My Dysfunctional, Tragically Normal Relationship with My Body
I would guess I was about 12 years old when I started to think consciously about everything that entered my body. I was skinny as a stick bug and confident in my own prettiness. Yet I was unbelievably aware of what could happen if I wasn't "careful" or didn't have a plan for how to stay skinny. I thought maybe I could even get a little skinnier, a little prettier, if I just tried a little harder.
I spent the next 18 years in a constant cycle. This may sound like an eating disorder story, but it seems to me—having spent all my life knowing women, and the last decade working with young women— that my dysfunctional relationship with my body was tragically normal.
My cycle consisted of having a constant feeling that my size (which was at my biggest a medium) was starting to get out of control. That I could be less, be more, be better and try harder. From there I would come up with a plan. I’d read up on a new diet or regimen, start with some newly strong resolve and buckle down. A good plan this time! Something I could really stick to! Something that would actually change my life! If I could just be strong enough I could get those taut, long legs or that sucked-in model face. Or at least fit into any pair of pants I cared to bring into the dressing room—without ending up in one of those horribly-lit stalls sweating, crying, and feeling the urge to just punch myself in the face.
It may sound like my self-esteem was painfully low, but I grew up feeling fantastic about myself in most ways and was surrounded by positive influences and a very encouraging family. I was never a comparer. But this area of my life was blocked off from the rest of who I was.
The way I felt about my body was not something I shared with anyone, because it was humiliating. I knew that my body shouldn’t define me and that life was made up of more important things than calories and pounds. On the outside I honored all of those more important things with the way I lived my life, but on the inside I was always consumed with thoughts about my weight. I thought that if I didn't admit to it all out loud, it meant I wasn't such a prisoner to it.
For those 18 years I would yo-yo up and down about 15 pounds. I would stick to yet another destructive plan—destructive if not for how restrictive it was, then for how much I had to constantly think about and obsess over it. The pounds would come off, but then when I went back to the normal, healthy diet and lifestyle that I was raised on, my body would rebound right on back to its normal weight. I, of course, would feel defeated, work up a new resolve, and find another plan.
Each time I honestly examined my dysfunction, I’d look at my family, friends, mentors, co-workers, peers and magazines and always conclude that my obsession with my body was normal.
Everything began to change when I was 30. After having two biological children and years of talking and praying about adoption, my husband and I signed up to adopt from the foster care system. I spent hours reading about these children. I spoke to experts, adoptive parents and social workers and heard powerful stories. And one day I went to weigh myself and realized something had started to shift in my mind.
The scale had been a constant in my life. I weighed myself at least twice a day. I can’t recount the number of times I let the scale dictate my feelings. I have so many memories of a perfectly good day that ended with me crying in a bathroom. But when I entered the foster care process something started to sit funny as I got on the scale each morning and night. For the first time I was taken aback by all of the time, thought, effort, conversations, workouts, reading, restriction, tears, and massive life focus that I obsessively put into trying to make myself a little more beautiful. These children were alone in this world after surviving horrors, and I was worried about how many calories were in a banana.
I thought about our daughter and how much my heart would break if she were enslaved in this way. I thought about my son and how I wanted him to think about and treat women’s bodies. I thought about my belief in God, in women’s equality, in loving others.
And I threw my scale away.
It has been three years. I have no idea what I weigh. At first I had bouts of terror. But now I can’t explain how liberated I feel. I’ve spent the last three years trusting what my body was trying to teach me all of those years: that if I eat a natural balanced diet and exercise to feel good and stay active, my body will be the size it’s meant to be. It took me a long time to get here, but when I look at our precious adopted son and think about the foster kids whose stories made such an impact on me, I’m so thankful to have found this peace I didn’t know I was missing.