What do you want?
I want love. I want food. I want abs and a perfect body.
Because I fear being forgotten.
People remember beautiful people.
I wrote these words in my journal, on January 23, 2014.
I’d just turned 22 and I thought I’d figured out what my main problems were: I wanted a perfect body and long-lasting, romantic love.
Once I had those things, I would be complete.
I was raised in an uber conservative, cult-ish branch of Christianity, and I was raised to believe that self-love was wrong.
I needed love, but I wasn’t taught (or allowed) to provide it for myself. I grew up feeling dirty, sinful, broken, and shameful. I learned to reject myself.
So I searched for love and acceptance in outside places. For a while I looked for it from God. I tried to earn it from my step-dad by obeying him despite abuse. I sought love through achievements and accomplishment. And I gave love overwhelmingly to other people, in hopes that they might give it back to me.
In 2014, I focused on finding romantic love, because I thought I had everything else. I thought the combination of me plus my soulmate would result in a concoction strong enough to fully fill my heart, erase the inadequacies and insecurities I’d accumulated through the years.
I’ll love myself when I find the right guy
Once I find a guy who loves me as much as I love him, who treats me kindly, who understands and trusts me, I will finally love myself — because someone else had shown me I was worth loving.
Once I saw my reflection in someone who loved me that way, I could end the war with myself — and my body — and love me that way, too.
I thought loving myself would be easy, as soon as someone else gave me permission to do so.
I thought a perfect body would increase my chances of being lovable, and of loving myself.
But I’ve learned over the years, as many women have:
Body size doesn’t fix your love problem.
The horrible truth is that I have lived in a body that weighed 115 pounds and a body that weighed 150 pounds — and I accepted neither.
I first started starving myself in 2008.
I thought I wanted to be skinnier, more appealing.
But I did it to punish myself. To remind my body that I didn’t want it. To remind myself that it takes constant, violent work to be lovable.
I didn’t deserve to eat, because eating is pleasurable and comforting. Because eating keeps you alive.
In 2014 I was still starving myself. I only ate a few hundred calories per day, mostly protein, and I exercised obsessively.
I didn’t want to eat because I still hadn’t found love.
Yet a part of me, some small sliver that I had almost managed to asphyxiate, spoke up when I was writing in my journal on January 23, 2014.
It knew I needed something else, before I could ever hope to find love or satisfaction with my body.
I want food.
In the final year of my psychology degree, I came across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs chart quite frequently.
Perhaps you remember it from your Intro to Psych class — but in case you are unfamiliar with the pyramid, it looks like this:
Maslow’s theory says people are motivated to look for certain needs, and that some needs are more important than others. The needs on the lower levels must be satisfied first before we can start taking care of the others.
Physiological needs — food, water, shelter — make up the foundation of the pyramid and must be provided first.
If we don’t have those basic things, we devote all our energy towards finding them — at the expense of everything else.
No wonder I couldn’t learn to love myself.
Without food, my body was fighting for its mere existence.
As long as I was starving myself, there’s no way I could fill those higher-level needs. I couldn’t love myself or anyone else.
If I starved my body, trying to waste it away into nothing, how could I feel safe within it?
If my own body was a danger zone, how could I be comfortable sharing it intimately with someone else?
How could I offer myself as a gift to someone, when I was trying desperately to snuff out my own life?
How could I ever see my body as a comfortable, loving place to be (much less achieve my full potential) when I was actively depriving it, strangling it, flagellating it every time I saw it?
Years have passed. I’ve found a guy that loves me that way. He’s given me more of himself than I thought I deserved.
But instead of looking at him and seeing my beauty, my worthiness reflected back to me, I look at my reflection in him and cover my face. Not willing to be seen.
I found love, and it is achingly beautiful. He is beautiful.
But I am still learning how to feel beautiful myself.
I wanted a body I could be proud to inhabit.
But I need to be proud of what inhabits my body.
I needed to eat before I could even begin to think about love.
I eat food now.
I still struggle with body image sometimes. I’m still learning how to bandage up eighteen years worth of wounds.
It’s going to take time for my body to adjust, to realize it doesn’t have to worry about survival anymore.
But just the simple act of nourishing myself catapulted me leaps and bounds into a more balanced life — an existence where I have energy to read, write, socialize, and exercise.
To think about things other than my body.
And because of this, I am learning to love myself.
Being a friend to your body means giving it a cheeseburger once in a while, and actually enjoying it.
Not reprimanding. Not glaring and making snide comments and pouncing at the end, dragging yourself off to the bathroom to force it all back up.
Feed your body so it knows it can relax.
Watch as it responds with gratitude, unlocking the padlocks that hold your heart hostage.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues, please reach out to me. No one should ever go through these things alone.