A few weeks ago I went out with some friends to play around in the park, climb on trees, splash in the river, and take a few pictures. I was somewhat nervous when they went up on Facebook. My body image has not been stellar lately, and looking at pictures of myself can be a stressful experience. And there were certainly some cringe worthy pictures, especially compared to how I looked a year or two ago.
But there was one picture that stood out. The featured pic here in fact. I was just being goofy, posing and having fun. And yet when I look at it I don’t see silliness. I see strength. There are muscles on my arms. There’s meat on my bones. My legs are balanced and firm. There is definition. It has been so long since I could see anything that looked remotely like strength when I see my body that this picture is amazing to me.
One of the pieces of advice that people often give to those who have eating disorders or struggle with bad body image is to look at the things that your body does for you and the ways that it’s amazing other than “it’s skinny”. This advice has never felt helpful to me because if I cared about those things I wouldn’t have actively destroyed my body’s ability to function.
Instead, the ability to see the other things that your body does seems to me to be a sign of improvement rather than a coping mechanism in and of itself. It’s an amazing moment to me to be able to enjoy that I look strong. It is a complete shift in thinking. It is the desire to make an impact on the world, to be self sufficient, to take up space and be powerful rather than to shrink into nothing and fragility.
What I do see as the coping mechanism of a moment like this is recognizing my shift in thinking and celebrating it. There are few moments of joy in treatment. There are few moments of pride in treatment. More often than not steps towards recovery are greeted with tears and anxiety and self hatred (yeah, go me, I just ate a meal that made me feel fat and disgusting and wasteful and gluttonous!). So when I finally do see something that looks like progress and I don’t feel ashamed or miserable you can bet your ass that I’m throwing myself a party in my head.
I see a lot of people who try to force themselves into these moments. People who are struggling so hard and so they prop themselves up with strong words when they’re really in pain. If that’s what you need to do, then do it. But this is not that. These are rare moments that appear like Pokemon in the wild, ready to be caught.
It’s a bit scary to realize how much your mind has changed, to think about how this picture might have impacted me a few years ago, and to think about how different my values are now from what they were in the past. But it’s hard to find benchmarks that clearly delineate progress when you’re in the trenches of fighting a mental illness every day. So I’m going to accept this and be proud. I’m going to let myself feel capable. I’m going to look at this picture and see someone who can kick ass and sees that as a positive rather than “taking up too much space”.
Welcome to the new me. I have some stellar guns.