When I ask women to tell me their body image story, I often get stories of despair over weight issues, childhood teasing, or sexual or emotional abuse. My story was a little different. My body issues didn’t start until my late teens.
I was one of those lucky kids who never had to worry about weight – until my senior year in high school. As my parent’s marriage failed and my father moved out of the house, my emotional eating got the better of me and I started to pack on the pounds. My clothes got tight. People stopped telling me I could be a model. I stopped getting noticed for my naturally thin frame.
I decided I needed to do something to “get healthy.” In the midst of a divorce, my mother needed her own outlet – one that could help her own faltering self-esteem. So we joined an all-female gym together. I was hooked. All the weight I had gained my senior year started falling off. The high I got from exercising was unlike anything I’d experienced before. Lifting weights made me feel strong, capable, and confident. Cardio was just an added bonus thanks to the friendships I formed with other women in the group aerobics classes.
And then my father noticed I was losing weight.
It wasn’t like he complimented me about it; it was more than he noticed something about me period. All the school plays I’d been in, ice skating competitions, ballet and piano recitals – he’d never noticed those, much less attended any of them. But when it came to my weight… apparently that was something worth talking about.
“How much do you weigh?” he began to ask me every time he saw me. I would tell him the number proudly. After all, I was losing weight and proud of the fact that I was getting compliments on being model-thin again.
Since the weight-loss thing seemed to be garnering his attention, I decided to take up his favorite sport – running. That gave us something else to talk about. For nearly two decades, those topics were the only meaningful conversations we had: weight and running. Occasionally, he would give me advice. “The key to running is to never stop.”
I took that to heart and used it to fuel my increasing addiction to weight loss and running.
The interesting thing about my story is that my father was both a contributing cause and a contributing cure.
When I was 35, my father was diagnosed with cancer (that's a picture of my mother, my father and I about 2 weeks before he died above). He quickly deteriorated and I made the decision to spend the summer helping my mother take care of him. I had the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a dying man. I began to understand that all the things that I stressed over were really insignificant. Life is precious.
That summer my mindset began to shift.
(read more about my Infertility and Body Shame here). I stopped pushing myself so hard. I ate a little more than usual, put a few pounds on, and it was okay.
I’d love to be able to tell you that my father’s death was the catalyst I needed to heal my relationship with my body. But, I am a nothing if not a slow learner. Once he died, I went back to my old ways. I ran further, faster and called it a tribute to my father. I ran a half marathon with his picture pinned to my running shirt. His words of advice – about never stopping – took over my life. I didn’t stop running. I didn’t stop working. I didn’t stop pushing myself. It was like I had something to prove to him even after he died. I still hoped, like I had when I was a child, that he would finally notice me, that somehow I could please him.
5 years after he died, my mother finally allowed me to take my father’s ashes and scatter them in the Sawtooth Mountains at a place that we had agreed upon before he died – a place very special to my heart. As I sobbed on the shore of a stream after I laid my father’s ashes to rest, I realized that he never would have wanted me to live this way – with an eating disorder, in a miserable relationship, still punishing myself by over-doing, over-exercising, over-giving in some veiled attempt at trying to please my father’s ghost.
It took me a few months after I scattered his ashes to find my center again and begin the true healing process, but I finally did it. I killed out the narcissistic boyfriend who thought it was great that I kept losing weight. I started taking active measures to heal my body image issues. I started healing my relationship with food, my body, and myself.
One of my mottos is that life happens for us, not to us. I encourage you to examine your body image story today – not with the lens of a victim, but with a lens of empowerment, with an eye to what you have learned about yourself, your strength, your character from your own story of Body Shame.
If you’re unsure where to start, I invite you to sign up for a free call I am hosting on the 7 Sacred Steps to Reclaiming Body Love (yes, there will be a replay if you can’t make it live). In it, I will discuss my own healing journey and give you strategies to begin healing your own body image issues. I hope you’ll join me.