human, it has absolutely nothing to do with my body or how I look. Unfortunately, the rest of the world does care about my body and how I look. Women are judged harshly and constantly for our looks, while our brains and skills fall by the wayside.
Rhonda Rousey was the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo by winning bronze at the 2008 Summer Olympics. She set the record for most UFC title defenses by a woman (6), and was the first female fighter to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. Rousey is a badass athlete, but I recently watched a documentary about her on Netflix called Through My Father's Eyes, and an uncomfortable portion of the narrative was about how she "had it all," meaning she had athletic prowess, smarts, and physical beauty. Few male athletes suffer the same aesthetic scrutiny. Rousey showed young women that they can be fierce, badass fighters. The commentary around Rousey underscored the fact that looks still matter, just as much as physical prowess.
It feels gross when our bodies are objectified, as if somehow, we're less than human. As if somehow, our worth extends from a part of us that will only grow less "hot" with time, which is not to say less beautiful. But it's not always other people doing the objectifying. Myself and you and probably every human compares themselves to others all the time. Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." If there is one thing I want everyone to know, it's that your body is the least interesting thing about you. Whether you are fit or not, whether your body works well or not, whether you happen to love your body, or not. None of it is as interesting or lovely as who you are.
If or when you find yourself having negative thoughts about your body, stop yourself. Remind yourself that thoughts aren't facts. Focus on what your body is capable of. Surround yourself with strong, confident, and happy people. Obtain a new skill or be otherwise useful with your time. There is no use in focusing on your body, hating your body, on thinking about it really, unless you are in acute pain or distress. If or when you encounter someone who comments on your body, judges your body, or attributes your worth to your body, just smile and ignore them. Taking your power back is as simple as not giving it away to start with.
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” — Thich Nhat Hanh