I have a confession. I’m a complete hypocrite. Ok, not so much a confession as a baseline assumption for most humans, but still.
I realized it at an Italian restaurant. I was eating a capriccio pizza in the most offensive way. Avoiding the crust, peeling away most of the cheese, picking around the puddles of drizzled oil. Basically I was mastering the art of pretending to eat pizza and doing it in the least appetizing way possible. My younger sister looked at me with her face contorted into a blend of anger, disgust and pity. “She doesn’t even eat. It’s like she has an eating disorder or something.” I immediately felt guilty. Being five years older, I was supposed to be her role model. The strong, independent, confident, brilliant, understated yet fabulous older sister. And here I was, a cliché. Part of an “n” in some vague college survey statistic stating that 35% of the 95% of women dieting end up dieting pathologically.
It would take me another year to notice that maybe I did actually have a problem.
I grew up being slim. “So pretty. Just like a Barbie doll.” Relatives mashallah-ed my figure, my face, my grades. It became an identity. A valuation. I was pretty and I was smart. This was my truth.
Then I went to college.
What I gained in pounds, I lost in GPA points. My report cards and dorm room mirror reflected a person I didn’t know how to be. A person who soon became the roommate I never wanted. I dragged her weight around from early morning class to half-assed gym sessions, still uncomfortable with the association. Four years later, we graduated together, still at odds.
My post-grad experience was filled with external validation. I came out of the shadows and basked in the glow of professional praise and romantic interest. But it wasn’t enough. Every photo seemed to capture a person I still didn’t see as being me.
“Beauty comes from within.”
Sure, but my “within” was without solace from the torment of stretch marks crawling under my skin. I felt that the vessel that carried me was betraying me. So I started to betray it right back. Food was the villain. Running shoes the hero. It became a positive feedback loop where the more weight I lost, the less I was willing to eat “bad” foods. At the time, it felt like I was finally regaining control over who I wanted to be. What I didn’t notice was that the confidence I was building was paper-thin – entirely reliant on a few numbers that I had set as benchmarks for my worth. I should mention. We’re talking 20 lbs here. I was tormented over basically nothing. Embarrassingly silly.
At work, I’d write about empowering women to stand against external pressures that undermine their worth, to overcome unhealthy behaviours triggered by commercial quest for profit. Then I’d go home to work out and eat four pieces of rice. At the bar, I’d be enthusiastically discussing body positivity and being confident women who don’t shrink away but rather refuse to apologize for existing. Then I’d go home feeling guilty about the 164 calories worth of wine I’d just had.
I warned you. Hypocrite.
That day, over the oily carcass of the innocent capriccio pizza, my sister’s uncomfortable face shamed me into re-examining my own hypocrisy. The process took a year, but by the end of it, I ate pizza like a normal human being. My workouts became about being stronger, not smaller. As my focus shifted away from shrinking, my strength grew. Not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
The process is far from complete. Sometimes I still look at food and see calories where there should be joy. Or I drag my tired body onto a yoga mat and sweat the small stuff. But I’ve also finally started to be grateful to my body.
It. Is. Amazing. All bodies are. They’re a collection of bone and tendon and flesh that magically come together to do the most incredible things. They help us show our strength, our grace. And where necessary, they also help us weather storms or clouded judgment.
I’m determined not to forget that.
I’m taking off the “for display only” sign. My body is so much more.