Our bodies, myself

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Women's body issues fascinate me. I minored in gender studies in college and was so interested in the class material that I had a 4.0 GPA my final semester of school when I was taking 18 credit hours of 400-level women's studies courses. I did the readings and studied the material so intensely that I cranked out over 100 typed pages of papers and essays that semester, most of which were granted high A's for grades.(Yes, I'm bragging) Ah, if only I approached my Calculus class with that same gusto ... both times I had to take it.

Thanks to the media and the subsequent lies I let breed in my young teenage mind, I am a woman who has grown to both fear and loathe her body. Succumbing to my own negative thinking, I developed an eating disorder at the age of 13 and bought into the whispered belief that women shouldn't take up space. I favored sharp, boney angles in the female form rather than the soft, nurturing curves that are, by definition, the very essence of womanhood and female sexuality. To be hungry was to be in control and to give in to the temptation of food was an act of unbridled overindulgence. And to say that such ideas were illogical and inevitably damaging was lost on my starving, self-loathing ears.

Even having a mother who worked as a clinical psychologist couldn't save me. I bought into the falsehoods of what it meant to be female and I bought into them earlymy fragile sense of self never stood a chance.

And I honestly don't believe I have ever fully recovered.

I only practiced the act of starving myself for a few months before my mom, step-dad and a teacher at school intervened. We had a few perfunctory come-to-Jesus talks, my eating was monitored at both school and at home, and it wasn't long before everything was easy peasy lemon squeezy again. My foray into the world of eating disorders was never serious enough to require outside therapy or hospitalization. I was lucky enough to have a mother whose relentless love refused to let me sink low enough into my own private hell to do any permanent damage to my body. I had simply become too skinny too fast and everyone was concerned.

Going through that experience, I remember mostly feeling immense relief once I was caught and my secret was brought into the light. Having someone else be privy to my self-abuse was a huge weight off of my shoulders and I was grateful to have someone else take the reins. Hating yourself is exhausting work; I was thankful to relinquish the control I had been fighting so passionately to keep.

But there was one other emotion I remember cultivating that year—guilt. I have a vivid memory of watching an episode of Oprah with my mother when I about 11 years old. We were living in a new city, coming fresh off of my parents' divorce, and I was already starting to feel weird and resentful about life. One afternoon after the bus dropped me off from school, I joined my mother on the couch and watched the daytime TV queen preach to her studio audience about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. A sorrowful looking woman sat next to Oprah and tearfully rehashed the painful details of her decades-long struggle with binging and purging. Without turning away from the TV my mom said to me, "I would be so disappointed if you or your sister ever did anything like that to yourselves."

As an adult, I eat like a horse and do everything that a semi-well-mannered woman would do. I am a proud member of the Clean Plate Club at home and thanks to my athletic prowess on both the treadmill and softball fields, I can consume more food in one sitting than my husband. However, one of the unseen punishments of my brief disorded eating lingers heavily in my private thoughts on a continuous, 24/7 basis—I am preoccupied with the size of my body. It can't please me. And the way it changes scares me. I was over the moon when I lost upwards of 20 pounds in the past year, but openly cried only a few days ago when I discovered that my chest size has shrunk yet again and even my tiniest bra sags and bunches.

My body shows the tell-tale evidence of weight loss, and yet it's not good enough for me. Now certain parts are too small. I traded one misery for another and proved to myself that no matter what I do and no matter size I am, nothing will be good enough for me.

And I've been monitoring myself when I'm out in public dining with friends. If any of my girlfriends don't finish their meal, I'll automatically lay down my fork in surrender, too. But the reality is, I can always finish my food ... and probably their plates as well. But for some twisted reason I'm afraid they'll judge me for being a piggy and think that I don't have any self-control. I can't let them think I don't have any self-control! Because if they have self-control, well dammit, then I have to have it, too.

All of that being said, I still continue to read articles and books about women and their bodies, hoping that maybe one day what I know to be true in my head will finally make it my heart. I think I've read every memoir on eating disorders our public library has to offer and I've even armed myself with a copy of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls just in case God finds it funny enough to bless me with a daughter of my own one day.

Today I saw an article from GirlieGirlArmy.com circulating on Facebook that I would love to share with you. It's called The Problem With Skinny Bashing and discuses the way women's curvy bodies are always pitted against skinny bodies in a sick competition of which is the preferred ideal. The article points to the notion that tearing one body type down to prove a point about another is detrimental to all women. Check out the article and let me know your thoughts!

Is this something that you struggle with, too?

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  1. what an awesome post! so right there with you! thank you for your transparency!

    1. Thanks for reading! So glad I can share my heart with others!

  2. i highly respect you for being so honest, courtney! so many things happened in my life growing up that i could not control, but there were two things that i could control all by myself without the help of anybody else - 1. my grades 2. my weight. so that's what i did. so pretty much freshman yr. in high school through all of college, that is exactly what i did - devoted myself to making all A's and maintained a somewhat unhealthy weight. and because of this, i really didn't make very many friends and didn't enjoy those years to the fullest. BUT at least i was in control - or felt i was. but of course (a year of counseling later lol), i'm continuing to learn so much about myself. do i still compare myself to others? and do i still try to control certain areas in my life? yes. but i'm building confidence in who i am.

    lol sorry for my little rant, but i just loved your post and you definitely made me think!

    1. You are SO RIGHT. It is majorly a control issue! I was telling my friend about it once and said, "Starving myself felt powerful. Like it was the one thing I had that no one could take away from me." Isn't that sad and sick!?

      Thanks for sharing that. So glad you're building convenience. You are a beautiful, sweet lady!

  3. You're one of the most amazing women I know. This post brought me to tears, (happy tears) and I'm ashamed to say it was because although we've spoken about this before, it was because I saw myself in so much of that post. (Completely selfish.) But, women need to be transparent about these issues, and band together to make sure we understand and know that we don't have to be vicious to each other, compare ourselves to our neighbor much too often, and are constantly worried about weight gain. I find it wonderful you were brave and strange to share this with your readers. It's something I struggle with... even now, while eating this biscuit with probably 500 calorie gravy. I think... wow, I'm not going to be able to eat lunch now, or hey, I need to only eat celery today.

    It's sickening to me. Thank you for being another woman that I can relate and talk to about it, so that we won't have to suffer with ourselves.

  4. Love the post my dear...even with my slim physique I've struggled with body image since I can remember...making comparisons, too much here, too little there...still trying to learn to be happy and comfortable with what I've got. It's a painful process, but it has to be done!
    P.S. I recently discovered a wonderful way to make the "too small" appear not so small in a surgery free way! The Little Bra Company has been like a miracle for me!

    1. It's so easy to blame the media for making us doubt ourselves, isn't it? Then again, the media only controls what it puts out there for us, it has no control over how we let it influence us. That's what I personally need to work on more.

      I checked out The Little Bra Company. Their bras are SO CUTE. But my, they are PRICEY. Maybe for my birthday next year. :)

    2. Oh yes, definitely an investment. I researched them for about 6 months before using some Christmas cash to purchase one. It was worth it! If you think "little girls" can't get clevage, let me tell you, miraculous things can happen in a LBC bra!

  5. My mom read that book when I was in High School or middle school maybe. I know it sounds dumb, but I'm really glad that someone I think is so awesome and beautiful (God I'm gonna gush now... hmmm K?) struggles with body images too. I'm clearly not happy that you have these struggles, but I'm happy that I know I'm not alone in the world on those days that I'm in tears. I think it's the control freak in me that makes me wanna go "POOF! I'm perfect". And then reality hits that it's not like that. How cool would that be though...

    1. Yup, my mom bought it for me towards the end of my high school career.

      You flatter. Honestly, that was so sweet. Thank you for sharing that with me. I think one of the best things to keep in mind is that you are NEVER alone in your thinking. Every one has something that they wish they could change. What's most important is that we stopping paying so much darn attention to those silly flaws and concentrate on how positively awesome we are and how much GOOD we have to offer the world instead. :)


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