Content warning: issues around food and self worth
I have a niece. A beautiful young girl who is going to grow up to be fierce, independent, strong.
She will be these things all in her own way, but with her mother’s blood running through her veins she doesn’t get a choice. She is going to be unique and she is going to be tough.
Statistically, however, she is going to face so many challenges that it scares me. I can’t imagine how it makes her mum feel.
This post is for my niece (for when she might be ready to see it), but it’s also for anyone who might have experienced the things I’m about to talk about. It’s also a post for my Mum, an apology for not asking for help and instead pulling away into my own little world. It was your strength and constant will to fight for me that kept me in check and I love you to pieces.
I am going to share my experience with disordered eating and body image issues.
If you’re not in a place to read this, please don’t – I won’t be offended!
If you read it and find out that ship has sailed, please seek help through Lifeline, or find a disordered eating helpline in your country/area. Let’s not suffer in silence anymore.
To My Smart, Capable and AWESOME Niece
I’d like to talk to you about how I felt about my body growing up. If you’d ever like to talk to me about how you feel, you always can. For now though, enjoy the read 🙂
I grew up with a Mum and Dad that loved me.
I grew up with siblings that I fought with, but that would turn around and go to town on anybody that tried to hurt me. I loved them and they loved me.
I grew up feeling safe and secure. I grew up with laughter and play and books and animals.
There were bumps. There were times I felt scared or unsure. There were times I felt alone.
Then there were times I felt like I wasn’t good enough and those are the times I’d like to talk to you about.
Nobody in my family ever made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.
Yet that feeling often sat with me.
When I came fifth in a race. When I muddled up a piano recital and sat panicking looking at the keys, feeling the strain of everyone looking at me from the audience.
Then there were times that I felt like that, but there was no “reason”. I just felt like no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I would never live up to the expectations I put on myself (and that I thought others had put on me – they hadn’t!).
When feeling like this, I often felt like I didn’t belong in my own skin. Might sound weird to you, but then maybe it doesn’t.
I looked at my thighs poking out from my school dress and would shudder.
I looked at my arms in my singlet and would feel deflated.
I would sit on the floor of the shower and cry my heart out, rolling the skin in between my fingers and wishing it would go away.
The first time I tried to hold my stomach in to make myself look thin was when I was 10 years old, and a TV commercial showed a zappy machine thing that would “shock” you into tightening your abs.
You know what your Aunty looks like. You’ve probably seen photos of me younger, and you’re probably sitting there going “yeah, right, Aunty Jane-o, you had nothing to worry about”.
I don’t remember the first time I decided not to eat a full meal, just to see if I could do it.
I do, however, remember fighting with your Gran that “I’m full” and “I don’t want anymore – I ate a big lunch”. I lied, argued and badgered my way out of eating more times than I could count, making my Mum feel like rubbish and nearly always ending in me binge-eating slices of bread at 1am because I was starving hungry.
The worst times were when I got caught in a loop with a few different friends.
With one friend we went swimming each week, talking about how little we had eaten and how little we planned to eat, complimenting each other on how thin we looked and sending good tips and vibes when the other was struggling.
With another, we would run for miles, do hard HARD workouts, then run again.
One of my friends found their way into hospital because they were so underweight and that was a huge wake up call that saved me from following in her footsteps. She just had the misfortune of being more disciplined than me, getting there first. I had the fortune of having the shit scared out of me, which lead to me appreciating how harmful my behaviour was to me and your Gran.
Still, it took years, literally years, to be happy with what looks back at me in the mirror.
I still struggle.
You don’t need to be overweight to be unhappy with how you look. In fact, many people who are larger sizes are very happy with how they look and feel in themselves, because they can navigate the world and do all of the things they want to do without worry, and that’s enough. More than that, they feel that they are enough.
Many “skinny” people feel that way too.
But many don’t.
I want you to remember that it is more than likely that you do not look like how you think you look like. This is the best advice I have ever read:
“Don’t ever base your self worth on how you feel when looking down at your thighs on the toilet seat”
You are stuck with your body for the rest of your life.
You should try your hardest to respect it, to fill it full of good food, to keep it fit and healthy and to love it.
How do you do that?
Great question. That’s going to be unique to you. But here are some great things I have learnt over the last few years:
- If you eat good food, you will feel good.
- Workout for functionality, not for how you look. Ride your ponies, run around with your brother, climb walls and clamber over obstacle courses.
- Fill your world with people who respect and love your mind and who see your smarts before they judge your body.
- If you are busy making plans to enjoy life, you won’t have time to worry about how your body looks. You’ll be too busy using that body to get out there and achieve your dreams.
I love you.
I also need to say that my mental health is my mental health. Nobody caused it and I can’t just “snap out of it”. Same goes if you ever have any problems with how you feel about yourself or how you feel inside yourself.
Sometimes people feel certain ways because other people have done things to them. But sometimes we struggle in a way that is unique to us, for no real reason we can put our finger on.
We can manage these things in similar ways:
- We talk about how we are feeling to those we love and trust.
- We get professional help if we feel like it might help.
- We constantly acknowledge that to get over a mental illness like disordered eating, we have to be working on it with positive intent.
- We have to want to make a change for ourselves and for our own benefit. I couldn’t start eating normally because your Uncle asked me to. He did ask me to, then he gave me the space, support and the love I needed to get to that point on my own. My Mum didn’t “fail” in her attempts to get me to eat normally, she gave me the backdrop that I based all future progress on.
I think that’s enough rambling for one sitting.
You and your brother mean so much more to me than you could ever know.
I hope that if you feel worried or sad about your body or your mind that you know to call me. I will listen if you need, I will talk if you need, but above all else, I will always love you and be here for you.
Your Aunty Jane-o