By: Francesca McKernon and Emyle Watkins
This week, Feb. 24 to March 1, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The theme is “Come as You Are: Hindsight is 20/20.” According to National Eating Disorders.org, the theme reflects on “the positive steps you’ve taken — including those stemming from setbacks or challenges — toward accepting yourself and others.”
I often think of the word “acceptance” and what it personally means to me and others. Acceptance is a tough word for many to, ironically, accept. According to Psychology Today, “When we’re self-accepting, we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more “esteem-able” parts.” The way I view it is that acceptance does not mean that you love your blemishes or weaknesses, but that you acknowledge their existence. Self-acceptance does not necessarily mean being proud of your flaws, (which is awesome if you are) but that you acknowledge they are part of a greater whole, the whole being you, and are not your total worth as a person.
The body is just a physical extension of the soul itself; it’s a vessel for your true essence. Your body is what allows you to interact with and survive in the world and should be loved, but not valued more than the person.
That being said, our bodies are how we represent ourselves in the world, whether that be through our clothes, makeup, hair, accessories, tattoos, piercings, and more. For women, I think it’s especially difficult to be comfortable in a world that has sexualized women’s bodies and taught us what is the ‘attractive’ or ‘ideal’ body.
Unfortunately, the tired statistics of how harmful magazines and television are on women’s mental health is true. From a psychological standpoint, most things that we value are learned and not innate. Somewhere along the way, a 12-year-old girl saw a celebrity in a magazine and thought “I want to look like that” and then looked at herself in the mirror and said “Wait, I don’t look like that. What if people don’t like me because I don’t look like the girl on the cover?” Therefore, people can develop eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or other feeding and eating disorders.
Something that is common with eating disorders is body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is a psychological condition in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw on your body. It can warp your vision and make things appear larger or more prominent than they are. In other words, the mind tricks the eyes. Therefore, someone who is thin may see themselves as much heavier than they actually are.
Francesca: “I personally recall a time where I struggled with my weight. In 6th grade, I became obsessed with my weight and becoming thinner. Because of my fast metabolism and my restrictive food behaviors, I lost a lot of weight quickly. But more importantly, I became very unhappy because the problem wasn’t with my weight, it was with my perception of my weight. Eventually, I got better and healthy, which I am immensely proud of myself for.
There’s this quote that sticks with me even today; “If you don’t like yourself fat, you won’t like yourself thin.” The problem is not that you don’t like your body, it’s that you don’t like yourself and it just happens to manifest into obsessing about something you can physically change. Through my past experiences, I realized how unkind and hurtful I was to myself by placing value only on my body and not my mind, personality, or creative talents. I am so much more than my body. Sure, my body is definitely useful and I am grateful to have one, but it’s not why people love me. People love other people because of who they are, not what they are.”
Today in 2020 society is publicly more conscientious and aware of body sensitivities. With influential women like Lizzo and companies like Aerie, body positivity is on the rise. It’s been a long time coming, but we here at The Griffin are so happy it’s widespread and popular now.
Emyle: “I wasn’t always proud of my body. But the dislike of my body wasn’t the cause of my eating disorder. Many people develop eating disorders from body dysmorphia, but a lot of people develop them from anxiety or even just from forming restrictive behaviors from a diet.
In high school, my anxiety made me feel the kind of nervousness where you don’t want to eat – you know what I mean? But this was all the time. I stopped eating except for really when I was around people or for dinner. I was so anxious almost all the time, and rather than treating that, I restricted my eating without realizing it, because I was just trying to not feel sick. Eating disorders can sneak up on you, and I didn’t even realize I had one until I was diagnosed.
It’s been five years since I completed treatment for my eating disorder. I’ve learned a lot about loving myself where I’m at and learning to accept my body – both for how it looks and how it makes me feel. I’m really happy with myself now, and I really love the theme of the week this year. 2020 is definitely a year where I’m looking back at all the positive changes in my life and how far I’ve come. I hope others do too, even if they aren’t dealing with an eating disorder.”
It’s not always easy to love your body and it’s certainly much easier said than done. If you struggle with loving or accepting your body, I encourage you to start with listing one thing you like about yourself—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical trait. Then, if you can, try listing something you like about yourself physically. It can be something as simple as your hands or the way the veins in your arm look super cool.
The best teacher of self-love is yourself. You know your flaws, your strengths, your personality, your wisdom, and talents better than anyone else. Everyone is deserving of love and why not start with the person you know best that you’re with 24 hours of the day.
If you feel you may be struggling with an eating disorder or another emotional/physical concern, you can contact the Canisius Counseling Center (716-888-2620), visit the National Eating Disorders Association at nationaleatingdisorders.org or To Write Love on Her Arms at twloha.com for more resources and help.