A Reminder to Myself

My waist is shaped
By strong ribs
That house a
Stronger heart.
It it as small
As it will ever, ever be.

These are things that I cannot change.

My fingers are
Short
Even after years of
Piano lessons
That swore
Bones will stretch
To fit your fancy.

These are things that I cannot change.

My thighs were
Carefully painted
By Titian,
Sturdy enough to hold
All the woman I am
Meant to be.

I do not always see their artistry,
Forged so far from
Mother Italy,
But I was purposefully
Thoughtfully
Lovingly made,

And these are things that I cannot change.

 

Bumbling through body image

ATTENTION READERS: This post includes references to disordered eating (binge and starvation). Continue at your discretion- KW.

I still remember the first time I looked at myself, pinched my belly, and proclaimed, “I want to get rid of my fat”. How I came to this conclusion, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s because I don’t remember a time when my stomach was completely flat, or maybe it’s because I knew women were supposed to be unhappy with their bodies. But the bottom line was, I felt fat. I was six years old.

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A photograph of me around that time.

“It’s just baby fat, honey. It will go away when you get older,” said the YMCA staffer I had shared my discovery with. Her heart was in the right place, but it didn’t get to the heart of the problem: I was afraid of being “fat”. At an age where everyone was telling me I had infinite potential and could be anything I set my mind upon, the strongest message I got was that I never, ever wanted to be fat. I hated the way my thighs splayed out like pancakes when I sat on the edge of a pool, and the way my stomach rolled together like a torpedo roll. I wanted to be thinner and prettier and fit into that perfect package deal of a girl that I never could quite figure out.

Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. I was one of the unfortunate students who was scheduled for the last lunch period, meaning I was making it through almost three-fourths of the school day without having a chance to eat. I was voraciously hungry by the time lunch rolled around and I  hated the gnawing feeling in my gut. That’s when I started taking the time to have “breakfast”. I would drink a chocolate meal-replacement shake on my way to school so that I wouldn’t be dying of hunger during my math class. There were some not-so-nice side effects to the shake, namely intense nausea and cramping for roughly twenty minutes in the middle of the day, but once I powered through that I was no longer hungry. After a few weeks of this, I stopped buying lunch. My stomach shrank and soon I was unable to finish my dinner because I was so full. But that godforsaken chubby stomach didn’t go away. Add onto this the development of wider hips that comes with puberty and I felt huge. Even though I was barely bigger than a size seven in juniors, I felt massive. I purchased a pair of size eleven pants because they “fit”.

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An elusive full-body shot of me at fourteen.

I didn’t realize anything was wrong until people started expressing concern. I felt fine; I wasn’t hungry, and I sure wasn’t a skeleton. I thought you had to look emaciated to others and gigantic in the mirror to experience disordered eating. Maybe it’s that way for some people, but my experience was far more insidious. Nothing seemed wrong on the surface unless you were there to watch me (not) eat. Truth be told, I probably would have kept it up indefinitely if not for my school chorus’ trip to Disney World. I needed to be well-nourished and hydrated to be out and about in the parks all day; the issue was that we were handed some money and told to spend it on our lunch each day.  Naturally, a fourteen year old at a theme park isn’t going to want to waste perfectly good money on food, especially if she doesn’t feel hungry. So I let myself get fatigued and irritable until finally I ran into my mom (a chaperone on the trip and a fellow Disney addict) and she got me a frozen chocolate dipped banana to eat. All it took was one banana and suddenly I realized how hungry I had really been for months. I was eating full meals again.

I had some issues with binging for a a few months after that trip, but there was not a tremendous amount of weight gain to go along with it so I don’t think anyone ever knew there was a problem. A package of twelve breakfast sandwiches would disappear in one sitting and as guilty as it made me feel, I didn’t stop. The food was warm and it left me feeling pleasantly full. I started to get things more under control after the initial shock to my body of actually eating had subsided. I substituted tea for excessive snacks because it gave me the same feeling without being an unhealthy choice. And that was more or less the end of my disordered eating.

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Summer of my freshman year of college.

 

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Fall of my senior year of college.

In college, I experienced a lot of weight fluctuation, but with it came a lot of acceptance about the body type that I was born with. I started out with terrible eating habits and a very inactive lifestyle and pushed myself towards more balanced meal choices and regular exercise. What happened surprised me: I started seeing how beautiful my body has always been. No matter how active or inactive I’ve been, I have had my soft, round tummy and my chunky cellulite thighs. I’ve also had a slender waist this whole time, and a really cute nose, thanks for noticing. Everyone’s body is different. Everyone’s version of healthy is different. I know these words don’t mean much coming from someone who has never been actively berated for her size, but I truly believe that all bodies are beautiful just as God made them. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

All my love,
Katherine Wheel