Written by Kat Kolobaric
Imagine – an 8-year-old girl, who wanted more than anything to be a ballerina, being told that she didn’t have the body type for it. That same girl, at 12-years-old being offered Lululemon tights as a gift if she lost enough weight to get down to a size 6. Fast forward to 17, being cautioned by her significant other to not gain weight during her trip to Europe.
So much of my life has been preoccupied with the goal of making myself smaller. I was made to feel like this goal was the be-all end-all of my existence, not only by society as a whole, but by some of the most important people in my life – the people who were supposed to love me regardless of the way that I looked, the ones who were supposed to make me feel safe. Because of this, I felt like I was failing for the majority of my life.
I never really looked like everyone else. I was always the tallest girl in the room and had bigger legs, even as a child. I was one of the first girls my age to hit puberty, which left me with wide hips, curves and even bigger thighs. I was always so aware of how much taller I was than everyone else, or how much space I took up when sitting next to someone on the bus. These are things that a child should not have been obsessing about.
My insecurity continued to breed, especially as I took on high school sports. I can still remember the dread I felt, walking out onto the pool deck for the first time, anticipating the upmost scrutiny on my body from everyone there. Sure, everyone else was half-naked in a bathing suit too, but they didn’t look like me. Sure, everyone else developed muscles through training too, but they didn’t look like me. I was always bigger, broader, had stomach rolls instead of a 6-pack, and stretch marks on my hips. I listened to my coaches talk about other kids needing to lose weight and wondered if they ever thought the same about me. For four years, I reached athletic capabilities that I never imagined I could. Yet, somehow, they didn’t matter because the way I looked somehow always overshadowed them.
The switch from high school to University brought some weight gain. The dreaded “freshman 15” as they have been called. At the time, this was the end of the world for me. I couldn’t even think about going back to my high school and visiting my teachers or running into someone I hadn’t seen in a while, for fear of what they would think of me. My fear of gaining more weight was combined with disordered eating patterns and, eventually, my binge eating disorder symptoms amplified. Most of my second year was spent in this endless cycle of restrict and binge, which led to a whirlwind of self-hatred and loathing. I thought the stress of second year broke me, but the truth was that I had been broken for a long time. Probably since I was that 8-year-old girl and told that body types like mine just weren’t meant to be ballerinas. For some reason, one day I decided to listen to the little voice inside my head telling me what was happening wasn’t normal. I decided to believe it and that’s when I got help because, the truth is, a hatred and fear of food along with the hatred and fear of your body’s appearance is not normal.
My dietician saved my life. It should be noted that my eating disorder symptoms were far from what would be classified as severe on the diagnosis spectrum, however, she did save my life in a multitude of ways. She saved me from any further pain, misery and self-hatred. She gave me the tools to learn how to eat intuitively, which means eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full – actually listening to the cues that my body gives me. She helped me stop binging. I actually haven’t had a binging episode in about 2 years. In fact, I haven’t had any formal binge eating disorder symptoms in about 2 years. The thing that still remains behind is the insecurities about my body, even though they have heavily subsided.
The thing about being raised on diet culture and thinness ideals is that some part of it will always be rooted within you. Deleting and relearning things that have been part of you for essentially your whole life is really, really hard and it takes time. It takes time to physically rework the pathways in your brain that lead you to instantaneously think ‘I feel fat today’ – fat is not a feeling, by the way. The other thing is that diet culture and thinness ideals continue to prevail today, and we are a long way from overcoming them. It’s hard to move forward within your own journey of body acceptance when everyone else is on a completely different wavelength. Despite all of this, the idea of body neutrality has been able to provide me strength as I keep putting work into myself.
I always thought that the ideal I needed to strive towards after working through my eating disorder was ‘body positivity’ because it was the only thing I really knew about other than just absolutely hating myself. But then I came across ‘body neutrality’. The concept of body positivity encourages us to accept and love ourselves for who we are, regardless of the way that we look. This can be really hard to do, 100% of the time. No matter who you are, you’re going to have your bad days when it comes to self-esteem and body image – which is NORMAL, because we are HUMAN. Due to this, the concept of body positivity almost sets us up to fail. Body neutrality differs in this aspect because it gives us the space to think of our body as a neutral component. It encourages us to not classify our bodies by the way we look but rather by the things it does for us – its ability to help us breathe, move, exist. It helps us remember that we are more than the way we look, that, in fact, the way we look is the least interesting thing about us. It removes that hyper-focus we so often have on our appearance and just lets us be exactly as we are, constantly ebbing and flowing. And, most importantly, it lets us have the space to have a bad day. Again, moving towards body neutrality in your body acceptance journey is not easy and it takes time. In the end, however, you are much more likely to be happier and healthier, mentally and physically.
I advocate heavily for eating disorder awareness and body acceptance. I advocate because I spent so much time and so much energy pumping hatred into every aspect of my being. I advocate because, despite this, I was still able to come out on the other side. I advocate because my 8-year-old, 12-year-old, 17-year-old self deserved better. My journey might look different from yours but, that’s okay. Body acceptance is a movement for all. Are you ready to be a part of it?