I don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t hyper aware and critical of my body. I grew up during the age of low fat, low carb, sugar free diets, and I remember being about nine years old and secretly counting calories in effort to be skinnier like some of my friends. I was always an active kid, but I was never thin, and that always bothered me…so I started paying attention to commercials for diet sodas, fat free cookies, 100 calorie packs, and ‘diets’ that had you drink a shake or eat a bowl of a certain type of cereal for 1-2 meals per day instead of eating actual food. I thought that the key to losing weight was counting calories, and that as long as I stayed around 1000 calories/day, I would one day be able to have a tinier midsection like all the girls on the commercials.
Disordered eating isn’t something that just happens overnight, and it’s not something that anyone is born with. Case in point: my five year old doesn’t ever worry about what an outfit looks like on her, or if she’s skinny enough for a bathing suit. Hell, she hardly even cares if she has enough clothes on that culture deems as appropriate. In general, society has had this terrible tendency to project the idea of an ideal body type, shape, color, weight, etc. onto its members, and in particular, onto women and young girls.
As a kid, I was blessed with a set of parents who fed us home cooked meals and never made comments about my siblings’ or my weight or body. We were always involved in sports, didn’t eat much fast food, and processed foods and soda were always treats as opposed to dietary staples, but I can remember my mom making disparaging comments about herself and her reflection, and my dad got gastric bypass when I was in grade school; I learned very early on what it was like to be unsatisfied and critical of my appearance. For a while, I honestly just figured that I was just ‘big boned,’ before I realized that skeletons were pretty much always created equally. It was at that time, probably around age 13, that I really tried to take matters into my own hands, and waged a secret war on the bathroom scale.
I remember weighing myself meticulously, constantly striving towards lower numbers through restricting what I’d allow myself to eat, and making myself go on extra runs and bike rides around the block despite always either being in season for swimming and/or basketball. I’d pour over the magazines that we had in the house whose covers boasted how to get flat abs and toned legs in a week, or ’30 days to a leaner you,’ and then I’d make myself do hundreds of sit-ups in my bedroom, in the dark, after we were all supposed to be asleep. I remember pinching myself so hard on the fat on my stomach and thighs that I’d leave bruises. I remember how I loved feeling hungry. I also remember when, at 15, my mom pretty much confronted me about my behavior, and in a very stern way, essentially told me to knock it off, that my not eating was hurting my performance in the pool, and more importantly, that I was setting a horrible example for my little sisters.
Luckily, that was a turning point for me instead of the downward spiral that I’ve seen others go down. I began lifting weights with the football team/coach in high school, and started embracing the muscular build I was born with as opposed to trying to become a waif. I started focusing on how much energy I had, not how many calories I consumed. I started seeing my numbers drop in the pool and cared less about how much they dropped on the scale, although I was still weighing myself entirely too often, and fell in love with the sound of clanging plates, the smell of iron, and finally nailing a proper clean and jerk.
I’d be lying if I said that food and I rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after since then: I struggle, battle, then we seem to come to terms with each other and are friends again, generally in that order, several times a year. It honestly wasn’t until I started educating myself on nutrition and how/what I should be fueling with, that my relationship with food took a sharp turn towards the positive, and I stopped getting so wrapped up with calories and holding myself to a strict, 1000-1200 cal/day diet in order to get the ideal bikini body. When I realized that 1200 calories of sugar free, fat free processed garbage that is advertised to help you lose weight and feel great was actually shutting down my metabolism and starving my muscles, I began shifting towards a way of eating that centered itself around actual foods that I had to clean, cut, cook, and prepare for myself. When I started eating this way year round, and not just in anticipation of being in a bathing suit, I began noticing that my weight was stabilizing to the point that ‘cheats’ wouldn’t affect me so drastically, and I found out the meaning to what a ‘comfortable walking around weight’ was.
I’ve seen such a positive shift over the past few years with regards to women and body image: people are finally abandoning the FALSE idea that women lifting heavy weights will turn them into men, fats are no longer being vilified by an incorrect food pyramid, and processed foods and chemicals have taken their rightful place as poisons. Eating a balanced diet of real food throughout the year has started to combat the idea that anything goes during October-January, and that it’s only during the New Year’s Resolution phase and early spring that that you need to start ‘getting back into shape’ for, you guessed it, bikini season.
Ladies [and gentlemen too], let me tell you something. Do you have a body? CONGRATULATIONS, YOU HAVE A BIKINI BODY. Nothing makes me more mad, sad, and frustrated for 10-23ish year old me and all the other countless little girls and women who stand in front of the mirror and hate what they see, than seeing companies and society at large, telling women what is, and is not, a ‘good’ body. I want women to celebrate their thighs and arms and stomachs, regardless of size, for their strength and not the fat:muscle ratio. I want people to understand what it means to properly fuel their body, and not what it means to ‘diet.’ I want to replace the word ‘cheat’ with ‘treat’. I want to teach this next generation of little girls and boys that people are made in all shapes and sizes, and that as long as you’re healthy and active, your pant size isn’t relevant.
As we make our way to the warmer months and inevitably get inundated with all of the wraps, pills, shakes, and diets that promise us a ‘perfect bikini body,’ please don’t buy into the hype unless this ‘miracle’ comes in the form of leafy greens, seasonal fruits and veggies, clean proteins, sunshine, and good old fashioned work being put in on your yoga mat, in the gym, on the track, or wherever you like being active. Strive, every day, to become a better, healthier version of yourself… and work to be a good example to the little eyes that are looking to you for how they should be seeing themselves. Little kids grow up to believe that they are fabulous, fierce, feisty, and fun…not fat. You need to believe that too.