The summer before freshman year of high school, I hit a 5-6 inch growth spurt and it took a few years for my body to catch up. I went from being at a healthy weight to being so underweight that rumors of anorexia quickly spread. I became more self-aware of the body that let me run miles after miles with ease, the body that carried a love so big for life that most days, it overflowed, the body that gracefully carried me through every adventure. It was a self-awareness that took every positive thought of the body I once loved and turned it negative. It was a self-awareness that quickly became fueled by others’ comments and glances that later carried over to the images and subliminal messages brought on by various social media platforms.
I started running in middle school when the track and field coach recruited me in 7th grade. I loved the sensation that came with it. I loved the burning lungs, the screaming calves, the finish line moment. I loved it all. But I didn’t start really competing competitively until sophomore year of high school when I ran track and field. That was the season I qualified for regionals in all three of my events. And that was also the start of a downfall with my love for food. The girls I ran against were tall and thin and beautiful – the so-called “perfect runner’s body”; a body that society had told me was beautiful. It was the kind of body that was featured in all the magazines. And it was everything I wanted to be. My cross country coach had us keep a detailed food diary because with the addition of weight lifting, he was concerned about our daily intake. After three days, I brought it back to him and he read it with disbelief. I didn’t really understand why. I’ve always watched what I was eating, but I never really thought much of it. As a long-distance runner, I am supposed to be consuming around 2,000-3,000 calories per day. According to the 3-day food diary, I was lucky if I was reaching 900.
That same year, I remember standing in the kitchen making a salad lunch when mom walked in carrying the new People! Magazine with tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong and she handed me the magazine. It was open to a page with a picture of a rail-thin model weighing in at just 60 pounds who had recently lost her battle with anorexia-nervosa.
“I saw you when I saw this.”
I never realized what I looked like to other people. I found pride in fitting into size 1 jeans. And without even trying, I had somehow managed to wither away to 103 pounds at 5’8”.
I spent the summer before junior year trying to handle the sudden death of my big brother and lost enough weight for the scale to read 99 pounds as a result. Fortunately for me, I gained 20 pounds that year and moved up to size 5 jeans.
I was no longer that stick thin girl, but I found something in myself. For the first time in years, I actually felt good. I felt beautiful. I found clothes fitting me better instead of hanging off of me. I found people complimenting on how much happier and healthier I looked instead of them telling me I needed to eat a cheeseburger. And I ended up running some of my best times that year leading me to all-conference, Caldwell County girl’s runner of the year, and a 13th place spot in regionals.
It was and still is a spread that caused uproar in the industry and its consumers. The model was so Photoshopped that her proportions were completely unimaginable leaving a picture so memorable that it stayed in the back of our heads for quite some time. It’s pictures like these in magazines, online, and especially on social media that fuel the development of eating disorders.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association website, 30 million people in just the United States alone will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their life with 69% of elementary aged girls saying that pictures in magazines influence their ideal body shape, 47% saying those pictures have actually influenced them to lose weight. Read that again – elementary aged girls. These are girls who should be worried about recess and running around and enjoying life. With that being said, 10 million boys will also suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.
And with the help of media fueling the fight for what is “good” and what is “bad” for our bodies, the diet industry – “an industry whose products and weight loss plans are often the catalyst to eating disorders”- has earned up to $60 billion dollars. 35% of “normal dieters” will gradually progress to pathological dieting and of those, 25% will continue on to develop a partial or full blown eating disorder.
I am asking you today, this week, and every week after, to take a stand against a media that has knocked us down. I am asking you today, this week, and every week after to fight back against a society that tells us we’re beautiful but only if we fit certain standards. I am asking you today, this week, and every week after, to mind what you post on your social media accounts. Stop with the “ugh, I look so fat” Instagram posts. Stop with the “I can’t believe I just ate that” tweets. Stop with the “thins-po” reblogs.
Start loving your body for what it can do instead of dwelling on what it can’t do. When you hate your arms, remember how strong they are to lift you up, but also how soft they are to hold the ones you love. When you hate your stomach, remember the laughs it has held and the yummy food it has loved. When you hate your legs, remember how they have gracefully carried you across the dance floor. Start affirming your body, your life, your mind positively. And be brave enough to post those affirmations on social media throughout the day. Do it for you, but also know that your words might help someone else, too. Because you never know who might be reading.
Be patient with yourself. Self-love and appreciation doesn’t magically happen overnight. It is a choice. You must choose it and you must continue choosing it.
This is your body. It is your one and only body. It is your home, your temple. It is the body you have been given and no one should feel like they have to burn that body to the ground to find a place in this beauty driven society.