I was 9 years old when it started. My body issues. Nine.
I remember looking in the mirror wearing this red t-shirt with geometric yellow and black designs on it (very 90s) and not liking how anything looked. I felt short and chubby,
whereas my sisters were tall and lean. They were also 4 and 6 years older than me, so of course they were taller. My teeth were crooked, whereas my sisters were straight. They had braces. Still, it felt that I was wrong, bad. Something in me just cried when I looked at myself and felt like I should be ashamed of myself.
I eventually got long and lean, and also got braces.
That feeling stayed with me. It lingered. Every comment about me and my body affected me. Being the youngest of three sisters I was constantly compared to them, in every way. Some good, some not. People sometimes feel it’s their societal right to talk about who looks like who and which one has which characteristic of which parent and how we all measured up. I never understood why it was anyone’s business to talk about it, to my face. I always just smiled and agreed politely.
I followed a very musically talented sister and a very athletically talented sister. I decided I’d be both. I became competitive and only felt ok when I was winning, when I was the best, when I was athletic, talented and beautiful. I had to have all 3 or else I was falling behind. I genuinely liked the sports I played and the instruments I learned, but looking back I wonder how much of that was driven by the need to just be in line with the others in my family. I was already so much younger so I felt I had to perform at a higher level.
Being in sports helped me to take great care of my body. I lifted weights in the mornings before school with my team, I swam and played tennis and water polo, I ate well and I studied nutrition. I loved my bio classes where I learned the science of the body and what she needs to function well.
My senior year I stopped playing sports. I started dating someone who wasn’t great for me. I started feeling lost. I started losing more parts of myself. I began to feel confused and broken down. My friendships suffered. I started taking diet pills to regain what felt like control. Something in me decided that I needed to be tinier, to take up less space. I wanted to be perfect somehow, thinking that is how people would love me again.
When diet pills weren’t enough, I began to starve myself. When that wasn’t enough, I began to also throw up whatever I ate. I started a waitressing job at a diner and was around delicious greasy food all the time. I was hungry. Whenever I’d let myself eat I would punish myself by throwing it all up in the diner bathroom. It was tricky doing it so no one found out, but I figured it out. I was obsessed with it. I was obsessed with being smaller and having control.
It became the benchmark for whether I had a good or bad day. If I was happy with what I ate (or didn’t eat), and felt like I looked good, then it was a good day. If not, then it was a bad day.
Now, thirty years later, it breaks my heart that I felt all of that and carried it in my body for so long. I realize that in some ways I’ve just been chasing my health and working out. I’m not sure I’m necessarily healed yet from these issues that plagued me and whispered in the background of my daily life for decades.
My baby girl is 9. I want so much more for her. I want things to be so different for her in her little mind, heart, and body. I think it’s the fuel that drives my engine of body positivity, and the photography I do that is raw and real, versus photoshopped and filtered. I like the imperfections. I like the gritty. I think it’s all so beautiful when it’s not curated.
It’s also the fuel that drives me to show up fully as myself, and not cover parts of me up anymore. I actually like not wearing makeup. I like being honest with myself. I like learning piece by piece, day by day, to expand more into myself and to accept more of who I fully am.
I wish I had learned it sooner. But I know now. And I’ll do everything I can to set this intention for my three little girls.