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Coping With Societal Beauty Standards in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Our culture revolves around looks. Magazines are plastered with those caught-off-guard pictures of celebs with harsh captions about their weight. TV commercials are all about the newest diet fad. Instagram is full of “fitness promoters” who boost detox teas and diets. New Years rolls around with promises of magically losing 10 pounds and finally fitting into those jeans you bought a size too small.

We wonder why millions of people fall victim to eating disorders. Not only do genetics, upbringing, and many other factors contribute, but living in a world where bodies are so misrepresented has a severe impact.

We see a couple different types of body that are “good bodies.” There’s fit people with abs and toned muscles — but not too muscular, “that’s gross.” There’s slim people with delicate arms and small thighs — but not too small, then “they look sickly.” There’s curvy girls with big butts and tiny waists — but definitely not too curvy, then “they’re just nasty.”

Here’s the thing: those bodies are real bodies, but so is yours. There’s no such thing as too much anything when it comes to bodies, as long as you’re healthy. Health does not always show on the outside or on the scale. Health is about how your body works from the inside, not how it looks outside. Any body is a good body — plus-sized, petite, tall, curvy, disabled, athletic, slim, short. It doesn’t matter. They are all good bodies. Just because you don’t see celebrities or models who look like you doesn’t mean your body isn’t OK. Your body is fine. It’s great, even if you don’t like it right now. It might let you run, work, play, walk the dog — or maybe it doesn’t let you do those things, not every body is completely able-bodied, and that’s OK. Regardless, it is your home. You will never be inside another body, so treat this one well.

We need to stop comparing ourselves. Appreciate your body for what it is, not what it isn’t. Your body might never be a size 2, and that is not a bad thing. Who decided that being slim was the end-all, be-all of attractiveness? Who decided that attractiveness was simply looks? I won’t feed into it. Sure, I’m a pretty slim person, but I’ve gained weight in recovery. I’ve gained lots more squishy bits and I jiggle in ways I didn’t when I was sick. I also smile lots more and laugh in ways I didn’t when I was sick. Which is more important?

Work out because it feels good, if you like to. Being active is supposed to be fun, not a chore. If you hate your 6 a.m. runs, then ask yourself, why? Maybe you like to dance, or lift weights, or ride your bike, or walk the dog, or play with your kids at the park. It doesn’t matter. Find something you actually like to do, and do it because it’s good for your body and your soul. Stay active so you can live a long life, not because the voice in your head screams at you to run faster.

Life is about balance. Life isn’t about the Atkins diet or the Dukan diet or the paleo diet and who’s thinnest and who’s lost weight and who’s gained weight and, and, and. The list goes on forever in a stressful spiral. Those things don’t actually matter. What I realized in recovery is this: in the end, no one will comment on how light my casket is. They will talk about the good memories we have together — summers at the cottage, high school, weddings, birthdays, parties. You aren’t remembered by your body, you are remembered by your heart and your personality. When people talk about you, they probably talk about your sense of humor or your kindness or your intelligence. I can guarantee they don’t talk about how many calories you eat in a day or how impressively low your carb intake is.

In recovery, it’s hard (read: nearly impossible) to tune out everyone blabbering about this diet and that workout regime. Remember the facts you’ve learned along the way — a slice of cake won’t kill you, calories aren’t the same thing as nutrition. Remember that as someone in recovery, you aren’t restricted by not being “allowed” to diet — you are free from the pressure to be on one. Remember that weight loss is not the key to happiness — were you happiest at your lowest weight? From personal experience, I’d guess the answer is no. Did you like your body at your lowest weight? Again, I’m guessing no. I know I didn’t. I hated my body more when it was lighter than I do now. That’s what eating disorders do. They make you hate yourself and how you look. Recovery means learning to live in the body you have, no matter what size it is or what shape it is. Remember these things when it seems like diets are the only thing anyone wants to talk about. Remember that your body is not everything; you are a whole person. You are kind, you are funny, you are smart, you are witty, you are clever, you are caring, you are supportive, you are empathetic. You are so many beautiful things — your weight and pant size only graze the surface, and they certainly wouldn’t be on the list of reasons your friends and family love you.

You are more than your caloric intake, more than your jeans, more than the scale, more than the measuring tape. You are so much more than the foods you eat and the clothes you fit into. You are not better or worse for not being on a diet or not trying to lose weight. You aren’t a better person or a worse person. You’re just you, and that’s a perfectly good thing to be.

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 photo by mikyso

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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