most of the time, when I'm thinking up things to blog about and I go, "No, that's way too personal/sensitive/uncomfortable," it's a pretty clear indication that it's something that needs to be written about.
so today, it's gonna be body image and self worth and weight and working out and the real reason I turned into a gym rat and treadmillorexia (that is a real thing, y'all) and all the vulnerabilities and uncomfortableness that comes along with that. Super uncomfortable stuff. I'm already squirming inside.
My body image problems started when I came out of the womb, probably. Kidding. But on the real, I struggled with some major disordered eating in high school. I knew some people who were doing Weight Watchers and would manipulate that system to see how few Points I could eat in a day. I was on some travel and indoor soccer teams, where I was trained for strength and slide tackling/taking people out of the game, so I really struggled with our warm-ups, which were meant for cross-country runners and obviously not for me. Throw in some mean girls at school, and I was feeling pretty awful about my fitness abilities. So naturally, I buried myself in being captain of the Scholastic Bowl team and reading The Economist so that I'd get into Harvard. If I couldn't be a runner, if I couldn't be pretty and thin and popular, then at least I could be smart. It was like a personal challenge. I started wearing chinos and polos and pearls to school every day because I figured that's what you did when you took AP classes online for fun and wanted to go to an Ivy League. I was smart, sure, but the problem was that I tried to get all of my self-worth from that place. And of course it still wasn't enough.
Time to get really personal. My absolute favorite thing in the entire world is being asked to dance. It's only happened a handful of times (my favorite of which was for sure swing dancing to "Shake It" with a friend at The Handlebar in Greenville), and I sharply remember the times when I was passed over or it didn't happen (middle school, Young Life camp, you name it). I never got asked to a dance throughout middle and high school, including prom. Both proms. (Cue further burial of self into textbooks and prestigious college applications.) That is like the ultimate worst thing in adolescent girl world, just so everyone knows. I never got asked to functions in college and my closest friends from high school were all shocked when I trumped them all in a game of Never Have I Ever with "Never have I ever been asked out on a date," at a bachelorette party back in December. This isn't supposed to sound whiny; I'm just trying to retroactively track the source of this insecurity. When you're literally the only girl you know who doesn't get asked to prom, it just does something weird to your brain. Anyway, my take-away from that, irrational as it may be, was that I just wasn't "good enough" to be pursued. Or whatever. I know a lot of people hate that word, but you catch my drift. I was hyper-convinced that there was something wrong with me.
I graduated from Wofford, never having been asked on a date, and I was pretty convinced that no one would ever fall in love with me, at all, ever, if I didn't do something about it -- fast! -- and get a personal trainer. So, I did the next best thing. The summer before I started grad school, I took the summer off from interning at Young Life camps (I figured twice was enough) and getting a random job and joined a gym back home and made it a personal challenge to become the Queen Runner of the Universe that I wasn't in high school. Because then guys would want to date me? It made sense at the time. I devoted myself to that; I was there pretty much every day, and took pride in quickly establishing myself as a fixture in the cardio section and a regular in Pilates as well as in the most hardcore group classes like Spin and TRX. Doing TRX was great because I got to tell everyone that I was doing "bodyweight suspension training that some Navy Seal invented," which got me a lot of street cred, I thought.
It was not about fitness at first. It was about how much work I could make myself do and how many calories I could burn. It was about how much treadmill time I needed to clock per day in order to offset my perceived undesireableness. It was about other people. It wasn't about feeling good about myself, it was about trying to fulfill some inner need, which felt pretty life or death at the time, to be pretty and thin and all the things I wasn't in high school and still wasn't then. It was about the long list of reasons I had in my head about why I wasn't good enough or athletic enough, all the reasons why I never had a prom date or actual date -- and that was a real list -- and how I had to, right away, make up for all of that.
That's a lot of pressure.
And guess what? I did it. I lost a bunch of weight. I worked out for hours a day that summer. And I went to all the classes, and I drank gallons of water every day, and I made myself eat celery and shamed myself out of eating sugar at all ever (don't worry, that scary time in my life is over) and gave it 110%. And I could run farther and faster and beast it out in spin class and never take a rest in Pilates.
But guess what? I was still me. I was still the same person with the same insecurities, just in smaller pants and sometimes in running shoes.
I still had conversations with people about why in the world I "still had terrible self-esteem" and "couldn't see myself as lovable" -- and "how could that be, because I was skinnier now than I was when I was on the soccer team in high school?" How did that not fix all my problems? I could run 5Ks with my eyes closed. It felt sort of like still not getting asked to prom -- if prom was an adult thing, which I think would be fun -- after doing all this crazy work and crash dieting to fit into some fancy, expensive dress.
Note: I always, always, always have to learn things the hard way.
The problem was that I still didn't respect myself. At all. I didn't see myself as someone who deserved good things. I still didn't have any self-esteem, and I still wasn't taking good emotional care of myself. Or physical care -- celery is not a breakfast food, y'all. The gym is where it started to change for me. Thanks mostly to my favorite trainers at BodyWorks back in Abingdon, Leon & Cindy, and Pilates instructor, Margie, I began to learn that my body is a machine and that I need to take care of it properly, not abuse it to further torture myself. A lot more things had to happen, too, before I believed that I had to stop talking to myself like I was a pageant coach trying to beat self-esteem into someone. It can't happen that way. It has to happen to you.
One of the benefits of being in grad school for counseling is that I get to do a lot of coloring, but also learn a lot about self-care and self-compassion and why those are really, really, really important. I was skipping both of those things and using a technique that I like to call "Inner Drill Sergeant," and she yelled at me all the time and never really helped me feel good about myself; she only told me all the ways I didn't measure up and the things I could do better and what I needed to start or stop and that I for sure couldn't eat Olive Garden ever again and blah blah blah. I'm pretty done with that; I'm not about that life anymore. If you're trying to get to that point, let me know. I don't have a map, but I'm willing to help and tell more stories and let you know that you're not alone in it, and also welcome to the wonder that is being a female.
There's no magic book for this, no miraculous thing I found on Pinterest that told me how to be good at loving myself and treating myself with kindness, but I'm hoping this little story helps. Becoming a runner did not make me love myself. Becoming a friend to myself did, though. Believing that the things God says about me are true did, too (probably the absolute most, just like it always does. Funny how that works...). Listening to all the good things people say about me as truth helped a lot. If you need that from people, ask them. That's what I had to do. (Read: that's what my therapist told me to do and I really didn't wanna). And it helped so much! I have long lists and I printed them out in pretty colors and keep them in my wallet on a rotating basis. I had to get a bigger wallet. I don't want to be the person telling myself that I have to hate myself anymore. There are a lot of other things that do that and I can't face them if I am my own worst enemy.
What I tell myself now:
"You are going to be okay. Work hard and be nice to people. It's time to forgive yourself. It really is time. Don't give up on yourself, just like how you don't give up on other people. You are beautiful but you are not perfect, and neither is anybody else. You are not worthy of any more or any less respect than anybody else. Everyone has blind spots. But everyone is doing the best they can. Including you."
What's next? I don't know. Right now, I'm going to spin class because I love it and yeah, I had s'mores for lunch, and those are not at all related to one another. I'm going because I love myself and I love doing hill climbs to Jay-Z and I love that I am strong and can kill a workout. And I love that I can come home and eat more s'mores for dinner (it happens) and feel just fine. Life is too short to not eat s'mores for dinner.
Love to you people who keep on reading this stuff. You are the reason I write it.