I own a mirror, in my room, for the first time in years.
It happened kind of by accident, because I moved into a room with my partner last week that just so happens to be a master bedroom that is gigantic and has a big-ass mirror mounted right on the closet door. I was kind of surprised when I saw it, and honestly a little bit dismayed.
I see myself in work out gear in gym mirrors all the time, but I hadn’t seen myself naked in front of a mirror since 2010, when I moved to California from my mirror-containing apartment in Portland, Oregon. The last time there was a mirror in my room I checked it constantly, pinching fat around my waist and holding my arms over the outer edges of my thighs to imagine what I’d look like if there was no curve there.
Because I will always be a person in recovery, no matter how good I feel, I worried that my new mirror would make me feel weird. I did not have the desire to pick myself apart while staring myself in the eyes, and I had honest concern that the urge might sneak up and overtake me. That sort of thing simply waits in the wings for me, always ready to pounce when I feel weak or overly tired.
The suspicion I felt when I saw my mirror made me remember a journal entry I wrote in my LiveJournal (yes, LiveJournal!), dated April 16th, 2013. I had been doing Crossfit for just a little under a year when I wrote this post, and my body had changed drastically. The entry reads as follows:
“I am having some real body image crap come up lately. As I’ve said, Crossfit was the thing that stopped me from being bulimic, but sometimes I feel really confused about the results of that for my body. I stopped puking and I started lifting really heavy weights, and- shocker- I gained weight. My thighs are basically giant (This is seriously not like, me being body dysmorphic. They definitely got much bigger due to muscle from lifting and eating more). I am well aware that people find my body attractive when I am more curvy, but I really feel self conscious about it, especially as a high school teacher. I feel like when I have more curves I can’t help but be seen sexually, when in reality I don’t always want that to be my M.O. Adding insult to injury, my body image really keeps me from feeling excited about myself at all and I never EVER look in a mirror. I mean face mirror, yes. Full length, no fucking way. I am sure my body is fine, but it is kind of intense to have gained at least 40 lbs. in the past few years. I am just not used to taking up that much space.”
HOW SAD IS THAT?!
Since I moved into this room with the mirror I have thought a lot about my relationship to myself both in physical and emotional ways. My capacity to acknowledge that I am a good, positive person doing good, positive things in the world has grown exponentially since 2013. The fact that I approach my life with a baseline level of self-care and self-compassion has changed how I interact with the world around me. I no longer contend with hating myself on a daily basis. I have learned to navigate my body and it’s sexuality outside of other people’s perceptions, or even numbers for the most part. I do not assume I am flawed and, what do you know, that makes my life way more enjoyable.
I do believe that choosing to avoid the mirror for a spell of time was good for me while I was doing the work to get here. I had grown so accustomed to using a mirror as both a tool of torture and a tool of validation that I needed to step away, do my best to put on clean clothes and brush my teeth and hair, and hope that the way I looked was good enough without constant spot checking. But as I ran past this entry in my old journal, I knew it wasn’t right for me to avoid the mirror anymore. I wasn’t exactly afraid of what the mirror would show me any longer anyway, and there was no use hiding from something that was right across from my new bed day in and day out.
So, I did what I had done all those years ago, in the darkest days of my sickness. I got buck fucking naked, stood in front of the mirror, and took a peak. What stood before me was something kind of amazing.
It was the body of a woman that had changed her relationship with herself through serious years of hard and consistent work.
A body that had been many weights and sizes, and showed signs of such struggles.
It was the body of someone who worked hard. At her business, on her mind, at her ability to be a partner and a friend.
It was the body of a woman that was getting really damn good at olympic lifting.
The body of a woman that looked a lot like the body of some other women I deemed really seriously important. My grandmother. My mother. My sister. This body was not the same as theirs of course, but it was very, very similar.
I have the body of a well-nourished woman.
A body that I respect.
And most of all, I have the body of my friend.
Someone that I love, and someone that I trust.
And so, with that acknowledgment, I high fived the mirror, and put my clothes back on.
Good job, body.
Thanks for baring with the process.
A thought for public consideration:
The words “eat clean” don’t actually mean anything.
Like, really, nothing.
I have heard the following foods described as both dirty and clean: dairy, poultry, whole grains, fruits, nuts, nut butters, whole wheat pasta noodles, beans, smoothies, certain oils. It is annoyingly confusing for the general public to have conflicting theories on these foods- that’s just a given- but my real issue is that I actually believe that the whole idea of food cleanliness pushes people to strive for further and further food purity, which can end in a litany of pointless, boring, functionless restrictions.
Let me tell you about my 20’s. My experience was this:
I started out vegan and gluten-free because that’s what works for me both ethics wise and digestion wise. No regrets about either of those decisions.
I begin to cut back on snacking, as I had heard it prevented proper digestion.
Obviously processed and packaged foods went next, because I was trying to be healthy and I didn’t believe those were a part of a healthful diet.
I heard that soy was actually very dangerous, and I began to steer clear of it.
I started to believe that blending fruits turned nature’s bounty into candy, and that it was akin to mainlining sugar. Smoothies were out.
Whole grains became anti-nutrient rich vitamin absorption blockers.
Beans started to be considered poison.
Nuts had too many Omega 6’s, not enough Omega 3’s.
Kale caused hypothyroidism.
and- holy shit- suddenly I couldn’t eat anything. Funny how that works out.
As a person who was generally interested in nutrition, these theories flooded me, via blog posts (without citation), hash tagged pictures (#eatcleanorgohome, amiright?), magazine articles, billboards, TV commercials. There is a low hum of nutrition advice that permeates our entire culture, and if one is susceptible to suggestion or intrigue around different theories it can become very very confusing to navigate the simple act of putting some nourishing shit in our mouths.
This is not okay with me.
“Eat clean” implies judgement. It implies that other people who don’t eat this same way are doing it wrong, are ruining their health, are making poor decisions. How rude is that!?
Something else for consideration:
Many, many people are in recovery from eating disorders.
For me, at the height of my anorexia, the “nutrient” I was most deficient in was calories. I was doing the best I could to recover, but was simultaneously obsessed with eating clean, and guess what? It was really difficult to restore weight.
The smartest thing I could have done at that time was eat a damn cookie. That is literally the choice that would have been for my highest good, but what happened for me when I tried? A negative thought loop. An echo of “that cookie is ruining your health” splashing around in my brain. Guilt. Shame.
I believe that we all have a responsibility to one another to try to get rid of the culture of guilt and shame around food. Telling the phrase “eat clean” to fuck right off is a huge part of that.
Yes, I still try to eat in a way that my experience and my actual education (like not internet articles) has taught me is healthful. I get down with some vegetables. But I also get down with a processed snack now and again, because for me, the worst thing I can do for my general health is be so obsessed with eating that I cannot enjoy an indulgence.
We can all give ourselves a lot more credit and individual consideration than just going by the guidelines “eat clean”. We’re smarter than that!
Please join me in hashtagging #cleanisforunderwearnotfood on your delicious food pics, because holy shit. I think we can agree that dirty drawers are no fun, but eating is about health, lifestyle and, every once in awhile, pleasure!
No shame or guilt about it.
Have people in your life ever changed as a result of your being increasingly harsh towards yourself?
For me the answer is a big Y-E-S. Resounding, whole hearted, serious yes. Yes a million times over.
People have moved toward me or they’ve moved away from me, actually, totally based on how I am feeling toward myself. Sometimes I’ve watched it happen before my very eyes and sometimes I’ve only noticed retrospectively, when I look back and realize someone I have been quite close to is no longer there.
I want to talk about the particular kind of isolation that constant dissatisfaction with the self produces. The dissatisfaction can pop up in all kinds of ways, but my historical dissatisfaction has shown up mostly as hunger.
Deep unbridled hunger was the precursor to an entire arsenal of bullshit in my life, but what it was most viscerally, was lonely.
Almost a decade ago I started to diet. At the time, I had a really fun and super nice best friend. She was the kind of friend that always felt like dancing, was really fucking good at dressing up and looking fly, and would pick me up from the airport when a flight came in early or late. She was generous and kind and completely confused by my insistence that I needed a new weight, because she just liked me. Like, thought I was cool and funny and creative and probably didn’t think about my body very much, because up until that point it hadn’t really been a topic of contention or discussion.
As my diet turned into a supremely obvious and bonafide eating disorder, that friend expressed her concern. She called me to check up on me. She asked me what I needed. She still invited me to dress up and go dance, but I never wanted to go anymore. Eventually, she stopped calling.
When I got invited out dancing by this friend, I only thought of my body. I thought of how I’d probably need to eat more if I stayed awake later, how I hated the thought of anyone seeing my body anyway and how I was simply disgusting. I thought about how I didn’t even want to be around myself, how my life was small and boring and just straight up dumb. A good amount of the time when I didn’t go out dancing with my friend I stayed up surfing the internet, hungry and cold in my bed. I thought about how isolated I felt. I wondered what my friend was doing.
I look back at those times, and I miss my friend but I don’t blame her for her graceful exit from my life. My life got small, impossibly small, so small there wasn’t room for a fun lady to take me out on the town and celebrate being alive.
Luckily, as I learned to like myself, new people came into my life.
Because to like yourself, after awhile, takes significantly less energy than the alternative. It is true that at first I fought and pushed and pulled and tried to like myself, and it took focus in the way that hating myself had, but at least there was the benefit of a significant amount more levity in my days. And once I got into the habit of liking myself, I was able to do it like a reflex. I don’t get sucked into a pit of self-love that keeps me from other people, but I did used to hate on myself so hard that I was impossible to be around. Liking myself instantly turned me into a more likable person.
When I like myself, I wake up with a good feeling and get on with my day.
When I like myself, and my partner says I am amazing and he loves me, I get to bask in the feeling of genuinely being loved instead of ruminating at the thought that I just don’t understand why he feels the way he does.
When I like myself, I feel confident about the stuff that I do and can’t wait to share it with people. This makes people excited about what I do, too, and want to participate.
I can go out dancing if I choose, or I can stay home and not feel lonely at all.
I can make my decisions based on my will instead of a fear of being seen.
We are not taught to show up each day feeling deep gratitude for who we are and where we come from. Liking yourself can be an actual thing- a base level place from where you make your decisions- and it is a radical and feminist act, no matter your gender.
A culture of people who like themselves is a culture of people who take risks and make beautiful things.
Liking yourself isn’t about being perfect or happy all the time, but it is both contagious and attractive.
It’s definitely worth the effort.