Experts estimate that about 8 million people in the U.S. are currently suffering from an eating disorder—and that's not even to mention the long, arduous process of recovery nor the rampant misunderstanding of these issues in our culture. As a nod to Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26 to March 4), we'll be featuring some of our most thought-provoking content on body image, diet talk, and the stigma and shame that millions of women deal with on a daily basis. Above all else, know that you're not alone—and if you need help and don't know where to begin, reach out to the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at (800) 931-2237.
I was down in Miami for the city's annual Swim Weekend when a familiar feeling crept up, weaving itself along every ounce of my body. I looked at a picture of myself and felt my skin crawl. As a woman on the better end of her eating disorder recovery, I hadn't felt triggered like that in a while.
Swiping through photo after photo, I felt pangs of fear colliding with guilt in this bizarre emotional cocktail I forced myself to swallow. For the rest of the trip, my mind vacillated between feeling uncomfortable in my body and being embarrassed I allowed those thoughts to invade my space. I berated myself for feeling bad. With each passing thought, I sunk deeper and deeper into this shame spiral—not for the way my body looked, but for not loving it anyway.
Insecurity and anxiety still live and breathe inside my body. I'd be lying if I argued they didn't.
Mixed in with all the well-meaning, self-confidence-boosting, body-positive rhetoric lies an often forgotten truth: Unconditionally loving your body is difficult, no matter the circumstances. The movement is absolutely positive—normalizing cellulite (as 90% of women have it), allowing room for more than one practically made-up body type and discussing food and exercise in a way that is rooted in self-love. However, this well-meaning messaging can become exclusionary if you do, in fact, have insecurities. It's yet another impossible standard to measure yourself against, only this time it's dressed up as "inspiring." If we're preaching acceptance, we also need permission for an off-day. I identify far more with "body neutrality" than I ever did with "body positivity." It makes me feel seen.
I have worked through a decade of body issues and finally landed in a positive space. I feel good about myself and my parts in a way I never thought I would again. But insecurity and anxiety still live and breathe inside my body. I'd be lying if I argued they didn't. And that has to be okay. I'm allowed to want to tone up or eat healthier as a way to feel good about how I look. I'm allowed to feel down about my body on a trip to Miami. The fact that self-acceptance doesn't come easily for me doesn't make me any less committed to maintaining positive body image.
If we're preaching acceptance, we also need permission for an off-day.
I'm good at relinquishing control most days, allowing myself to live free from judgment and comparison. Though, that comes from years of recognizing and coping with my deep-rooted issues with weight. Not everyone has had that opportunity. So I suppose what I'm saying is you're allowed to land somewhere in between. You can be a champion for body positivity even if you sometimes wish you looked different in a bathing suit. The two are not mutually exclusive. You're human, and either extreme will never make you happy.