The One Reason I Stopped Punishing Myself With Weight Loss Resolutions
Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
I think it’s safe to say that weight loss is probably the most popular New Year’s resolution. As a young woman struggling with body dysmorphia, I never waited for a change in calendar year to start a new diet and exercise regimen. When you’re struggling with body image, there always seems to be a reason to drastically reduce your calorie intake: a date with a person you like, a swimsuit on a mannequin, an article about pilates, a run-in with your ex, a wedding invitation, or a rude encounter with a three-way mirror at a department store. In my early 20s, the resolve to lose weight and somehow gain control of my body happened at least once a month.
I had not yet realized my body felt out of control because it was the site of exploitation. I guess I thought if I lost just a few more pounds the catcalls, the unwanted advances and the memories of being raped and gaslighted by my ex would just disappear, as if they existed inside me at a cellular level. I blamed myself for not being what I was supposed to be. I thought if I could just attain the elusive ideal of feminine beauty all the shame would just melt away, and in the name of that goal I exploited my own body: I deprived it of nutrition, I drowned it in alcohol and I put it at the mercy of men who didn’t respect me.
It never occurred to me that I wasn’t to blame for everything that had happened to me, that it wasn’t a direct result of my shortcomings, but that it was a manifestation of the rape culture I lived in, and that no one exists outside of it.
If I could go back and reach out to my younger self, I would cook her a balanced meal, follow it with ice cream and tell her that her body was not the source of the discomfort she experienced. I’d teach her the vocabulary she needed to articulate her experience. I’d make sure that she understood patriarchy was much broader than the rule of the father, that misogyny is not exclusively acted out by men and that consent is still relevant when you are in a relationship.
Even though this was all a long time ago, it never feels far away, because it isn’t. I don’t think the messages young women receive about their bodies has changed. The ideal may have a shifted, it always does, but the pressure to attain it remains constant, and now that we have social media, I think it’s much harder to escape.
I gave up dieting and fighting to lose weight gradually, as I began to realize my body was being blamed for the violence acted upon it. I decided to be the first to stop punishing it. I gave myself permission to eat what I wanted and to take up space. I donated my smaller jeans. I learned that the first drink tastes the best and made it my last. It took longer to improve my relationships, but I did. I pressed charges against the next man to assault me and faced him in court.
I felt stronger, not just because I suddenly had muscular thighs and biceps, but because I had recovered the power to speak: my hurt, my anger, my truth, all of it came out in my writing. And just when I thought I’d reached the pinnacle of self-acceptance, I got sick and I had to accept that my body wasn’t going back to the way it was before, that my health didn’t have a fixed shape or weight.
For the last few years, my New Year’s resolutions have hinged on self-care: washing my face before bed, not letting the dishes pile up, getting more fresh air. It works about as well as the diets, but that’s OK, because I’ve never been one to wait for January to find new resolve.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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