VOICES: Feeling stuck with body image issues

Category:  Opinions
Monday, November 2nd, 2020 at 7:29 PM

I don’t like the way my body looks. I have felt that way for a long time. I want to be at least 2 inches taller, 15 pounds thinner and much more toned. And that’s just the beginning.

These issues really started up in middle school for me; in health class, we had to calculate our Body Mass Index (BMI). I put my height and weight into the calculator, and it said I was overweight. It hurt my feelings as a 12, 13-year-old girl to see that written out in front of me. I now know that BMI does not account for muscle mass, which, due to taking human growth hormone for over 10 years at the time, I had a lot of. It's also, in my opinion, not nice to short people. If I had been even a few measly inches taller, it wouldn’t have given me the “overweight” designation.

Today, the driving force of my body image issues is comparing myself to other people. I look at women on TV, in movies, and even on the street, and compare myself as a knee-jerk reaction. Some of them seem so much more tall and thin than me; department store clothes seem to be made for them. On the opposite side of the spectrum, other women are much more mature looking — they fill things out more. In just an objective way, no matter what, their bodies look better than mine; their curves are in better places, their stomachs are flatter; they’re just unequivocally more attractive than me. This is best demonstrated by the fact I’m an avid “Dancing with the Stars” fan, yet there are days when looking at the bodies of professional female dancers make me feel bad about myself. 

Because of this experience, I have a complicated, vaguely unhealthy relationship with food. I LOVE junk food with an undying passion — it’s in my top five favorite things of all time. That being said, it also has this way of making me feel like I need to earn it or do something to deserve it. I cannot simply eat it because I want to; I need to use it as a reward. For example, I would need to reach 10,000 steps, or do yoga that day to feel like I can enjoy ice cream. Self-control is in full swing in those moments. 

Then, other times, it’s completely irresistible to me. It has a hold over me, and I cannot do anything but gorge my face. It’s insistent. I know it’s bad for me and yet my own self-control has gone completely out the window, having been defeated by a simple Oreo. It has a hold over me and I don’t like it.

There's a quote by model Kate Moss that goes, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” I don’t think she’s ever tried a homemade, still warm chocolate chip cookie with cinnamon in it. No matter what, carbs and sugar will always be undeniably, wildly delicious to me. My love of baking does not help my case here. I can have baked goods in my home within minutes and I’ll enjoy doing it. I’ve gone on big weight loss crusades before, and I’m always veered off course by food I KNOW in my gut is bad for me.

The idea of failing or feeling like I’m not doing the right thing isn’t easy for me. I have felt actively guilty while eating food, for that reason. That feeling isn’t completely off-base though; the food is unhealthy and will negatively affect my body. However, feeling like a bad person, or a fat, lazy slob for eating food isn’t right. I shouldn’t feel like a bad person for eating something that tastes good.

All this food guilt is compounded by a deep seated hatred of vegetables. Juvenile and petulant as this may be, it’s still a fact. I do not know how to change this. I’ve asked around and the only thing I’ve gotten is: “just keep eating them until you finally like them.” I have always said that my life would be 100% easier if I could just eat a brussel sprout willingly. I say it in jest, but it is kind of true. The food guilt would be lessened, my mom would stop being mad that I don’t like her dinners, and I would be happier with my weight.

Fortunately, I do not have the same aversion to physical activity. Hiking, walking, biking, yoga all appeal to me greatly. They help me feel at peace with my life and myself. My brain gets pretty loud at times, and these things quiet that for me. I would much rather work off whatever I ate than not allow myself to eat the food I enjoy. The downside is that particularly junky food is incredibly hard to work off. I would need to work all day to do that.

All of this makes me feel stuck. I don’t know what to do about all these feelings — at present, it’s writing an article that is uncomfortably personal for both me and the reader — but long-term I have no solution. Some days, I want to take control and work on my body and fix all the problems I have with it. Other days, I want to just let go and accept my body for what it is in all stages of my life. 

I am so much more than my weight. I know that. I survived heart surgery as an infant, two autoimmune disorders and horrible anxiety. I know I need to find a happy medium where my diet and exercise regimen are there to make myself feel good. I read something that said your goal weight should be one where you can eat a second piece of cake without feeling guilty, and I agree wholeheartedly with that. I just don’t know how to get there.

Note: If you feel yourself having body image issues, I've found helpful information on Iweighcommunity.com. This is an online community that champions body positivity. It's a good source to use as a reminder that you are more than a number on a scale.

Samantha Mannion is a staff writer for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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