thoughts on body image
Content warning: suicide
While drafting this post, I came across some writing from last May & decided to include it at the end of this post. Any other week, maybe I wouldn't have — it isn't respectable to bare your innermost struggles.
But it’s the first week of February, so I am thinking of a childhood friend. I knew him since we were 5. In our senior year of high school, he committed suicide. Having lost a friend this way makes me less reserved to talk about hardship, even if it means baring my innermost struggles. Whatever walls we construct between ourselves & others, sometimes they're necessary. But sometimes they aren’t, and we’re strengthened by taking them down.
Editing my Instagram profile the other day, I caught myself replacing a recent picture of myself with one from over a year ago. Over a year ago, I weighed less than I have recently.
My struggle with disordered eating is fueled by this pattern: the times I feel most confident in my body are the times my body feels thinnest (and to be honest, weakest). This pattern defies all the mental work I’ve done to repair my body image, including years of therapy.
Whatever it takes to overcome this struggle, I've grown resigned to the fact that it will involve an abundance of time: one day after the next, choosing to believe my life is every bit as worth living on days when I feel unlovable in my body, as it is on days when I don't. One day after another, choosing to live — to eat & move healthily, to pursue my goals — as if I fully subscribe to this belief. Forgiving myself on days when I can’t.
Last spring, I experienced a mental health crisis related to body image. Below is some writing I did in the aftermath. Against the impulse to apologize for sharing such dreary writing, I’m letting this space hold these words as an act of faith. In leaving them here, someone will find them and realize that however shameful, engulfing, & dehumanizing this struggle can be, they are far from alone:
My complacency towards body dysmorphia — that I was overcoming it steadily, its darkest moments were behind me — depended upon believing I fit into my own, narrow concept of beauty. My mental health depended upon fitting.
That night, I realized it had become impossible for me to fit. But if I couldn't fit, in that moment, death seemed better than living in a body "objectively" ugly to the point of being monstrous. If I had to continue living in this body, I felt desperate to go unseen for the rest of my life.
To be sure, the intensity of my emotions had to do with a severe lack of sleep. Somehow, I fell asleep. By the next morning, rest had dispelled the element of crisis. That morning, I revised the open letter I’d written over the past month.
Writing that letter changed me. For one, it revived my willingness to go around in public without covering my shaved head. Because to be seen with my head shaven is to feel the weight of the promise I made to myself.
I am letting go of the notion of physical beauty as something to be striven for, lost, or gained. I am abandoning my concern for the world’s perception of my body. Its racist, fatphobic concept of “beauty” poisoned me against myself so profoundly, I wanted to die. If I am to live, I wish to have nothing to do with this paradigm.
I am learning to love myself. The world’s concept of beauty has no place in my healing. So I am letting go — this, I promise for my own survival.