Meet Rachel. She’s a first year student at McMaster University. Weighing in at 115 pounds and 5’3″. Her boyfriend and her have been together for 2 years now and are making the long distance work while she’s away at school. Her boyfriend came to visit for the weekend, and she couldn’t be more excited…until he said this.
“Wow babe, you’ve lost weight. It’s hot, you should lose more.”
He said this to me during sex, during the most intimate time we had spent together. At my most vulnerable moment, just short weeks after confessing his love for me. He was my first real boyfriend, and the words that floated out of his mouth, stuck to my insides like magnets.
First year me felt a lot of pressure. I was really trying to find my place at my new school, in my new city and I made a commitment to myself that I would find friends without changing who I was. I already had what I thought was a great relationship, so you could say I overlooked the warning signs that things may be getting toxic.
I joined my campus gym because I had met friends who liked to work out, and hey – what harm could being stronger do? But what started off as merely a recreational activity became a challenge against myself. After I started seeing natural changes in my body, I liked what I was seeing from my new workouts. I felt good. My boyfriend noticed, and he encouraged me; keep going. Terrified that my ‘old’ appearance wouldn’t be good enough, I began to despise my body as what I once knew it to be. I skipped meals, and spent hours skimming through pages of social media, day-dreaming about the bodies of girls with six packs. I was one of the smallest girls in my entire residence floor, yet I felt fat.
The validation I got for these feelings from my boyfriend, was all it took for me to push over the edge. I trusted his opinion, and I trusted that he wanted what was best for me. Similar to how you’d rather someone tell you if you smell bad than have you keep walking around with a gross stench; I thought he was doing me a favor by saying I’d gained weight since my time at school.
I fought with myself for months trying to combat my weight and please some guy that I felt obligated to be with. He was familiar and he reminded me of home. But what wasn’t familiar anymore, was who I was. I had lost sight of the girl who adored cheeseburgers and vanilla ice cream. I didn’t allow myself to cheat my diet without excessive guilt and shame. I was in a relationship with my disorder, disguised in a tall dark-haired boy.
Hooked on the idea that I couldn’t leave, and that I should feel grateful for someone who appreciated my progress in improving my body made me isolate myself from any opportunity I had to meet someone real. Someone without judgment, and someone who could never make me feel like my body needed re-shaping.
I knew all about eating disorders, I had been taught how to avoid them since sixth grade. I knew all about what not to do, yet I found myself tangled in the web of an addiction that I didn’t know how to control. For me, it was mental. I never reached a point where my body was so thin I received comments or funny looks, so maybe I didn’t classify it as an eating problem right away. But in my head, the reflection of who I saw in the mirror, was distorted enough for me to cry for a different life.
It took a long time for me to understand that I was dating someone who made me hate my body. It took a long time to pull myself away from him, and let him go when he chose to leave. But I’m here now, and I’ve so gratefully found a man who deserves me. One who compliments me on my most self-conscious occasions, and one who I know, just from the way he smiles at me as I speak, that he loves me for more than what my skin holds.
Today, I focus on being healthy.
On making things I love a top priority, not how much I sweat at the gym. I’m happy, and I’m confident with a little jiggle in my thighs. It’s in your heart that your true beauty lies. Don’t let the comments of judgment that surrounds your every turn in life stop you from being you. You are wonderful, beautiful, talented and formed to fit perfectly within someone else’s arms. Don’t alter yourself, don’t break yourself; just be yourself. Because you’re already enough.
Featured image via Gabi E. Mulder.