“Two pictures. Before. After. (that’s me on the left in the first, me on the right in the second). The pictures are taken about 10 months apart; the photo on the right was taken in February of this year.
I am just over 5’7”. On the left, I weigh about 140 pounds. On the right, just under 122.
After I lost this weight (even though I wasn’t overweight to begin with), I started to notice changes.
People began to comment on my body all the time; harmless, continuous compliments, like ‘You’re so thin – you look amazing!’. Mere acquaintances or peers I only saw briefly on campus or at bars would point out, as if it was the best complement one could give, how tiny I had suddenly become.
Funnily, or perhaps not at all, the men in my life noticed the most. I had an ex-boyfriend see me and remark that I was hotter because I was ‘so much smaller now’. I started getting way more random, creepy messages. Men I knew were replying more to my Instagram posts; telling me that my body looked great.
I came home to my small town at the end of the semester and, in typical small-town fashion, felt totally bombarded. While walking through the grocery store on my first day back, a woman I know hugged me and said ‘What happened to you? You’re skin and bones!’. Yet, when I put up photos with friends in my bathing suit that same week, I was approached by about a dozen different companies on Instagram asking to ‘Collab’.
Sure, my close friends were concerned. They noticed that I lost weight, and they noticed my body changing. They saw me running almost every day, getting my butt to the gym, eating significantly less and starting to wear belts and give away now baggy clothing.
But they weren’t proud of me for my hard work. They were concerned. Because they saw that this weight loss ‘transformation’ wasn’t about becoming my best self: I was actually miserable.
In the space of those two photographs being taken, I went through two difficult breakups, one being extremely traumatic, and resulting in a huge loss of my sense of self-worth. I was overwhelmed in my final year at school, and was seriously struggling with ongoing, unaddressed mental health issues.
At first, I wasn’t eating less on purpose – I just wasn’t hungry very often, because I felt so stressed all the time. During the week leading up to the photo on the right, however, I had both purged meals and restricted. I had just started anti-anxiety mediation because I hadn’t slept through the night without waking up, crying with shame, fear and distress, at four am for weeks. I was having a terrible time with my relationship with food, I was withdrawing from my social life, I was very behind on my schoolwork and my thesis. I stopped calling home, and when I did, it was to my Mom in tears.
Worse, I had stopped being able to support the people in my life that I loved- and actually hurt them in the process. I was totally, completely lost. I hated myself. Yet almost everyone I saw assumed that I was taking care of myself and loving the new frame I was occupying. This is a reminder weight loss isn’t always healthy, even if the person doesn’t look malnourished or is underweight.
Like life, bodies go through changes. What you see is NOT what you get- there are always battles that people are fighting that we know nothing about. Weight loss might be unintentional or the result of an illness. Or, it may be far, far too intentional and that person could be struggling with an eating disorder. Regardless, people’s bodies are their own. They are a private story of the struggles and losses that they carry with them every day. They hold souls, they hold pain, they hold joy. And they hold weight.
Every time someone told me I looked great at this size, it reinforced the need for me to stay that way. The fact is, though, that bodies are beautiful at any size. My weight loss doesn’t look that significant, and I was neither unhealthier or healthier at either weight on a BMI scale. But what I do know is that the weight loss I experienced was deeply personal and associated with a lot of pain. My pain, my disorder, and my anxiety became deeply tied to this change in my size. My illness was sexualized and praised. Weight change is natural. Life changes are natural. But what wasn’t natural was that the response that I got for being so sick was the most positive affirmation of my body I had ever received in my life.
I commend anyone trying to get healthier by losing weight in a safe, effective way with the support of their healthcare team. But I also encourage strangers, acquaintances, friends and family to stop focusing on people’s bodies as an object to be assessed and notarized. Bodies are fine at any size.
Instead, complement folks on their infectious smiles. Remark upon their joyous laugh; their quick wit, their bravery, their kindness, their intelligence and enthusiasm; their leadership. Complement people on their ability to carry themselves through life with grace and humility. On the strength that they show, despite enduring heavy burdens. Let them know how much they mean to you.
Maybe, by shifting the dialogue away from how we look, we can support those who are struggling to recover without even knowing it. These invisible battles continuously play out in everyone’s lives, so why not strive to support all in even the smallest of victories? Maybe, by focusing on the gifts we bring to others, we can create a safer space for people of every size to exist in.
We are all beings with incredible gifts to give to this world. We are worthy of love, praise, and joy- no matter what we are carrying, or how much we are struggling. I am grateful for my body and the places it has taken me. I am grateful that it has stood up again and again when the girl inside felt too tired to go on. I am grateful for the arms I have to hug those I love, for the legs I have for running and jumping and hiking and climbing, for the hands I have to hold others and create with. I am grateful for the home my body gives me. And I am rested in the knowledge that this gratitude can be felt fully and often, at whatever size I am.”
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