I grew up in a world where “thin” was the best thing you could be. In my world of theater, of ballet and dance, and even my own family’s culture of disordered eating…… thin was paramount. And yet, I never was.
This routine causes me anguish because I allow myself to pick apart my appearance, to tear myself down and make myself feel unworthy. But for Zoe, this routine causes anguish because she knows she is facing time apart from her favorite person. Often when I look in the mirror, I can only see my soft stomach, my short legs, the cowlick on the back of my head, and a multitude of other flaws. Zoe sees none of this. She looks at me and sees love and warmth and comfort. She loves me because of who I am, not because of what I look like.
I will not allow myself this destructive indulgence anymore. I will look in the mirror and I will not see a body full of imperfection, but an amazing woman full of strength, love, and compassion.
A woman who is dedicating her life to the healing others, but must first heal her own heart.
I will see what Zoe sees.
I started gaining weight around 12 years old, which I didn’t notice until everyone– family, friends, even strangers on a city bus– started commenting on my the size of my stomach, my thighs, and my face. While these comments stung at first, I began to accept them, to internalize them, even to expect them. My fatness was a personal failing, clearly visible to the world, and I believed that they had the right to comment on it.
This went on for years, and while I longed to be thin, I felt completely out of control. I was depressed, anxious, and trapped in a terrible cycle of disordered eating with no visible way out. I finally sought help when I was in college, and worked tirelessly to form better, healthier relationships with food and exercise. Weight loss followed naturally, and for the first time, I thought I could be free: free of the comments, free of the hatred, and free of the burden that was my heavy body.
But I will never be truly free because I have not let go of my own internalized hatred. I realize now that the most damaging comments did not come from without, but from within. I have a full length-mirror in my bedroom, and before I leave the house, I still spend an inordinate amount of time staring into it. I check every angle of my body, smoothing my stomach, examining my face, trying to decide what clothes will best disguise my imperfections. I still see that heavy, miserable teenager looking out at me.
As I do this, I sometimes catch glimpses of my dog curled up in her bed behind me. Zoe stares at me with those big puppy dog eyes, with a mournful look on her face, because she knows this ritual can only mean one thing: I am leaving soon.