Sometimes I like to imagine what it would have been like to never fall down a path much different than those that surrounded me. At such a young woman's age, my anorexia embodied my identity, whether or not people wanted it to. Then I imagine the strength I gained from healing the wounds I once thought would break me and I feel, now more than ever, that hope will over prevail. Yet whether or not my strength leads me to where I stand now isn’t the question. The question is what am I going to do with it? How can I help anyone in a society whose foundational structures are now ruled by beautiful distractions? When I try and help others struggling with their body image, my actions are steady, strong, and heartfelt. I am not afraid of my power and knowledge as I have walked the same pavement, seen the same family members reactions, both good and bad. Although the pavement was not an exact match or science, my empathy fills in those gaps, so that I may understand them, and they may understand me.
I once was the person hiding behind my anorexia, the thoughts, and phrases spoke to me feel like a distant memory rooted in my past conversations. They are familiar yet I am unmoved, detained by my grounded self, unwilling to be pulled from light. I feel bathed in sunshine by guiding those who are still on their journey to hope. I once felt that my determination to help others would lead me back to destruction, heartache, or anorexia. Yet, as I have grown, I have seen the power in my empathy, in myself. With time I became unguarded and unafraid of who I am. I am now beginning to do things I never thought I could. Instead of being pulled back into the shadows of memories I once wished to forget, I see they are my power, my knowledge. What would I have wanted to hear? What do they truly need, is it comfort? Is it guidance? My ambition ignites as I write down a list of thoughts, items, and people that have helped me before, knowing that with each character written I could send this message to someone and watch a beautiful soul be rekindled with their old self. When they cross the threshold to light, unwilling to let darkness and disease control them, their energies make our world shine brighter. I think about each one of them and their families. It only takes one spoken word from one person to ignite a desire to fight what has been eating away at them for far too long.
I feel such depth towards my work volunteering for a helpline, but each one of these individuals’ lives has touched my soul. I know that whether it helped or not, I will root for them, all of them. Change doesn’t seem so scary when you seek to make one person's life better.
Suddenly clarity shifts towards my own life, a journey in which seemed like an eternity has passed swiftly by to where I stand. Yet all I keep asking myself is what more I can do? How do I, one person begin to chip away at a world built on false imagery. Imagery that is suppose to be beautiful, yet it is distorted by society, by us. Social media paved the way for portraits, not imagination. The authenticity of self crumbled into hands far more powerful than we thought. Filters slowly crept into what now seems like magic potions snipping unwanted lines on our faces, cropping and distorting the true form that stands before us in the mirror each day. Without my choice to break away from social media, I would not have been able to see the underlying beauty it has to offer if we gave it more kindness. I would have continued to be broken by my reality compared to the images I’d created of who I wanted to be online. It seems that photos we take of ourselves even with the make-up and beautiful clothes fall short of what is worthy of a passing glance, alike, or comment. This to me, is the biggest problem with body image. This problem so large and vast and unlikely to change swiftly, that it’s talked of without subjecting change. It’s said to be true, yet we all go home and do just what we said was hurting society.
By feeding the ego of social media we let malnourishment fall upon our inner selves. Imagery is beautiful but it’s distilled by a photo. There is no imagination, only the absence of who we are as a person at that moment we took it. Who is behind that photo? Why does that person seek value in a perfect photo, but glimpses only slightly at the beauty inside? It’s no wonder we see more and more apps that blur the reality of ourselves because our physical image is the only thing reflecting who we are. Sadly, the vulnerability has become a rare outcast, unwanted, and unseen. A picture with no makeup on is our way of feeling brave, but we have always been brave, in our lives and our actions. We are brave in the eyes of people that surround us, know us, and see our vulnerabilities. We forget that social media is meant to connect, it is supposed to be beautiful when used in its purest form. Our profound authenticity allows us to no longer fear judgment because we all showed our flaws. Then who would we see as perfect? Who would these desires be someone that we aren’t come from? Maybe they wouldn’t come at all.
Sure that statement could be argued, but in my case, I did just that. The skinnier I got the more my photos weren’t good enough, I’d find and compare photos I took from weeks before, disgusted that I ever let myself weigh that much. It motivated me, kept me on my path. It was the same with comparing myself to others. I'd reach a point where someone I once thought was so skinny looked normal to me, because I had “beat them” somehow, and that intoxicating energy wasn’t thinking about how I had judged someone else or judged myself. It saw through all the parts of me that were beautiful. This disease has begun to break down my personality until I was just a few photos, and one hobby of trying on clothes and body checking how skinny I looked. Yet if I had truly looked in that mirror, all I would have found was a 14-year-old girl, who had lost all her friends, passions, and identity. What was I trying to erase? My crease lines below my eyes or the unhappiness that lay beneath them? I felt happy, but it wasn’t real. It was a false advertisement that I signed up for too quickly. The skinnier I got the more my life depended on the comments of others saying I looked thin, each one sending chills down my spine as I craved more. You ask yourself why these things happen, and I believe the answer is right in front of us. We become afraid of what is happening internally, and with a world full of masks we easily find belonging in picking out our new disguise.
It's time to start talking about the reality of it. We can no longer turn a blind eye and make excuses for the destruction it has caused. It takes being vulnerable, daring to not be afraid of what others might think because we can’t be caught in that world anymore. To be truly free is to let go of a person you create or want to be, and love what are you right now at this moment. Hope is the most valuable thing I can give someone at the moment they are weakest.
I want to live in a world where a 5-year-old child doesn’t compare her body to others. I want to live in a world where you aren’t afraid of being disliked for your body. There was once a time on this planet where negativity and the addiction to comparing yourself to people online were unthinkable. Yet here we are, a world so full of insecurities that spread like wildfire until it’s burning everywhere. I know that it’s hard to understand an eating disorder, but everyone can understand feeling insecure, or having a body image issue, even if just for a moment. An eating disorder to me was my collective of that fueled fire clinging to me, and the grasp was once too strong to pull away, but I found hope.
Hope saved me. Hope created Beyond Body Images.