This past week was NEDA (National Eating Disorder Awareness) Week, where those who have struggled with eating disorders or embracing healthy body image have shared their stories publicly across various social media platforms. This year’s NEDA Week theme has been captioned #ComeAsYouAre , where folks share images with words and captions stating a few things they like about themselves – personality, achievements, community, and of course, body. These stories got me reflecting on my own relationship with my body, and the journey we’ve been on particularly in the more recent years. I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my personal journey with food, body image, self-love as I too, learn what it means to #ComeAsYouAre.
Though I wouldn’t claim to have had any diagnosable form of an eating disorder, I’ve certainly had my fair share of body dysmorphia that’s led to unhealthy self-perception, and lifestyle habits.
I’ve spent most of my life pretty self-conscious about my physical appearance. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has that “part” of themselves, their body, or face that they’d rather cover up or change. Personally there were MANY things I wanted to change about my physical appearance throughout different periods of life – but in particular, I hated how flat-chested I was (and still am…thanks for nothing, puberty). As I waited out the already-awkward teenage years, by age 20 or so I came to realize that no matter what, the chest I was given is the chest I’m going to have in this life.
I was definitely not the type to ever consider surgery, but I certainly tried out more subtle things to seem a little less me-chested, and a little more “normal.” Be it an overly padded bra, or wearing strictly necklines that drew attention away from my chest, it was clear that I was anything but comfortable in my body.
And it wasn’t just the flat-chestedness that made me feel insecure, but I found that in order to look what I considered “balanced” and “proportionate” throughout the rest of my body, I’d need to weigh a very, very, VERY small amount…and so begun a downward spiral of self-loathing that led to food deprivation, which led to more self-loathing and further depriving my body of its basic needs. This was in high school.
Then came college. My perception of beauty began to widen as I was immersed myself in a more diverse atmosphere (or at least, more Asian American atmosphere), much different than the relatively homogenous suburb I’d grown up in. I took Asian American studies classes that challenged Western standards of beauty, attractiveness, and worth; and called out misrepresentations and stereotyping of diverse body types in the media. By the time I graduated from college, I thought I’d pretty much outgrown any sense of self-loathing, self-consciousness, or self-deprivation. I’d gained a little weight, found a style that I felt suited my body-type, and had decided that I would tolerate my body the way that it is.
But healthy body image is more than simply tolerating my body for being what it is. It’s even more than accepting and displaying my body to others. What I’ve come to find, is that healthy body image requires me to respect and care for my body to the extent that my soul has space to flourish. It means thanking my body for the way it supports me, helps me live life, and empowers me to engage with the world around me.
After college I made the decision to start therapy. In therapy, we talked about a lot of things. From ethnic identity, to personal power, to situations of trauma or abuse, to everyday conversations and situations I found myself in. But a moment that I will always remember from those months was during a session about halfway through that round of therapy.
I came in and sat down like I normally would. We began our session with a few rounds of breath, allowing me to observe and scan my body to bring awareness to how I was emotionally feeling that day. As I was observing my body, I noticed that rather than an emotion come to awareness, I just felt hungry. My life was pretty fast-paced at the time which led to me skipping meals here and there to make sure that I got everything I needed to done. Today was one of those days.
So in an attempt to be honest, I sheepishly shared with my therapist that the only thing I really felt, was hunger. And bless her soul — she literally paused the session, ran out into the hallway, and came back with a banana and granola bar from her own lunch. “You need to eat,” she explained.
Feeling terrible that I’d interrupted our session and led her to give me part of a lunch that was meant for her, I tried to politely reject her offer.
“No, your body is trying to tell you something. That’s something to pay attention to,” she insisted.
So I took the banana and granola bar, and we sat in silence as I awkwardly finished them bite by bite. And when we finally began our session, it became clear that even though I had better body image than what I’d had years prior, I still didn’t have healthy body image.
Healthy body image should fuel self-compassion and care that in-turn create space for my soul to flourish and grow. If I’m feeling comfortable in the clothes I’m in, or posting exposing photos of myself on social media; but am not growing in character… there might be room to question how healthy that self-perception really is. It’s easy to promote the concept of body positivity while ignoring the parts of my soul that need tending.
It’s kind of hard for my body to create space for my soul to flourish if it’s too hungry to think or feel anything else. It’s also hard to do that if I’m overly-consumed with being angry at my body for not looking a certain way, having a limited amount of physical ability, or allowing myself or those around me to neglect or disrespect it. And it’s definitely hard to do that if I’m distracted by trying to change or cover up ways that my body might be uniquely different than what Western media deems as attractive, or worthy.
Because can my soul really flourish if I’m throwing harmful thoughts, careless action, or objectifying values at the very body it’s connected to?
So in this season of life, “coming as I am” looks like taking the time to recognize how unique my body is, and nurture it with all that it needs to allow my soul to flourish. It means buying bras that actually FIT, without extra fluff or padding to create the illusion that my body is anything but what it is (shout out to Pepper, for FINALLY making wonderful bras for those of us in the IBTC). It means choosing into movement or exercise that is good for both my body, AND my soul – and refusing to view exercise as “punishment” for the extra glass of wine, or the joyful meals out with loved ones I may consume. And it means working with my body to find the root issue, rather than cover up the symptom of my present-day insecurity: hormonal acne.
Perhaps it means doing the extra work of examining my life holistically, to see how my relationships, my work, and every-day living habits contribute to my hormonal health – rather than spend hundreds of dollars on topical serums, creams, and fancy makeup for a quick, yet temporary fix.
Ultimately, it means acknowledging exactly where I’m at in my journey toward holistic health and celebrating the wins, while having grace on myself in the battles still being fought. I’ve come so, so far in embracing my body and caring for it; yet clearly still have so far to go. But I’m grateful that my body has graciously been along for the ride, and I’m committed to keep fighting to love it better, for the sake of my body, mind, and soul.