Body image is a huge concern in the lives of young women. Personally, I’ve been lucky to never have struggled much with my weight due to having a very fast metabolism (thanks, mom!). But as someone concerned about mental health, I didn’t want to go without discussing body image, as it can play a big role in how many young women see and value themselves, myself included.
As an avid podcast listener, I recently started listening to Dear Sugar Radio, a podcast cohosted by Cheryl Strayed, author of the book, Wild, detailing her trek of the Pacific Crest Trail shortly after losing her mother in her early 20s. I am so inspired by Cheryl and was excited to learn she had a podcast. I was instantly hooked. In one of her episodes, called “The Weight of Love,” Cheryl and Steve Almond (the other host) discussed how weight plays a role in romantic relationships. Cheryl discussed her own struggles with anorexia as a teen, and how during those years, she got so many compliments about her weight and looking great/pretty. She also mentioned that she lost weight during her grieving process of her mother, and got those same compliments. This really struck me because after I lost my own mother, and in my own state of grief, I lost 15+ pounds. As an adult, my weight has rarely fluctuated that much, maybe within a 5 pound range, so that was a pretty big weight loss for me, especially as someone who has already been on the skinny side my whole life.
I was also going through the darkest time in my life. In September 2014, the year I lost my mother, and shortly after the end of a serious relationship, I weighed about 115 pounds (right now I’m at about 135 for some perspective). I didn’t have an eating disorder but I was deeply grieving, and one of the only things I could do to find the motivation to get up every day was to exercise. It was my coping mechanism. It gave me endorphins that were no longer naturally there. I was exercising at least once a day for over an hour, which is healthy, but some days I exercised 3 times for over an hour each time. So clearly I lost some weight with such a significant activity change in my life.
It was during this time that I trained for a half marathon, honed my surfing skills, learned to rock climb, and started practicing yoga. These are all things that have changed my life incredibly for the better, and I am grateful that I had some sort of outlet for the immense pain I was experiencing. At the same time, I was getting so many compliments about how toned and skinny I was. I now look back on it and it kind of makes me sick to think that when I was feeling my worst, I was looking my “best,” and that made me think about how many young women might be experiencing something similar.
I don’t want to directly compare my experience to the pain of having an eating disorder, but I do see how easy it is to want to look that good, be in that good of shape, and go to extremes to get there. The amount of exercise I was getting was extreme, and I don’t think my body will ever look that way again, as much as I’d like it to. But, I am overall quite happy with my body as it is (though I wouldn’t mind being more toned!).
I’m at a place in my life where I don’t need to exercise that much just to feel psychologically normal, and I’m so grateful to be here. However, I wanted to share that even though someone may look “amazing,” and like they are having the time of their life, looks can be very deceiving. I think especially in this age of skinny social media models on steroids (figuratively and literally), it’s important to remember that.