On A Body That Defined Me
Body Image. Body Love. Body Positivity.
It's a struggle. A very real struggle and not one that should be undermined.
I spent years living in the shadow of my body. My body, how I and others perceived it, suffocated me, defined me, made me feel small.
When I was 11 years old I nearly starved myself to death. I found myself alone, isolated from my family, scared and desperately ill, forced into a treatment centre with no understanding of what had happened to me or what was going on. I didn't know what an eating disorder was and I definitely didn't think I had one. I just wanted to be thin. I wanted to be nothing. I wanted to be empty. I didn't even know what I wanted anymore.
This time is hazy, it was the first of a few serious hospitalizations and the beginning of my relationship with anorexia. An illness that haunted me for at least another 12 years. My journey to healing has been a long one, not without struggle but it kindled by letting go of an identity that defined me.
As a pre teen I don't remember the specific point when I became aware of my body, or started defining myself by my body but there was a certain time. I was no longer Elizabeth the child within but I had become Elizabeth the body. Slowly or suddenly I realized I wasn't thin enough, maybe I ate too much, I wasn't beautiful enough, cool enough, perfect enough. It wasn't anybody in particular's fault it was just the world we lived in. My ballet teacher had been taught thin is beautiful so she taught me that too, my Grandmother had been taught never to eat until she was full, so she taught me that too, my best friend taught me that in order to be cool I should read the magazines she did, look like the girls in it and fit into the clothes she did - because she had been taught that too. My dad, as a doctor, said you shouldn't get too fat because fat equals sick, my sister teased me calling me a pig (OINK OINK) and suddenly I lived in a world where it wasn't about the dreaming, the playing, the imagining but about the image I saw in the mirror. I disassociated from my physicality, I became Elizabeth trapped in "the object", the body, a body, any body. And this is an epidemic, this is what happens to nearly every child at some point in their development, they stop feeling, they get out of their bodies and into their heads. We teach our girls that they are objects of desire and our boys that girls are objects to be desired. In order to be a successful human, to have friends, relationships, happiness we have to exist in an object that is "perfect" - but that perfection is unattainable, it doesn't exist. That perfection isn't authentic but modified, made up.
When I was 11 and placed into treatment a whole new world opened up to me, the world of the "disordered" and now I wasn't just defined by my object but also a new shiny title - "anorexic". The title gave me a warped worth or rather lack of and I imagined nobody could look past it and see the real me, I know I couldn't. I lived in a grey world where I was scared of being too fat and terrified of the judgement for being too thin. I was so acutely aware of what people were seeing or what I thought they saw in me, I was ashamed of what my body was, what my mind was doing but I had no worth to escape it and I just couldn't feel anymore.
I hovered on the edge of existence for a long time, half well, half sick, just trying to scrape by. I had an innate desire to seek the light but I didn't have the tools I needed to shine. I knew that conventional treatment didn't really work for me, it was too labelled, too competitive and just dealt with the numbers on a scale. In that kind of treatment, I was still an object, a number, a "lost soul", a shamed being. No matter how much I wanted to absorb the light there was something holding me back, I didn't want to be lost but there was a romanticism to it. I was an artist. I thought, shouldn't I be tortured in some way?
The moment I realized I could still create and be inspired from a place of positivity transformed me, something called out inside, I am here! I knew that the only way to heal was to seek out ways to define my being that were greater than my body. I made goals, followed dreams and stopped giving myself labels of suffering. I realized I didn't have to be an anorexic but I did have to be something else. I had to be a woman, an artist, I had to travel, to practice yoga. I started crawling towards self and away from objectification, slowly peeling away the layers of inhumanity, searching for my true being.
My confidence as a human had been so shattered, I wonder if I even resembled a human at all? I lived as a voice within my head, too scared to be a body.
In a way yoga saved me. I found hot yoga on a freezing Parisian winter and started practicing every day. I stood in front of a mirror and I could see my body performing poses but slowly I floated away from the image in front of me and started connecting with my being inside. I had breath, presence, inspiration. My body was becoming strong, it was healing, making shapes in the physical but really shapes within my mind.
I started caring about what I ate and giving myself worth to eat it. Previously I had been living on canned soups and frozen entrees, I didn't give my body enough credit. I didn't realize it was a vessel worth rewarding. When I found wellness something shifted yet again. I needed to be well to achieve my dreams and in wellness I was naturally loosing my fear. I noticed that the my fear wasn't proportionate to reality. Scared of gaining weight, scared of not gaining weight .. it didn't really matter, wherever I was in my journey I largely felt the same.
Teaching gave me a new sense of purpose and slowly I realized I wasn't such a bad human after all. Much to my surprise I could talk to people, guide people, even inspire people. I watched students bloom and grow but still I was still terrified they would find out about my past, that they would discover the "real me" - the real me that wasn't really the real me. I was so in my head, so worried about the wall, still so scared of judgement.
When I was 25 I spent an extended period living in the wild. During this time I began to experience weightlessness, without mirrors, makeup or even a fresh set of clothes my days became very much about the experience of being rather than the experience I was being. I felt connected to my animal instincts, to the Earth around me, to the way it felt to be in my skin. The cold, a feeling of hunger, loneliness, pain. I found peace in just existing as part of the landscape whilst simultaneously relishing the world around me. I learned to be. To be me. I started to face the true pain of my past, to share it with others and in that I found healing.
Even so, when I left the wild I was reintroduced to the human world, to the media, to the inauthenticity and it hurt me. It was jarring and I couldn't exist in harmony. My hairy legs caused a conflict in my mind, I wanted to be empowered in my natural state but I just felt at odds, even more at war. I thought all had been in vain but I just needed time to do its job, a few months for my teachings to sink in. I had to rehabilitate myself back into the human world and when I did - I had a new confidence in being.
During my pregnancy I was faced with the biggest catalyst for healing I have ever found, the love for my unborn daughter. My pregnancy came as a surprise and although it was initially challenging when I did make the decision to become a mama it forced me into a new world of self love. Becoming a mother meant I had to love my body. I had to grow a healthy baby and then I had to give her the best tools for survival, I had to teach her how to love herself meaning I must do the same. I dropped deep into my being. When my baby kicked I felt our bodies move together, when I imagined all that I was growing it felt like a miracle, I couldn't see her but I had to use my feeling, my senses to truly be in my body. During pregnancy there is no way to control your changing physique but working on the mind became more potent because I was doing it for my child. I suddenly felt no shame in my past because I had a new identity as a mother. I saw the responsibility I had to myself to be open about my experience because it is only in authenticity and in sharing ones truth that you can access a fully embodied life. I faced my demons, spoke to a therapist, shared my worst fears. I began unravelling the conditioning I had given myself and in that I found freedom. When I birthed my daughter I witnessed such a miracle and that miracle was coming from me as it does from every mother. I created life. In the days that follow the birth of my daughter I have glimmers of darkness but it is mostly light - light at life. I'm proud of what my body has achieved - and YES yes I do love my body for my daughter, for myself and all women. I love the BREASTS that feed her, the UTERUS that grew her, the LEGS that carry her. I'm even proud of my little POOCH for I feel I earned it, that it gives me the right to be in some strong new women tribe and I'm becoming fond of the small STRIPES on my belly. When I catch glimpses of my loose skin it can take me out of my body for a moment because it isn't quite the reflexion I'm used to - but thats just it, my reflexion really doesn't matter and nor does yours. Just close your eyes and feel.