A few years ago, when I was about 17 years old, I developed an eating disorder as a result of being depressed for a very long time. So many changes had happened at once: my father’s accident, our move to a new family home, my struggles to keep in touch with my old friends while gaining new ones. I felt very alone, and as my body started to change, awkward, as it transformed from its boyish immature figure into a womanly physique. Everything felt out of control and as a result, I stopped eating as a way of regaining some hold over my own life.
Now, I was neither obese nor voluptuous as a child, on the contrary: I was very athletic, always playing on some sort of sports team. However, growing up I’d been presented with a manipulated comprehension of what beauty should look like. All the campaign models, singers and actresses, were tall, rakish, young and with the kind of wan figure that looked like it was nurtured by a diet of nicotine and champagne. There were no real women to look up to: No one was celebrating age, size or ethnicity. There was no diversity.
Additionally, we’re all encouraged to fixate on what’s wrong with our bodies. Reality television, advertisement and (especially) magazines are adding to female insecurities by encouraging us to lose weight and alter our appearances in order to be happier and more successful. In all the confusion, we even turn on each other, criticizing other women, famous or not, in order to feel better about ourselves. It is no wonder young girls are being brought up to believe they have to fit a certain stereotype in order to be accepted and to feel complete. We’re presented with this illusion of what beauty is supposed to look like and the assumption that the only way to feel like the woman you’re supposed to be is by fitting into that certain beauty image.
I’ll admit that it was very difficult for me to say; “This is who I am and I am not going to pretend otherwise.” However, as I’ve come to discover, that’s the only way to be truly happy. Diane von Furstenberg once said; “The most important relationship you have in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Because no matter what happens, you will always be with yourself.” I believe that.
Experiencing my eating disorder has made me realise there is so much more to life than caring and obsessing about my appearance, which strikes me a chord with what Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Whether it be the first spring blossom, the colour of a loved one’s eye, a quote from your favourite book or an intriguing conversation – being here, right now, is essential not to overlook the opportunities and adventures that life has to offer. My mother once told me; “Learn to listen. Sometimes opportunity knows very softly.” If I’d remained on the dark path that my eating disorder was taking me, I would have overlooked the live-changing opportunities that I’ve experienced, as a result of being disconnected from the from reality. Without the awareness that I now have, my life would have lacked depth and fulfilment.
Young and perhaps naïve, what I do know is that if you determine your self-esteem by how you look, you’ve got nothing to hold on to: Your body will change and you will get older. It is how nature designed us to be. So why don’t embrace your body as it naturally is? Learn to cherish your ‘flaws’ and accept that they are what make you special. Life’s too short to go around worrying about whether that oatcake made you gain a few pounds or if you’ll make it to the gym before work the next morning if you order that dessert. Instead, try to embrace your womanly physique: Because, isn’t there something wonderful and privileged about being a woman rather than a girl? I have to admit it took me a long time to accept my own body. However, I have now learned to cherish the more important things in live – like a secure and loving private life, freedom and equal rights, moral values and a safe community: Happiness is better found in public morality and self-sacrifice for the greater good, rather than in the selfishness of individualism, which follows being too attentive towards one’s looks.
Of course, I still have some bad days where I struggle with my insecurities, but I am getting better at avoiding the factors that are adding to it: I’ve learned to look away form the glossies that encourages its readers to loose weight, to turn away from a discussion where body images are being negatively talked about and to not contribute to that conversation by adding fuel to the fire (talking and thinking negatively about it). And it helps! I am already starting to feel a healthy transformation in my mindset and to my body. Now, all there is to do is to spread the word!