“’You need to keep your body covered up. No one needs to see that until you’re married and then it should only be your husband.’ This is one of the very first things I can actually remember hearing that had anything to do with my body and my physical appearance. My mother made me feel as though my body was something to hide, something to be ashamed of, something that was bad. Growing up, I was made to dress extremely ‘conservative’; dresses couldn’t come above your knees when you sat down, couldn’t wear shorts, couldn’t wear tank tops, couldn’t wear v-neck shirts. I was never told I was covering up because my body was something precious that needed to be shared with only the right people. Instead, I was made to feel as though my body was something negative I needed to be ashamed of.
My mother was an unhealthy overweight all of my growing up years, I look back now and realize her own discomfort bled over into how she taught her daughters to see themselves. I don’t remember her being happy. She was always miserable having to be seen out in public. I watched how she treated people she deemed ‘too pretty,’ ‘too skinny,’ ‘too put together,’ and yet, from where I stood as a child, THEY seemed happy. So I began to equate ‘pretty and thin’ meant happy and unhealthy and overweight meant unhappy. I was homeschooled my entire life so I never had to navigate the peer pressure of fellow students and I was highly sheltered from the outside world—no TV, no movie theaters, no co-ed birthday parties, etc.
I got married right after I graduated from high school and put on a little weight. I’m very short and a few pounds looks like a lot more, and I suddenly felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I was attending cosmetology school at the time and was bombarded by the beauty industry—models, makeup, hair, weight loss, diets, cleanses. My tiny sheltered world had been shattered and I felt vulnerable, exposed, and absolutely inadequate.
Not long after I got married and graduated cosmetology school, I became pregnant with my daughter. The whole first trimester, I threw up anything I dared to put in my mouth. I spent most of 3 months laying in bed, fighting nausea, and trying to keep the smallest amount of food and water down. After the first trimester, I was much better, over ‘morning’ sickness but a shocking 25 pounds lighter than I had been before I got pregnant. I could wear clothes I hadn’t been able to before and I got constant remarks about how ‘thin I looked.’ Honestly, I liked it. I liked how I felt wearing smaller clothes, I liked I was four months pregnant and you couldn’t even tell, I liked the comments from people.
I had just left my teens when my daughter was born; she was breech and had to be delivered by c-section. In a very short span of time, I had become a teen wife, gone through a less than pleasant pregnancy, endured a serious surgery, and become a mother. To say I was spiraling is an understatement. I tried to breastfeed my daughter but my body was weak, malnourished, and little did I know, fairly sick. I couldn’t produce enough to feed her and added my first ‘mom failure’ to my emotionally weakened state of mind. While recovering from my c-section, I kept experiencing horrific bouts of burning pain in my chest and stomach. I tried ignoring them but they kept getting worse until one night, laying on the bathroom floor crying and vomiting I decided to finally go to the ER. Turns out I had gallstones, one of which had lodged in my bile duct and I was very sick. Just 4 weeks after giving birth via c-section, I was back in the hospital to undergo gallbladder surgery. Just a couple of weeks later, I started birth control pills for the first time in my life while undoubtedly suffering from postpartum depression.
Within a couple of months, I had put over 30 pounds on my small five-foot frame, none of my clothes fit, and I felt sluggish and bloated all of the time. I was home with an infant and I spent most of my time snacking; boredom snacking, hungry snacking, emotional snacking. Family dinners were usually my outing for the week and that revolved around food too. I was unhappy and I, of course, equated that with my weight instead of realizing there were dozens of other factors.
I remember when my daughter was about 3 years old, I was home with her still and my weight had become stagnant. I hadn’t lost anything but I had gained, I still felt slow and tired all the time but simply chalked it up to being a mom. I was watching TV one day and an infomercial for an at-home workout program came on. I wasn’t paying close attention until I heard the trainer say, ‘This is hard, you’re going to want to quit but I promise you if you push through you’ll see results!’ and something inside me perked up. I watched intently, it did look hard, it looked intimidating and everything in me said, ‘No WAY!’ except some tiny little voice deep inside that said, ‘You CAN do hard things.’ So I got online and used what little money I had to buy this program. When it arrived, it also came with a detailed nutrition guide; meal ideas, food lists, an equation for figuring out how many calories you burn versus what you ate, etc. I found it so intriguing and started really trying to figure it out. I faithfully ate on the meal plan and did the workouts and 90 days later, I had lost 15 pounds and gained a ton of knowledge and a little bit of confidence. Not only that but I had more energy and I mentally felt lighter!
Through this same company, I found another program and again, I committed hard and lost more weight and started gaining muscle and figuring out more and more how to eat healthily, fuel my body, and feel GOOD. But part of me was still struggling with my body; the stretch marks, the extra skin, the scars from surgeries, a saggy belly button, and lackluster boobs! I wasn’t even into my mid 20’s and I felt like I had already lost my ‘good body days.’
One day I was complaining out loud to my then-husband about how much I still didn’t like my body and I still ‘felt fat’ and he said, ‘Don’t say that, would you want our daughter talking about herself like that?’ And that hit home HARD. The very thought of her thinking about or feeling the way I did about myself left me feeling gutted and I started trying hard to not only change the way I spoke out loud but also the way I thought about myself deep down. And wow, what a journey that has been! I started to comprehend how deeply ingrained it was in me to see myself negatively, to put myself down, to wish something was different, to look at others and compare. I realized food was an emotional trigger for me. It was my drug, so to speak.
When I was sad, or angry, or down, I ran to food as a comfort. Food was divided into two categories: good and bad. When I was good, I was eating good foods, and when I felt bad, I was eating bad foods. I punished and rewarded myself with food. I spent years going back and forth between strict dieting and binge eating. When I ate well I felt good, felt proud… the second I ‘fell off the wagon,’ I felt guilty and that would trigger overeating for days until I could pull myself back together and start strictly watching what I ate. I like rules, regimens, and routines, so I could easily pull myself back into eating right and working out. I enjoyed how I felt I stuck with it. Working out became my therapy. When I was down or feeling bad, I’d throw myself into moving and sweating until I could pull myself together.
But healing internally is where my relationship with food and my overall mindset about my body changed. I started making connections to things deep inside that needed to be dealt with and rearranged. I realized how little grace I gave myself. I had been through a lot of things at a young age I had never really allowed myself to make peace with. There were patterns ingrained in me that had to be undone. Thoughts and lies that kept me bound to feelings of self-doubt and low self-worth. I went to therapy, I’ve read countless books and blogs, learned about food and its effects on your body AND mind, found a healthy balance of working out and feeling good but not obsessing.
I see my body differently these days. I see a body that help create and nurture a human being into existence, I see a body that has been through health problems but fought back and became stronger, I see stretch marks from growing life (my boyfriend calls them my warrior stripes and I’ve started seeing them that way too!), I see muscles I pushed and pulled to gain. I feed my body well because I love it, not because I hate it.
I would say this to every woman, and especially to new mothers, be kind to yourself! Give yourself time, and plenty of grace. Things don’t change overnight, but one step at a time gets you ahead in the journey. Look back and see all the hard things you come through and know deep down you can and will do even harder things to come. Stop worrying about others’ ideas of ‘perfect’ or ‘content.’ And when you feel confident, stop and take note; where are you, what are you doing, who are you with, what are you wearing? These are the things that make you who you are and that’s what matters!
Growing and changing never end, and I’m still a work in progress. There are still days I wake up and look in the mirror and start to critique but I’m getting so much better at shutting that voice down and focusing on the things I love and that make me confident. I’m learning to recognize the lies I tell myself about myself and I counter those with the truth I know to be real.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alaythea Carroll, age 34 from Huntsville, Alabama. Follow her on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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