The content of this post may be triggering to some readers.
I remember an ex-boyfriend once saying to me that eating disorders were born of vanity. He believed that it was the desire to look good that drove image obsessed women to binge, purge or starve. He didn't know that I'd flirted with bulimia for some years. It's not first date material. Second date neither. And then, well then it never seems quite the right time to causally drop it in to conversation.
Eating disorders are never about being vain. They're about fear and control.
They're also about a drastic displacement of self worth and a debilitating belief of not being good enough.
For years I obsessed about presenting myself in the right light to the world. When I was younger I yearned to have straight hair and a prettier face. I felt like I didn't 'fit' in terms of looks or clothes or anything else that I thought mattered. I had an envy of the other girls who I saw get favoured looks from the boys I wanted to like me. I changed what I could and when I couldn't go any further I sought to control the areas that I had some charge over. I couldn't change my face but I could control my food intake. It's a trade off that only makes sense to anyone who has ever had an unhealthy relationship with food.
I was afraid to like me. I had no idea how to love me. The world couldn't know who I really was. If it did then I'd be rejected even more than I already felt I was.
The bulimia stopped but the desire to control didn't. The longing to present a perfect person remained ever present.
In my mind the world wouldn't tolerate the real me. Wake up in a bad mood, strike one. Opt for staying home in pj's rather than cocktails at the right venue, strike two. Decide that today's a make up free day in public, well that's game over.
For a long time my tangled, troubled thoughts kept me prisoner in a place that didn't feel good. I wanted freedom from the weeds that had woven around me but I didn't know where freedom lived. Click your heels three times, Skylar. Kansas this ain't.
My journey to self acceptance is still a path I tread daily. I'm not there yet. And I'm not entirely sorry. Because if I get there sooner than I'm meant to then I'd have to cling on too tightly, white knuckled with fear that it will all be taken away.
I want to learn to be truly content in my own flawed skin rather than clutching on to an unrealistic facade.
The truth is that the flawless mask bores me more than it intrigues me these days. And the thing about presenting ourselves as perfect beings means that we burden ourselves with the pressure of maintaining all the perceived add ons that the unrealistic facade dictates we must live up to.
Now, I take a deep breath and I own it. The parts that wobble. The bits that jiggle. Cellulite and all. They're part of the body my soul resides in. I don't want to hurt them anymore.
I'm less inclined to want to Instagram. The carefully selected tones of interesting that take me to an edited version of myself that feels a little phoney. Because unless I have a team of people walking around me holding up Amaro filters I don't actually look like that.
So, how do I feel? What's the deal when I look in the mirror? Some days I have moments where my reflection takes me by surprise a little. I see lines that sneaked their way around my mouth, I find a layer around my middle that seems to be there for the long haul. I don't always like it. But I don't miss the hardcore effort to sustain a body image that isn't real. At least, not real for me.
Surprisingly I often feel more feminine. There's something nice about letting my body mould itself into the shape that forty feels. I'm active, I follow a healthy mostly plant based diet - sure the wine and the chocolate like to drop by and say hello sometimes (ok, daily - we hang out daily) but I find myself saying, so what? I'm not letting myself go (whatever that actually means) and I'm not advocating a lifestyle that favors heart dis-ease but I'm also not weighing myself twice a day with bated breath and a back up plan of not eating anything until the scales tell me the story I want to see. Not any more. Can't do it.
Beauty isn't found in flawless. It doesn't live in fake.
Beauty is found in the cracks and the corners, in the overlooked damaged parts that are often deemed broken. It's found in the parts of us that we sometimes don't like to let shine. Tired, worn, washed out hearts still keep their beat. And as long as that heart is beating then beauty exists.
Be raw. Be vulnerable. Be seen. Because vulnerability leads to empowerment and that's the kind of shit that feels better than anything photoshop can put out.
The amazing thing about being brave is that it gives out a message of support to others. "I can own who I am, therefore so can you".
Be brazen. Be bare. Be bold.
Need help? Call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.