Starting with the Woman in the Mirror

My story is no different than any other girl or woman out there. To say, “Ever since I can remember, I have had issues with my body,” seems, unfortunately, like a rite of passage. However, it seems my relationship with my body has been confronted more intensely than ever since we have entered quarantine. I have attempted to write about this relationship in the past, but I have never really had the words. Even now, I don’t know how this will translate, but I hope to emphasize one point: This ‘relationship’ has been nothing but toxic and I’m done with it.

When I was in college, I had what I would consider ‘my best body.’ I was part of a competitive dance team, I used my fear of the Freshman 15 to establish a regular workout routine, and overall, I was just much more mobile because I was walking and biking everywhere (yes, even in L.A.). But I still felt negatively towards my body because 1. I never felt confident in my skin or body to begin with, and 2. I was surrounded by white sorority girls in one of the most superficial, Euro-centric, image-obsessed cities in the world. I would be lying if I said my desire to lose weight stemmed from seeing other thin women of color because it was really to get the desirable white, skinny body type that all the boys on campus (ESPECIALLY black, male student athletes) were fawning over. I always felt I could lose weight and when I graduated, I maintained this workout routine which was manageable since I was unemployed. Once I started my first full-time job though, this whole routine plummeted and started the most unhealthy relationship I have ever had with my body.

When you work a desk job, your life becomes completely sedentary. Maybe you’re lucky enough to work on a large campus and you have meetings all day walking to and fro. Maybe you’re lucky enough that you have an hour-long lunch break that you can dedicate to walking or some sort of exercise. Maybe you’re lucky enough to live in a city where walking and using public transportation is the norm. Still, when work is over, you go to your car or to your bus/train and you sit, and then you get home and sit some more until it’s time to sleep. You have to want to prioritize a physical routine amongst all of life’s other responsibilities; this becomes increasingly more difficult if you pick up more work, use your time for hobbies or other leisurely activities, or simply lose the motivation to do anything because you’re burned out. I have noticed that the conversations I have with friends as I get older is the constant battle of not having enough time when the days used to feel so long. Might I add, I am speaking as someone who is considered neurotypical and able-bodied, so that’s a layer (read: privilege) in and of itself.

I have consistently tried to fight the battle of slowing metabolism, lack of activity, and stress–one of the top contributors to weight gain–but my body continues to change. I would sit on the couch a certain way so I wouldn’t be distracted by how my stomach spills over the top and sides of my pants. I would portion-control or sometimes not eat at all. I would be so committed to a workout routine for a week and a half then guilt-trip myself the moment I fell off, further contributing to the punishment and stress I put on my body. There was a point where I would go back to my pictures on my Instagram from college and just cry because I had the nerve to have body issues back then. I write this in past tense as if it were in the distant past when, in reality, these were my actions and thoughts when we first transitioned to work-from-home when the pandemic struck. If I’m being really honest, these are the thoughts I have had until probably a few weeks ago. So trust me when I say I get how difficult changing your mindset can be.
I, of course, recognize my privileges with my appearance: I am, again, able-bodied, I am conventionally attractive, and I am smaller in height and weight than the average size of women in the U.S. (according to statistics), and I am still in my 20’s. But girls and women have been plagued with ever-changing ideal body types, sizes, shapes since the beginning of visual media and it is hard to ignore it. It is even harder to ignore it when some of these ideal body types, sizes, and shapes emulate typical figures of women of color, but women of color are not the ones being praised for it. Of course it’s not just girls and women that are impacted by body image, but the history of that relationship is much more extreme and traumatic.

If you read my recent post about not giving up on life during these times and also watched my video on impostor syndrome, you know that I have recently been trying to undo some harmful and dangerous ways of thinking and acting that have done nothing but bring negativity in my life the last few years. I have friends with whom I regularly talk about losing weight, but none of us change our exercise routine or diet and somehow still expect changes. Lately though, I haven’t felt that immediate need to sympathize or offer words of encouragement in these conversations. I think I reached my breaking point after finally realizing these conversations have been the mirror I haven’t cleaned off in some time and I am now seeing my own truth. I am a determined person–if I wanted to lose a significant amount of weight, I would have changed my diet and increased my workout activity. If I am not going to fully change my life to get the results I claim to so desperately want, do I really want it? Is the shame and pressure really coming from within or is it mostly external influence? And how much healthier would I really be by being thinner but miserable on the inside? In one of the last conversations I had with my grandmother before she passed, she told me, “It’s so frustrating to want to do something and your body won’t let you.” My grandmother passed away at the age of 97, so I could only imagine what losing that much mobility was like. But it’s something that replays in my head constantly when I am on a run and want to stop or when I need to push through the last 15 seconds of plank. On the flip side, life is simply too short to spend most of my waking hours criticizing and punishing myself. Being healthy always includes mental health. I need to start thanking and praising my body for even giving me the ability to run and do plank when there are people who do not have the ability to walk or move without assistance. I need to start thanking and praising my body, period.

Since the final year of my mid-20’s has been forfeited to a global pandemic, I promise to walk into the next part of my 20’s with a healthier mindset. If I don’t support myself, believe in myself, praise myself…why should anyone else? Wallowing in self-pity has done absolutely nothing for me up to this point. So many people are gaining weight right now due to being stuck indoors and IT’S NORMAL. Bodies change because they are supposed to and IT’S NORMAL. Okay, so I don’t look like I did at 19 or 20. Well, I probably shouldn’t considering that was seven years ago. I mean, it’s not like I had my 13-year-old body at 19, right? And okay, so I’m not a size two. Well, literally no one on either side of my family is either, so clearly it’s not in my genetics. When I ate four pieces of pizza yesterday, I was initially horrified because this was not normal for me. But you know what? I was hungry. And you know what else? It felt a hell of a lot better being full than still being hungry AND calling myself fat the rest of the night when I know that I’m not.
One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies, Eat Pray Love, is when Liz’s friend, Sofi, refuses pizza in Naples because she has gained weight and can no longer fit in her jeans. Liz’s response? Buy bigger jeans. I’m using this concept as a metaphor for my life moving forward. I’m getting rid of everything (and everyone) that no longer fits me or that I have outgrown. This doesn’t mean I am cured or that my negative mindset will disappear overnight. I am human so I will have weak moments and have my days where I feel ugly. I will still feel that twinge in my stomach when I see beautiful women on my social media feeds and get scared about my youth escaping me (a conversation for another day). Now, however, this promise to myself is in writing and I will use it to hold myself accountable. I want y’all to hold me accountable too!! In the meantime, I’m going to buy bigger jeans. 🙂

xx, AE

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