Beth Teliho is a beautiful and talented author and blogger. You may have seen me raving about her debut novel, Order of Seven, on Facebook, GoodReads or Amazon. She recently shared a very personal story about her journey with body image on the SisterWivesSpeak blog. Click here for the original post.
I know it’s a long story. I know you’re busy. Please trust me when I say that this is a must-read for any woman who has ever struggled with body image.
She is honest. And raw. And real. She dives deeply into:
- how body image impacted her mentally and emotionally
- how an unexplained weight gain saw her adopting strict diet and exercise regimes, only to wind up frustrated at the lack of results
- how societal ‘beauty standards’ made her feel less-than and unworthy
- …and finally, how she decided to become a rebel and to love herself and her body
Beth’s story was timely for me, as I have been fixating on why I’m ‘stuck’ at my current weight. I work really, really hard just to maintain my size. I expect this level of work to result not only in maintenance, but reduction. Her story has forced me to consider why my best isn’t good enough (for me).
Beth – I absolutely adore you for everything you are, but even more for allowing me to share your story here.
Since this week’s theme is metamorphosis, I thought this would be a great opportunity to write about a change that’s taken place within my perspective. It’s happened very slowly over the past two years and was sort of forced on me. That will make more sense by the end of this. It’s a subject I’ve wanted to write about before, but there’s so much inherent shame I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.
My battle with self-image has been life long. I don’t remember a single day in my life where I was happy with my body. Okay, maybe that one year when I lived off of diet coke and cigarettes back in my twenties, and even then I would’ve changed some things had I been given the opportunity. I dropped to 115 lbs and at 5’6″ that was underweight for me and obviously not healthy At. All. But it’s the last time I remember feeling totally free.
For a multitude of reasons which I shall not delve into here, my self-image is tied into my feelings of worthiness. Do I belong? Depends on weight. Do I deserve X, Y, Z? Depends on weight. If someone acts like they don’t really like me….I assume it’s because of my appearance. Pretty and thin = worthy.
Of course, I never put that standard on anyone else. Just me.
I tend to gain and lose the same ten pounds over and over and over. All through my thirties and into my forties, it was the same old story. Gain some weight over the holidays, then rein it in and lose ten pounds. But I’ve never been above a size 12.
Upon entering my forties, I took up running and, briefly, crossfit. I was arguably the most fit I’d ever been, but also the most critical of myself. The expectations I set were stricter and more unrealistic than ever. It was becoming obsessive.
In the summer of 2013, I was viewing photos from a recent family trip to Colorado. When I saw myself in the pictures I cried. They were real tears of disgust and anger because what I saw was appalling in my eyes. A failure. Someone who is unacceptable. A disgrace. And I was bitter and resentful that I worked So Hard and still looked like shit.
I was a size 8/10. In retrospect, I looked fit and amazing, but I couldn’t see that then. Ridiculous, right? But logic doesn’t always play a role in corrosive thought processes.
I begged *insert Divine energy* to please let me have a body I’m not ashamed of. PLEASE. Please, I’m working so hard, please let my body reflect it. I just want to go out with friends and not be consumed with my appearance. I want to agree to that beach trip my husband keeps mentioning, rather than make excuses why I can’t.
And then that Fall and Winter of 2013, I started gaining weight for no reason. My diet and exercise hadn’t changed. Perfect, give the girl with body images issues some random weight gain. Ohh, the irony, right? It’s just my winter layer, I told myself. I’ll get my game-face on in January.
Come January, not only did I get my game-face on, I became vegan and began running again.
My husband, who went vegan as well, lost 15 pounds.
I gained 12.
Throughout all of 2014, I continued to steadily gain weight. By December, less than eighteen months after the weight gain started, I’d put on nearly 30 pounds. THIRTY. That’s a medium size dog…on my ass.
Panic and shame don’t begin to describe it.
please let me have a body I’m not ashamed of….
I stopped volunteering at the school. I started parking in the back driveway to hide from neighbors. I cancelled social engagements, unless it was with my most trusted friends whom I don’t feel judged by. I didn’t eat in front of other people because I didn’t want them to judge what I ate. I couldn’t risk them thinking, “That’s why she’s gained weight…did you see her eating?” or worse, “Wow, she’s really let herself go.” I couldn’t bear the thought that people might think I sat around eating cheeseburgers all day.
The courage I had to muster just to be seen in public – especially in front of people who hadn’t seen me in a while – was titanic, and usually ended with me crying on the way home. Mortified.
Even worse? I wanted to write about it, but was too embarrassed to “come out” to my online community as “not skinny and perfect”. Because then what reason would they have to like me?
please let me have a body I’m not ashamed of….
I went to two doctors who each did full blood panels and physical exams. It has to be my hormones, right? Or my thyroid? B12 deficiency? I’ll be able to take a pill and this nightmare will end, RIGHT?
“Mrs. Teliho, you have the cholesterol and blood pressure of a 25 year old and you’re perfectly healthy. Keep up the good work.”
Good work?? But I’m failing. I’m….I’m…the F-word….*drops to a whisper* FAT. I’ve become my worst nightmare. I’m a monster. How can I be fat? I showed up to boot camp at the crack-ass-o-dawn, in the hot Texas summer, on a Saturday, and flipped 200 lb tires in a parking lot. I took my own sweet potato to the family BBQ and didn’t touch the chips. I’ve been doing everything right. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
There was a part of me – the logical part – that knew how screwed up this thinking was. I was so grateful for my health, and for my family’s health, and my awesome marriage…so many *real* things to be thankful for….yet I couldn’t stop fixating on my weight, which continued to pile on in 2015, albeit slower.
One doctor said I should try a juice cleanse to help jump-start my metabolism. I spent $200 on the best juicer and did the cleanse. I lost eleven pounds in two weeks. And gained it all back over the next eight weeks.
Another doctor sent me to a nutritionist who suggested a 40 day cycle of injectable HCG, which is a hormone that tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant, while committing to a PERMANENT 500 – 700 calorie/day diet. This for the small price of $400.
Oh sure. *eye roll* That’s realistic and safe. I’d rather eat frog assholes.
I’ve always believed part of the reason we’re here is to learn lessons, so whenever I’m facing a challenge I constantly ask myself, what am I supposed to learn from this?
And then I remembered – when I was wishing I was back to the size I was in those Colorado photos – that I hated my body when I was thin, too. I’ve never been happy with my body, so what does it matter if I lose weight? I’ll still fixate, criticize, and stew in self-hate.
There have been several major movements in the media (alliterate much?) over the past year or so that got my attention. Curvy women living unapologetically. Models, bloggers, comedians, moms, authors…all of them embracing their shape, whatever that may be. Funny, smart, talented, successful women. Slowly, this began making an impact on me.
I was at the pool a few weeks ago and there happened to be a high ratio of curvy women. The astonishing thing I noticed is that they weren’t covering up. They were in bikinis. In the pool with their kids. Enjoying a snow cone and smiling. You know how that made me feel? Proud. Unashamed. Normal. Jesus, it was incredible. And that’s when it hit me. Our perception is our reality. If we’re fed images of beaches filled with size 0 bodies with golden tans and perfect hair, than that’s what we process as acceptable and realistic. Who are we to mess up the picture with our pale skin and stomach rolls?
I wanted to be a part of this incredible movement, and it starts with being a rebel and living unapologetically.
I searched for a lesson and I got one. Want to know what I learned?
I’ve been a fucking fool. We all have.
I learned I’ve been a pawn in our culture’s ploy to make money off media-imposed insecurities. The media that tricked us into thinking it’s adorable to see a thin person enjoy a dessert, and repulsive when a curvy person does it. The media that teaches us that there’s only one perfect way to look, and everyone else should be able to achieve that body with diet and exercise, and if you don’t, then you’re lazy or ignorant.
I learned that happiness is in loving yourself, unconditionally.
My body is a result of genetics, and my weight gain is (evidently) the result of genetics and age. The same genetics that gave me pretty hair, a great smile, high cheekbones and full lips. The same genetics that gave me a body that’s been strong and healthy for over four decades. The same genetics that allowed me to have two healthy sons. The same genetics that gave me the creativity, imagination, and drive to write a book and publish it.
I learned that I’m beautiful because I say so. I learned that weight doesn’t define me. I learned that appearance does not always reflect health and fitness levels. I learned all bodies are gorgeous, not just the ones the media pushes down our throats. I learned that “normal” bodies come in ALL shapes and sizes. We’re all normal.
The Universe works in mysterious ways. Turns out I got exactly what I’d wished and prayed for, but not in the way I’d imagined. My perspective had to change, not my weight.
I got a body I’m not ashamed of.
Yes, there are days I “relapse” into old thinking habits, and the shame seeps in my bones like a virus. Hell, this week in particular has been brutal just because of the vulnerable nature of this post. It’s something I’ll always have to maintain, just like any big life change. You know what I do to readjust my perspective? I think of my friends, and how when I visualize them, their weight never enters the equation. I think of their light, their energy, their laugh, and how they make me feel. How their happiness matters to me. I think how beautiful they are because of their amazing spirit. And then I picture myself the same way.
Nowadays, I choose food for its health benefits – and sometimes that means mental health and this gal needs nachos and a cold beer. I don’t apologize for it. I choose exercise I enjoy and I do it because it feels good, as opposed to doing it as a punishment for last night’s bread. I eagerly keep plans with friends. I get in the pool with my kids. I smile, a lot.
And I booked that beach trip with my husband.
Regardless of what the future holds – gain, lose, maintain – I hope I continue what I started here today, which is to represent myself without hiding. To be me, without shame.
To be free.