The week after I finished treatment for an eating disorder, I asked my doctor not to reveal my weight. He said that until I could look at the number, I hadn't recovered.
Seven years later, I still avoid the scale. I also steer clear of photos of myself, and refuse to own a full-length mirror.
Is this ideal? No. Do I care? Not really. Have I recovered? Enough.
The messages about women's bodies can be confusing. Lose weight, but have a big butt. Get healthier, but love yourself for what you have. We post photos on social media to emphasize our body positivity, we make art projects out of our bodies, and we are encouraged to make peace with our figures. The eating disorder recovery story people want to hear is an inspirational tear-jerker about a woman who used to feel like an ugly duckling and now thinks—no, knows—she is beautiful.
But many of us don't get that sort of closure. Rather than annihilating every last body-hating thought, we sign sloppily written peace treaties. Instead of locking up our eating disorders, we get restraining orders. We don't leave body hatred behind forever; we just move fast enough to outpace it.
That motion in and of itself is an accomplishment. In a culture that makes it hard for us to simply exist in our bodies, loving them is a tall order. Unfortunately, the body-positivity movement has given women the message that life will only start once we wholeheartedly approve of our appearances.
In the pivotal 1991 book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf brought attention to how body hatred distracts women from gaining power. But could all the energy we expend to love our appearances also divert attention from our other goals? Trying to make every meal a self-loving experience, staring at ourselves in the mirror to identify traits to celebrate, and wearing lingerie to "feel sexy" can be as exhausting as dieting and over-exercising.
The majority of women I know don't love their bodies. Many of them still have and deserve healthy relationships, satisfying sex lives, and thriving careers. Why does this seem surprising? Because women's appearances are conflated with their identities. So, the story goes, if a woman isn't happy with her appearance, she isn't happy with herself.
I'm not advocating poor body image or dismissing all inspirational quotes, DIY art projects, and body-acceptance campaigns. These efforts can be helpful when they encourage women to love their bodies for what they do rather than what they look like. But rather than trying to feel good about our bodies so we can feel good about ourselves, we should challenge the way these two feelings are linked. Accepting how much space our bodies take up can be empowering—but so can giving our bodies less space in our heads.
To the many women out there who don't love their bodies: If you have better things to do with your time than improve your opinion of your thighs, I'm right there with ya.
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