No day like today for a personal post? I’m always slightly hesitant to post anything that is entirely personal about my own recovery. If I were to be completely transparent why today’s is more difficult than usual, it’s because I actually still struggle with it. Significantly. Today’s “topic” is thin-identity: how this identity has been a part of me for as long as I can remember, and how it sometimes creates contradicting wants for myself that battle with the reality of what my body looks like. I’ll start by saying that I am so fucking sick of the emphasis that I choose to still place on my body. Not in the way that I used to, not even in the slightest bit. However, recovery itself has forced me to recognize what my body is, what my body is not, and that there are still days I try to conform to what is either “expected” of me, or deemed externally acceptable.
Let’s start from the beginning
It was probably by the age of five that I first heard my grandma point out that I was “thin-boned” and had a small frame, unlike my sister who was apparently “thick-boned.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I was unaware of what thin-boned meant to me, or how others viewed me because of it. I did notice, however, that there was a sort of invisible pat-on-the-back for this thin-bone-ness that I possessed. This continued every single holiday party, birthday, or family gathering until my grandma’s passing just a year ago. Even when my sister herself battled Anorexia athletica and her appearance changed drastically, I was still praised for my naturally thin appearance. There was no winning for my sister; and while maybe she felt that I was handed some sort of award, I felt far from prideful or thankful. It was two very different circumstances we faced, and both had their difficulties. I can’t speak on behalf of my sister, but I do know I’d stand up for her at age 5 had I known the repercussions that would follow.
Being told something appearance-focused over and over again was actually far from motivating. It placed this indirect pressure on me to obtain the appearance I was given in order to continue receiving the same sort of praise. Everything I did “right” or “wrong” became associated (in my mind) with my body. By the age of 16, I began writing in my journals that I felt disgusted by myself (my body), that things must change (“I must get thinner”). I lacked the sense of self I thought I once knew; however, that self was one that was provided for me without my direct approval. And so then began my “anorexic” experience that would consume me for 6 years simply because it kept me in my thin-identity. I was in control of it remaining a part of me. I hated being viewed any differently. My thought? If I looked different than what people knew and were familiar with, then I as a person also was different (and therefore, disliked and less attractive).
And then I started weight lifting
Do I regret ever beginning? No. I love it. It fuels me mentally, I feel strong, and I feel proud of what I am able to do with my body; mostly because I didn’t know it could be possible. But, with weight lifting came a new identity I thought I should adopt. “A fit body.” The body we all see on Instagram. One that is perceived as attractive, and is in complete contrast to the thin-identity and slender figure I grew up with and still have. You can imagine what this set me up for: unrealistic routines and eating habits that would leave me feeling less and less like myself, and not enjoying my life in the way that I thought recovery should have allowed me to.
The amount of protein powder I consumed over the course of a month was ridiculous (let’s not even mention what hell-hole this placed me in financially). I was eating, but still restricting. Does that make sense? I was calorically at the amount that would help me continue gaining weight, and yet I was restricting the TYPES of food I was eating in order to get there. In other words, I was restricting enjoyment. And this ultimately led to binging. I remember crying day after day to my mom (thanks mom for always answering your phone) after I finished another spoonful of ice cream, leaving me with an empty pint and somehow a far-from-empty stomach. But, according to “fitness goals/rules,” I could consider the pint my cheat meal, so long as I remained “clean” for the rest of the week. This set me up for an unhealthy relationship with food, using a “cheat meal” to justify food and left me in a binge-restrict cycle for the next three months.
The comments I began to receive at the gym were different in content than the comments made regarding my thin-appearance, but very similar in meaning. When I was validated for my efforts, it created instant pressure to continue to get “better.” The frustrating part? I had no idea where the end of that spectrum was, where “better” actually ended. If others noticed change in me (“I MUST BE LOOKING MORE ‘TONED'” – whatever the hell “toned” even means), then I had to ensure that I didn’t let everyone down.
It took me 1.5 years total to reach weight restoration on my own while weight lifting, something that would have most certainly been deemed as unacceptable (and unhealthy) if I had a treatment team. And then another year to find balance with fitness after becoming obsessed. And at the end of it? My body still didn’t look the way I thought I wanted it to because it was an unrealistic mold (for me) of what I thought was beautiful.
Let me also point out: writing about this personal topic frustrates me. It frustrates me because I recognize the privilege that thinness inevitably gives women in our society. So I feel that sharing my experience may minimize what other women, other beautiful and curvier women, have to face simply because they don’t possess society’s ideal figure. So to clarify… I am not ungrateful for the body I am in. I am ungrateful for the focus that was placed on it and the unwarranted praise it was given, and the pressure I placed on myself because of it.
Where am I now?
I can recognize the days that I am more appearance-focused than others. The ironic thing is that it actually doesn’t really have to do as much with how my body looks; it’s more about how I think it is perceived by others (either because it is directly said, or I am making assumptions in my own mind that become my own truths). There is validation that I seek, not because I even NEED it, but because it’s what I have always received. It feels familiar.
A month or two ago, a client in ED recovery (who somehow knows I had been diagnosed with anorexia) said something along the lines of: “I’m jealous of your body, you’re so thin.” Immediately she followed up that statement with, “I’m sorry. I know that must be hard for you to hear.” She seemed to have an understanding of what being told “you’re thin” can do to someone with an eating disordered past. It does a few different things for me.
- It makes me feel like a phony therapist. A phony at recovery. Why am I still perceived according to my thinness?
- It places the emphasis on appearance. And reiterates the message I’ve received throughout my whole life.
I’ve maintained my weight for the past 4 years. I’ve found a balance that works for my body that allows for me to be social, continue to weight lift (and love it), and eat foods that make me feel good. That being said, I struggle mentally a lot with the thin-identity I still feel that I have and may always have. Like I said, it contradicts everything I think I want for myself at the gym. I want to have curves! I want thicker thighs! I put in all the work to achieve it, and yet at the end of the day, my body isn’t changing.
I have to remind myself where I can place my effort and energy instead, versus placing so much of it on what my body will realistically never be! I’ll have to learn how to accept that, while realizing what my body actually IS. My body can do a lot for me; it is strong, it can do weird AF dance moves that have no sense of rhythm, it allows me to explore and to travel, and it allows me to be present with others and with myself. What it can’t do, is morph into something it’s not actually meant to become. It’ll take time to accept that. Does it frustrate me? Somedays more than others. However, I have to remind myself daily to respect the body I’m in, it’s the only one I’ll ever have.