Pressing the “Publish” button on my last post took a bit of deep breathing. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to share more about that part of myself – the fearful and dysfunctional – with more people. I confessed to a few friends about my personal struggles with body-image, eating and weight, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to write about it. I’d tried, several times over many years but it never felt right and I was never brave enough. Finally, finally, the post happened! But then what?
As I mentioned, the few days before I published the post I checked my weight more often than usual. Then I didn’t put up a link to the post on facebook until the next morning and I didn’t link to it on Instagram for another few hours after that. I was jittery and vague. More than usual – that’s saying something. I waited for feedback in a sweaty whirlpool of anxiety. I don’t know what I was expecting? Men brandishing a straitjacket at my door? The FBI? Pitchforks and lit torches? (If you too are considering confessing something about yourself you consider to be fearful, weak, imperfect or dysfunctional, may I offer a spoiler? There were no pitchforks and lit torches.)
Instead what happened, very quickly, was that I was in tears, overwhelmed by the kind feedback I received. So many people understood the obsession with the scales and got the fear and the trauma. People told me that they squeeze their eyes shut when they have to use the scales at the doctor’s surgery and feel physically nauseous. People reported that they no longer keep scales in their own homes. A personal trainer said that she never weighs herself or her clients and suggests they use measures of energy and confidence and happiness as indicators of success. Several people said they were going to move their own scales into the garage, or hide the scales at their parents houses. Many told me to chuck mine out completely, to ceremonially burn them or smash them. Oh, how I adore you all.
The whole day after posting it felt as though layers of skin had been razored from me. You know that feeling when your skin is sunburned and you are suddenly aware of every breeze, the fabric of your shirt, every brush up against it? I felt like that all over. Vulnerable and raw. I kept wanting to cry. I went to the supermarket and saw a woman, probably in her seventies, putting a box of “Light” cereal on top of a Harper’s Bazaar. Two women, beside me at a café, chastised themselves about how much desert they had eaten the night before and then argued over who should finish the cake they were sharing. I could not stop noticing all the things I had previously not noticed. It made me ache. People, everywhere, exhibiting the silent symptoms of hating their bodies, mistrusting their intuition and hungers and disliking themselves. A viral shame. Every time someone said “I shouldn’t”, “I’ve been so bad” or “Like I need the help, har har har” I was the dog with a collar that gets zapped when they leave the confines. It hurt. I had left my confines. I dropped by a friend’s place and was completely normal (pinky-swear I was)… except for the fact that I couldn’t stop shivering. I could no longer bear all the normalized suffering and self-hatred. It was all, suddenly, very not okay.
Post-confession has been weird. I keep slipping my toes beneath the bathroom cabinet searching for the scales; I don’t think I fully realized how often I used to check my weight or how strange I might feel with the scales banished. I do sometimes feel as though I am free-falling off a cliff and get petrified that I will wake up one day the size of a turbojet. I’m confused and feel out of control. But I also feel slightly newly wonderful, like a dark raincloud with sunrise at its edges. This life business just refuses to be simple, doesn’t it? Because, when I’m not confused or convinced or alternating between the two? I’m furious.
I see now that for many years a lot of my anger has been directed inwards. Growing up my parents never fought, they barely raised their voices (unless a hammer found a thumb) and conflict has always left me dazed and giddy. I hate it. I see now that frustration and anger and a sense of a lack of control simply turned itself around like a boomerang. I was mad at my body, mad at my lack of willpower and furious at all my imperfection. Now that I’m attempting not to turn the anger inwards it is coming out in all sorts of unexpected ways. Like at a café last week when a staff member voiced his surprise at my ability to eat a whole sticky date pudding. Or at the museum when someone told me to “please control my children”. Instead of scurrying or apologising or silently seething I voiced my opinion. This is completely new behaviour for me, confrontation generally makes me so rattled. I’ve felt angry before, sure, but I’ve always just turned it on myself instead of at the problem that made me mad. And then I usually smother and numb the whole lot with a packet of mallowpuff biscuits eaten in quick succession.
Brene Brown, researcher and TED speaker, hits the nail on the head when she talks about what happens when we turn our feelings on ourselves and numb the shame and discomfort. She says: “You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vunerability, here’s grief, here’s fear, here’s disappointment; I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin… You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects…you cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable and we are looking for purpose and meaning and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.” That’s exactly what I have been doing for years. And it just so happens that I really like banana nut muffins.
I’m just leaning into this stuff. I’m no expert and I’m unsure what happens next. But I do want to say that I am so grateful for the support, love and encouragement I received. Thank you for being so open and for sharing your stories with me. For all the obsession and talk about weight and food, so little of it is this kind of talk. The kind that says ‘I’m scared”, “I don’t know what to do” or “I think there might be a different way”. The real stuff. I know how hard it is to share, I know how uncomfortable it is. If you sent me a text, left a comment, quietly liked my post or shared your own story with me, know that I have folded it up and tucked it away safely. I am treasuring it. I know it sounds corny but I can honestly say that I can feel your vulnerability and your support. Your stories and encouragement have bolstered and buoyed me up every day since I wrote the post. I don’t feel so singular with this. All of the “us” you gave me, letting me know that I’m not unique or alone, I gathered up and I will be putting to good use.
I’m armed and vulnerable. Watch out world.
P.S. If you haven’t yet, please watch Brene Brown speak about vulnerability. You won’t regret it.