I have always had an “it’s complicated” type of relationship with myself.
There was a brief period in my younger years where I may have genuinely hated myself, but mostly, even at the height of ED, I often said, “I love myself but hate the things I do.” In fact, sometimes when I’m being too harsh on myself still, I will say “I love myself but hate that I did this,” (though nowadays I am quick to redirect my train of thought into something more positive and forgiving).
Still, while being disordered and hating the things I did, I was very positive in my overall outlook – primarily when it came to other people. I was genuinely enthusiastic and encouraging to others, but never much to myself. “Sure, my life is shit, but YOU are going to go places.” “I’ll never make it out of here but YOU go on and move on, you’ve got this!” And often – “I hate the way I look but YOUR beauty is real,” and “I’m so fat – I don’t carry my weight well at all but even though you’re a few sizes bigger than me, YOU look fabulous. Your weight looks great on YOU, why can’t it look great on me?”
You see, while I was very positive for everyone else, I wasn’t very nice to myself. I truly thought all other women were beautiful regardless of their size but could not see myself as beautiful, whether I dropped 5 sizes or not. My disorder made it so I could never see myself as finished – I always had more things to work on. Other women were naturally flawless but I had to work, oh-so hard, on trying to fit some false standard of perfection I held myself, yet no one else, up to. And I thought that be encouraging of everyone else while still being hard on myself was acceptable. I thought I was doing a good enough job lifting others up that it didn’t matter how I tore myself down. “I am irrelevant; other people matter much more than I do and I must make sure THEY know how awesome THEY are!”
During my struggle with an incomplete body-positive outlook, I developed a deep connection with someone who quickly became my best friend. She was struggling a bit with her identity too, but I always felt she had her shit more together than I did. She was bigger than me and it would be wrong of me to think it did not affect her self-identity (I did think that way, and it was very wrong of me.) Through her and the ever-growing BoPo community, I learned that “fat” is not a bad word. Of course, “fat” was still a bad word to me, personally – it was my ED’s greatest fear, in fact. In my disordered mind, “fat” was more than just some squishy parts on my body. “Fat” was failure. “Fat” was out-of-control. “Fat” was flawed. But these definitions applied to me only. In fact, my friend was fat AND fabulous. She seemed so confident, so proud, and so in control and I wanted to be like her. And while “fat” was part of her identity, for some reason my disordered mind thought shedding the weight would make me more like her.
I soon found she wasn’t as secure as I thought she was, and I should’ve recognized the signs. I was too caught up in having a best friend that I could share everything with, even my darkest thoughts, to notice how my disorder could be affecting her insecurities. One of the red flags of insecurity was gossip – she loved gossiping about others and thus, I turned into a sort of “mean girl” when we were talking. She encouraged that kind of behavior and made it fun. Gossip is something I distance myself from now but it was just “girl talk” when it was with her. One time, I was dress shopping and noticed a woman shopping in a size smaller than mine – and the woman was not smaller than me. I know my best friend would get a kick out of this so I texted her “The first rule in accepting your body is accepting your size! This woman is two sizes bigger than me but shopping two sizes smaller!” and my BF responded in just the way I knew she would – with “hahaha” and something cruel. Looking back, not only is this behavior actually appalling, but I had no idea why this woman was shopping in the smaller size. Maybe she was buying something smaller to help motivate her to get to the gym. Maybe she was shopping for someone else. Maybe she had a unique body shape and it’s hard to find clothes that fit her and I was not sizing her up correctly. For whatever the reason, her shopping in that size was none of my business and my comment was not something that someone who is genuinely body positive would ever make – but my BF and I had a good laugh and that was all that mattered to me at the time.
Soon after that comment was made, my BF started acting kind of weird around me. Distancing herself. Around the same time, Twitter started allowing your followers to see what tweets you’ve liked. So my BF was looking around in my likes and saw this particular one:
“I’d rather be dead than fat.”
Now, I have several, honest reasons for liking that tweet at that time. While it is not something I would “like” now, 22 year-old me had no problem liking it. For one, the girl who tweeted that was someone I followed because we both used similar, self-deprecating humor to deal with life. And also, even if she was joking, there was a time in my life when I did think I would rather be dead than “fat.” So I liked the damn tweet, as a sort of “haha, good one sister,” only thinking about my feelings and not how that tweet might affect others who read it.
After this, my BF lost it on me. She quit talking to me for a few weeks until she finally sent me a long email telling me she couldn’t stand that I “hate fat people.” She cited my recently liked tweet and the texting conversation involving the woman shopping in a smaller dress size as points, as well as my obsession with eating “healthy” and working out as proof. She told me that I can’t preach body positivity to others because I hate myself. She also mentioned all these behaviors were worse because I was thin, and I actually make her feel bad about herself.
Me in early 2011, concerned about “looking fat.”
Now, all of this was a fucking shock to me. I could not believe this mean girl was hurt by me, especially when I believed she was the one who enabled my catty behavior. This happened so suddenly that it took me by complete surprise, and my first reaction was defensive- “I don’t hate myself, I have a fucking eating disorder that makes me think these things. I thought you would understand that,” was something I sent back to her. I told her I don’t hate fat people (I didn’t, just myself) and that I would never say something like that. I tried to defend the liked tweet as well, but even in the heat of the moment I knew that one would be a lost cause – there really is no defending that.
The end of our friendship, and the way it ended in particular, ended up being a blessing for my outlook on life. Not only did reflection make me aware of the red flags I had overlooked before (the ones that said, “hey, maybe this friendship isn’t so healthy for either one of you,”) but her words sparked a new determination within me. I truly did want everyone to love themselves, regardless of what they thought about their physical appearance. And I most certainly did NOT hate fat people. I did not hate anyone for their body type, except for myself on occasion. I set out to make sure that no one ever thought that falsehood about me again. I sought true body positivity and learned that loving myself (entirely, not just when it was convenient) was key to this movement. I found that I must embrace myself as I embrace others, otherwise my mission and intent might not seem genuine, regardless of how deeply I felt it in my heart.
It was not an instant change but I feel I have been true to my intent since that day. Where once I believed “health” was my greatest passion, I found that loving myself and encouraging others to do the same is where my true passion lies. And now, I think others can sense my sincerity as well.
While we’ve only spoken once after these emails, I hope my former BF can sense my sincerity now as well. Her “breaking up with me” helped guide me in the right direction, and for that, I am thankful.