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What Finding Body Positivity Meant for Me in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

I am 20 years old, and a student from Mumbai, India. This is the story of my struggle with body acceptance and self-love, which is constantly evolving and improving by the day.

When I was 16, I lost weight in the most unhealthy manner — skipping meals, drinking too much water, brisk walking for hours until my knees hurt and occasionally abusing laxatives. But the weight wasn’t the only thing that I lost in this story. I lost my happiness, my ability to uninhibitedly socialize with friends and family and I lost my period for almost five months. My hair was brittle and falling out, my eyes had sunken into their sockets. I was always cold, even in summer. And I easily caught colds.

Looking back, it seems unfathomable that I was willing to lose so much, only to be smaller. I thought this was a success story. Everyone was complimenting me, but others couldn’t see my pain and suffering. I had managed to create a carefully curated facade of “normalcy” around losing weight, making people believe this was something that “just happened” and was “no big deal,” when I was actually physically and mentally dying.

One day, a few months before my 17th birthday, I came across an Instagram profile that spoke extensively about eating disorders, body image disorders and promoted body positivity. In that moment, it dawned on me that if I continued down this path, my actions and thoughts would consume me entirely. The very next day I wrote a letter to my mother detailing all of my actions. I won’t forget the way it made her weep with helplessness. She took me to a nutritionist, who then started me on supplements and a proper food plan. I slowly started gaining back the weight I had lost, and with it, my life.

In the past few months, I began seeing a therapist for body image issues as well as some other issues. However, loving my body has been the most difficult task of all. It was the one thing I felt wasn’t addressed enough in the society I was brought up in. As a young girl growing up, I never saw my size represented in movies, magazines or on television. The first boy I ever liked bullied me about my weight. Constantly being told to shrink down, not seeing yourself represented in media and being told that just because you are bigger you are a failure and undeserving of love and happiness is harmful.

I’ve casually criticized my body and have been self-deprecating. There has never been a sensitive, vulnerable and empowering conversation I’ve had about body acceptance, body positivity, self-care and self-love with any of my peer groups. I want to stress how important it is to have healthy and enriching discussions about accepting all body types, that fat does not equal to ugly, that being curvier does not mean that you can sexualize someone and how we need to have more heroines in Bollywood (and Hollywood) who are more than the stereotypical size six, and who are not restricted to being just the sidekick, or even worse, the butt of jokes.

Talking to my therapist and to the people I met on social media who had the same struggles as me opened me up to an entire world teeming with inclusion, self-acceptance and body positivity. I realized how sharing my deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities with people who were willing to listen felt like a freedom from the burden of shame and isolation I’d been feeling. For the longest time, I believed I was alone in my fight for self-love; that all the other girls in the world were extremely comfortable with themselves, and it was just me who carried around the horrible and vain secret that I didn’t love the skin I was in. All the girls who ran body positivity accounts on Instagram, who were also body positive activists, made me feel accepted and secure. They made me realize it was OK to not be totally OK with myself — but it’s something I should never stop striving for. Loving the body you have is the most beautiful feeling ever, and although it comes to me in fleeting moments, I embrace and revel in that feeling for as long as I can.

So let us not be afraid to talk about our struggles — however vain or small we might think they are, because all of us deserve to strut our uninhibited selves. I now believe there is always some girl, somewhere, who feels the same way I do. Sharing my issues and engaging in conversations with my sisters is a very credible and helpful type of therapy. And vulnerability is beautiful, and a strong virtue that is hard to come by, so let’s be unafraid to be vulnerable and real. And lastly and most importantly, let’s pledge to stop fighting our own bodies. We aren’t meant to be homogenous or monotonous, for there is so much beauty in our uniqueness if we are willing to look. Let’s be more inclusive, more supportive, more loving and less critical, less hateful and less self-deprecating towards our bodies.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock image via Intellistudies

Originally published: July 7, 2017
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