In eighth grade, I stopped eating.
I was on a competitive cheerleading squad for the sixth year in a row. The thing that was different about this particular year was that I had grown approximately 8 inches between sixth and eighth grade. I went from being the runt, to exceedingly average height between the start and end of middle school.
To most kids, that just meant being able to buy a new wardrobe before school started. For me, it meant going from a flyer, (the girl who got thrown in the air) to a base (the girl who did the throwing) in all our cheerleading stunts. I had attached so much value to being small because I absolutely loved flying. When my coaches moved me to a base position, I truly felt like it was a demotion of epic proportions.
I spent so much time cursing my fate as a girl of average height that it became my obsession to be small again. I compared myself to literally every single one of my girl friends.
I had a running mental list of where all the mirrors were in my house and how to avoid them. I hated looking at myself. I truly thought I was disgusting.
You know that thing that people do when someone compliments them? They’ll usually smile and blush and say “Naw, stop it! You’re too kind!” I took it way too far. I would actually refuse their compliments because I thought they were lying to my face. The fact that someone would tell me something I thought was so obviously not true was so offensive to me.
It wasn’t long before my obsession with my size crossed over into my eating habits. My goal was to eat as little as I possibly could without actually passing out. I would excuse myself from family dinners early and say that I had a lot of homework to do. At school, I would throw away the lunches my mom packed for me trying not to let any of my friends notice.
Eventually my family caught on and became really concerned about my health. The thing that was the ultimate wake up call for me was when my brother sat me down, practically in tears, and told me how beautiful I was and how I didn’t deserve to think about myself like that. That I was created for a purpose and it’s so much more than my outward appearance.
This was particularly striking to me because my brother is hilarious. He is a wizard at infusing everything he talks about with humor. So when he was actually serious with me about this, it caught me off guard. It was the first time that I thought there was a chance, however slim, that I was wrong about how I viewed my body.
Years passed by and I got out of cheerleading and got involved with the theater program. This is really where I began to heal. I was in a community of people who showered each other with love and encouragement all the time.
My dad noticed something during that time that altered how I viewed my body for the rest of my life.
I was getting down on myself because I was a lot skinnier than I had been when I had been constantly doing work outs in cheerleading practices. Most of my muscle mass had depleted and I could tell that I wasn’t as physically strong as I wanted to be.
When I brought this up to my dad, he said, “Isn’t amazing how we have the ability to transform our bodies into whatever we need them to be? While you were in cheerleading, you needed to be strong, so you trained until your body was able to do what you needed it to do. Now that you’re in theater, you need your body to be capable in a different way. No matter what we decide to do in life, we have the choice and ability to shape our bodies in whatever way we need them to be useful to us.”
And that was that.
I stopped viewing myself as a prisoner in my own body.
Suddenly, I had dominion over my body.
Of course, there are certain things about myself I can’t change. My height, my shoe size, my eye color. Those things I need to choose to love. But I no longer need to let what my body looks like dictate my goals. My goals dictate how I need to shape my body to be most useful to me. I had it backwards for so long.
Your body has a purpose; it’s a tool to help you achieve your dreams.
Featured photo for this post by Mackenzie Maroney