Body Positivity Part I: Restriction
Real talk, I’ve never felt that my body was welcome in the horse world. I’m to curvy, to brown, and don’t have the hard sculpted edges that most riders in mainstream media are portrayed with. My height, a tall 5’9, is the only concession to conformity that I possess.
From a young age I was told that my body needed to change if I wanted to achieve my goals. That I needed to lose the baby fat, get on a diet, and run 5-7 miles a day. I was 12, going through a hellish growth period, and not that it matters but I was 5’3 and weighed 120 pounds. Over the next 3 years the same trainer would constantly berate my size, my softness, and everything about my looks. It didn’t matter how much I grew or that my body was leaning out, this trainer made it a point to make me know that what my body was a problem, something to be fixed and erased out of existence.
I was 15 when I stopped riding with this trainer, but the damage was done. I believed there was something wrong with my body and in my eyes every way it failed to conform made it the enemy.
Before I go on to what happened next I want to tell you, whether you’re struggling or not, that your body is PERFECT. That’s right, whatever size or shape you are, you are perfectly crafted and please never let anyone else convince you to think otherwise. You are perfectly made as you are, no changes necessary. I’ll tell you this as many times as you need to hear and believe this.
Through the end of high school and all of college I struggled with gaining weight. In my early 20’s I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome, both hormonal imbalances that lead the weight to pack on like crazy. Each pound felt like a life sentence. I stopped looking at myself in pictures and the mirror, forbid my mom from posting anything of me on social media, untagged myself from anything I deemed unflattering, and always made sure I was firmly behind the camera instead of in front at all costs.
It was a sad existence lived in fear. One that looking back on I wish I could’ve shown myself some grace, but I was stuck in a spiral of shame and hate that there was no getting out of.
Early 2016 I moved to Florida and started my life as a working student. I lost 50 pounds in 4 months. At the time it felt like a damn miracle. Each week that followed for the next 9 months I would lose at least 2 pounds a week, some weeks I would lose 5, and there were a couple of weeks where I dropped 11.
I think at this point you know where I’m heading. Looking back I can see that by losing weight I wasn’t making my body any healthier. As a matter of fact I think we can all come to the conclusion that I was harming myself. Written out in front of us it’s pretty damn apparent.
It’s really difficult to feel like you’re in a cycle of self harm when everyone around you is telling you that you look great, applauding how your body looks, or asking how you lost the weight. I was away from home, and I wasn’t eating. I would work from 5:30am to 9pm on regular days and sometimes longer if the day called for it. I was burning thousands of calories and existing off of 900-1200 per day. And to top it off I was working out like crazy. I’m talking 1-3 mile runs during my lunch break and getting in a full body workout after night check. I did this 6 days a week for 14 months. No wonder my body made use of all my fat deposits. I was starving it.
And the worst part was I didn’t care.
All I wanted was to finally look like a ‘real rider’ the idyllic and unattainable image that was hammered into my head at a young age, and I was getting there.
I finished out my time in Florida having lost 98 pounds. I remember feeling disappointed that I didn’t make it an even 100, deciding that I needed to lose an additional 50 pounds at least, and then I would be happy. Then I could stop starving myself. Stop working out until I couldn’t feel my limbs.
Moving back home had me overjoyed to be with family again. I felt safe again. Like I could put my guard down and just be myself. My parents knew something wasn’t right and treated me gently, with kindness and care.
I tried really hard to eat normally but I couldn’t. I started bingeing food like crazy. My body that had been in starvation mode took everything it could and started storing it because it knew better than I did that deprivation was right around the corner. I remember nights after a big family meal having to stay up because my body was revolting at normal food. This happened every day for months, and I was terrified. Through my youth I’d never had stomach issues, but here I was crippled by them.
After one month my worst nightmare came to fruition when I saw the scale jump up 10 pounds. I was devastated. So I started the cycle of deprivation again, and would do this over and over until late 2018. The weight kept coming until it stopped and evened out.
I remember feeling like the weight gain was such a shame and failure on my part. That I was so useless and undisciplined, that I would never reach my goals, that no one would find me worthy of love.
This is the kind of negative self talk we promote when we place a value on someone’s body. The truth is that each and every body is worth the exact same amount. That the idea of certain bodies being worth more is a social construct that we need to let go of. Your size is not a reflection of your health, morality, ambitions, or social stature. Until we can all realize this we are going to have people going through exactly what I did for the first 28 years of my life. I’ve come out the other side of this but the experiences I went through aren’t anything I would wish on someone else. We as a whole need to do and be better.
In late 2018 I made a commitment to look at myself and see what was actually there. To stop the destructive dialogue I had let run rampant. I wish I could say that I was instantly better, but just like training our horses, training our minds takes time. It was damn near impossible at first and some days I regressed like no ones business, so far back down into the pit I had shoved myself into.
Recovery was more complicated and more intricate than I could have ever imagined, but it’s a process I’d go through over and over again if it meant that I’d end up exactly where I am. Healing takes work, time, and a dedication to self, but it is so, so worth it to find the peace it brings you.