This post was originally published on August 26, 2014.
About a year ago I decided I didn’t want to read or see anything that referred to how we are “supposed” to look anymore. As a person who has had eating disorders and a dreadfully skewed perception of my self image, that type of media coverage was nothing more than a big bad trigger for me. It had the same effect as if someone had tied me to a chair so I couldn’t escape and then subjected me to constant verbal insult about my appearance. “You’re fat, you’re too short, your ass is too big, your boobs are too small”—you get the picture. Even web pages relating to health and exercise that had pictures of overly toned and impossibly thin women with perfect facial features, dazzling white toothed smiles and perfectly groomed, glossy hair were deleted. At almost 40 years old, when I’m supposed to be mature enough to understand that these images are airbrushed and enhanced by professionals on a grand scale, they still have a profoundly negative effect on me. When I look at them, I was and still am hit by a rush of self-loathing deep down that is difficult for me to put into words. I am every advertiser’s dream. Anything that plays on my insecurities regarding not being good enough and not reaching a certain standard of perfection will get me right where it hurts. If you have a product with a promise attached, you will get my attention.
I understand that being of the addictive personality type, I am super sensitive to this type of corporate conning. So to protect myself from my susceptibility to such propaganda, I went about removing from my vicinity any signs of an advertisement that attempted to suggest that being acceptable meant we had to become clones of a Kardashian or that a woman must have the same muscle mass as a man to be remotely attractive. Anything that even resembled a promotion for the latest weight loss miracle or exercise program promising a figure like a Victoria’s Secret model in 30 days was also swiftly removed from my vision. I also stopped buying magazines which entice their readers with images of celebrities in bikinis, pointing out their minuscule cellulite areas as if it was the end of the world as we know it. Instead of making me feel better that these super humans were not perfect, my brain would tell me that if they have flaws with all the time and effort they put into their appearance, then the sight of me in a bikini would definitely turn someone blind from the ugliness.
And you know what? The removal of this trash from my life actually benefited me greatly. The freedom from the constant assault on my self esteem made me feel very content and accepting of my body. Yes, I have even worn a bikini this summer and instead of staying stuck to my beach towel in a pose that made my tummy look effortlessly flat, I actually walked along the shore in it without covering up my less than perfect parts. And not even one person reported losing their eyesight as I passed by. I very comfortably slipped into a style of my own which I guess I would describe as slightly 1970’s Stevie Nicks with a modern twist. I also stopped buying ridiculously expensive beauty products that don’t work anyway. My exercise routine became a non routine and consisted of walks and the occasional break into a jog a few times a week when I felt like it. It became more about the enjoyment of being outdoors than burning calories. Yes I like to look and feel good, but swapped the compulsory keeping up with fashion and running till I was dizzy with an acceptance of what I had and lovingly caring for myself. The self-torture and negative self-talk because I didn’t look “how I was supposed to” pretty much evaporated into nothingness. What freedom.
And I was doing brilliantly too: Facebook pages greeted me with posts and essays reminding me that there are really amazing people out there trying to make better lives for themselves and others; beautiful semi-naked pictures of people with captions saying no matter what size, shape or skin color we are we are all beautiful adorn my computer screen. My reading material became educational and entertaining, written by wonderfully gifted authors. I discovered mindful, positive quotes and affirmations to uplift me every time I switched on my computer and entered the world of social media. Quotes like “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your life.” Or “Strong women lift each other up, not tear each other down.”
Then one day, inside my very alcoholic, addict, overeating, obsessive-compulsive head, my beautiful peace and freedom was dashed. Even with all that positivity washing over me, I still found a way to beat the crap out of myself and feel “less than.” So if inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow anything outside to control your life, does the fact I can’t handle seeing pictures of beautiful people mean that I am still being controlled? The fact that there are some women that I don’t like, and may have inadvertently bitched about to other friends, make me a really weak woman? And if “happiness is my true nature,” then clearly I am failing miserably at being all spiritual and calm and truly myself because I am, under no circumstances, happy all the time or even most of the time.
And then my head went frantically searching for everything it could find to convince me I am a bad, insignificant person who is just not good enough. Was my recovery lifestyle starting to attack me? All of a sudden I felt guilty because I didn’t take that yoga class anymore. Perhaps the fact that I was becoming more content and less stressed meant that actually I had really just become lazy. Maybe I wasn’t meditating enough? If I were, I wouldn’t be feeling like this, would I? For a whole week, or maybe a little longer, I had once more lost my fricking mind. I bitch slapped myself into submission and almost had myself convinced that there was really no escaping conformity. Judgment and ridicule were everywhere. Even the uplifting quotes had managed to make me feel like I “should” be something and somebody else. As if someone had turned off a light switch, as opposed to switching one on, I was sitting in darkness, feeling totally lost. Where had my inner strength and resilience gone?
And so I had to become all vulnerable again and talk to other people about what I was going through. I was then reminded that just because I didn’t drink or use or generally over indulge in anything anymore didn’t mean that my wrongly wired brain wasn’t still recovering. I’ve spent my whole life attacking myself, so it’s understandable that being in recovery for only four-and-a-half years is not going to suddenly produce a hotbed of maturity and mental health. Luckily, I haven’t bought a stupidly expensive pot of chemicals to slap on my face out of the mistaken belief that I will look 20 again. Nor have I signed up for E News’ daily celebrity gossip. Nope, I have remained in my semi organic state and am back on the path of self-discovery—perhaps with more realistic expectations of the rate at which I can recover.
I am, however, going back to yoga.