What a Compliment About My Hair Made Me Realize About My Body

When I had just begun my recovery from years of orthorexia-turned-binge-eating disorder, I was working with a phenomenal health coach who gave me a challenge for the week: To dress up, put on makeup and head to a fancy bakery to order something decadent for myself — and to savor every morsel of it (or, as much as my body truly wanted).

I rolled my eyes at this suggestion. What would dressing up do to keep me from devouring a $12 pastry in five seconds? Would it stop me from continuing to eat even if I wasn’t hungry? Would it keep me from binge eating afterwards, knowing I had “blown my clean eating” for the day? I didn’t think it would.

But I followed her directions. I hesitantly put on my prettiest dress, makeup and strappy sandals as I headed to the fanciest bakery in San Diego. I put on sweet, fun music in my car, trying to get myself in a good mood and distract myself from two opposite but equally powerful sensations: stress over the fact I was about to consume hundreds of calories in cream, sugar and flour, and impending doom over the binge I was certain would follow.

My hair was down, which it rarely used to be, because I would usually tie back the voluptuous, giant waves. I always had the idea that my hair was too big, too thick, taking up too much space in the world and needing to be tamed. Similar to how I felt about my body.

I ordered my dulce de leche rum cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting and started to walk out of the bakery when a nice couple stopped me. They spent a good three minutes showering me with compliments about how my hair was so beautiful, asking me if I knew how lucky I was to have such gorgeous hair with such unique texture and color, and repeatedly telling me to “own it.”

I was so struck by their overwhelming kindness. From that day on, I made the conscious decision to embrace my hair. This did not mean my hair was perfect. I just embraced it for what it was — big, bold and different. And you know what? I swear to you, my hair became more beautiful before my very eyes. I rarely wear it up anymore.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I realized, months later, I could make this same decision with my body. It doesn’t mean I look like Scarlett Johansson (only she can do that), it just means I’m waving a white flag. Totally surrendering the fight with my body, as I did with my hair. Just owning my body because it’s mine.

When I arrived home from the bakery, I sensually enjoyed half of what was the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. I stopped when I heard my body telling me she’d had enough. Eating only half of a dessert was something I hadn’t done in years.

I so wish I could find these two strangers, whom I consider to be angels, and thank them. They reminded me I can love my belly and my toes and my little butt because they are mine, and that is reason enough. We can never understand the impact our words have on other people. Be mindful and intentional about what you say to others because it could just launch a self-love brigade.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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