Body Image (published on http://vocal.media)

Body Dysmorphia

“Body Image” by @vocal_creators https://longevity.media/body-image-5

What is your first memory of yourself? Let’s go back in time for a moment, to the first time you remember, for whatever reason, disliking something about your body? For me, my very first memory of body image issues began as a preteen after my father abruptly moved our family from saucy Arizona to corn-fed Alabama. In Arizona, most people I knew were thin. I recall very few children who were overweight. Alabama was a culture shock for me. The accents were different, the food was different, and most children my age were healthy looking—not obese—but so much taller and bigger than I was. Unlike myself, most girls here were developing already. I felt invisible.

At 11 1/2, suddenly I was forced to become aware of the shortcomings of my own body. I hated my scrawniness, and hid behind my sister’s hand-me-downs and my brother’s large t-shirts even in high school. I stood almost five feet and seven inches, weighing 98 pounds when I graduated high school. The bullying I experienced, however brief, left me with a horrible complex. As a young adult, my body image issues resurfaced differently. I had to worry about not being small enough. Especially after having my children.

I divorced shortly before my son’s fourth birthday. Even though I was still thin when I got out, I was empty in so many other ways. My body image issues did not just disappear because my stomach was flat and I could wear whatever I wanted. I was its captive. Captivity became part of who I was, engraving itself into my state of mind. When I looked in the mirror, I saw everything I lost—my marriage, my health, my livelihood, my lack of womanhood, and my self-esteem. I was too broken to see the real beauty inside myself.

I couldn’t stand seeing my own reflection. To me, the pudge in my belly was disgusting and the fat under my chin, disturbing. I saw the dark spots in my face as war wounds from all the tears I cried. Constant reminders that I was worthless. I had no idea any of that was true. It’s funny what your mind can make you believe. My mind’s distorted image of myself made me believe I was fat! To complicate the matter, I was an emotional eater; I still am. At points in my life when depression would completely take over, which was often, I ate. My own reflection disgusted me, all the time, and I never told a soul.

Over the next few years, I fought a constant battle with stress seizures, depression, Fibromyalgia, anxiety, panic attacks, and dysmorphia. I continued to gain weight without even noticing my steadfast climb into obesity. I listened to “close friends” tell me, “Girl you’re not fat!” and “If you were fat, you know I’d tell you,” all the while not listening to my true friend: The scale.

All dieting attempts failed. The Atkins, Keto, Pluto, Weight Watchers, Grapefruit diet, popcorn diet, smoothie diet, and any diet seen on Facebook after 2009; I tried them all. The only thing I saw, IF I looked in the mirror to put on lipstick, was defeat. I was so devastated I gave up on myself. By the end of 2015, I weighed 206 pounds—the heaviest I’d ever been. I couldn’t do it anymore and I simply stopped caring. I’d just try to love my plus-size self at a size 18 to 22. Right?

Wrong…

I didn’t like anything about my body or myself for that matter, so how could I love myself? I tried to be content, but I couldn’t live like that. I longed to feel like my old self again, before marriage, illness, depression, or divorce! Therefore, I went into 2016 determined to keep my New Year’s Resolution of not losing weight, but simply becoming a healthier me. I wanted to look in the mirror and like what I saw. I’d had enough self-pity, so I decided to make a drastic lifestyle change, cutting out sugars, bread, starch, pasta, red meat, and soft drinks. I began to feel a little better as I saw pounds melt away.

Encouraged with my progress, I decided that total wellness for me meant getting a handle of the Fibromyalgia chronic pain. When I went to see a specialist, I weighed 183 pounds. My encouragement was short-lived. The doctor’s preliminary testing, despite my efforts, showed that I was pre-diabetic, in the beginning stages of kidney failure, had liver issues, high cholesterol, and a host of other things wrong. Again, I felt defeated. Plus I began passing out for some reason. But the brunt of how sick I really was didn’t really hit me until I nearly died about a week later from an adverse reaction to cholesterol medication.

I could’ve given up! There was still so much I hated about my body. My efforts were not in vain! I rededicated myself to getting my weight down with a bigger purpose in mind: To see my daughter bring my first grandbaby into the world. A diabetic shot knows to cause weight loss in small amounts, and sticking to my personal changes brought me down to about 150 pounds. I was blessed to see my granddaughter born in Honolulu on September 2, 2017. But before my trip was over, I passed out again.

A month later, back at home, I continued to lose small amounts of weight. I was on different medications for a number of years. Doses had not been adjusted to fit my new weight. One morning, around two AM, I became extremely lucid and was rushed to the ER. Apparently, my body reacted as if I had continuously overdosed. Regulating my meds solved the problem, and to date, I’ve had no other issues. People will forever have negativity to spread. So because I was in the hospital, false rumors of drug use spread like wildfire, and for a minute, I found myself back to believing and seeing myself as too small again. I suppose my new found confidence allowed me to address why and HOW I lost weight and set people straight.

Now, a year and eight months later, I feel good because I’m maintaining my weight in the 140s. I’m no longer diabetic, reversed the liver issues, high cholesterol, and kidney failure. About a month ago, I walked by a mirror and I had to take another look. I didn’t recognize myself at first and I started crying those good tears. There I was, not the same, but a new woman: Valerie 2.0! A better version of myself who brought forth life after being drained of life, fought battles and lost, and now fought battles and won.

Weight loss is not a complete cure or magic fix. I still have body image issues, just on a much smaller scale. At 45 years old, I don’t just dislike the flabbiness under my arms, my stomach, and chin, I hate it. I understand I may always have dysmorphia, however small, but I’m willing to do the work to overcome it. If this journey has taught me anything, it’s to realize that whatever you’re trying to fix about yourself includes tackling other issues. You have to be resigned to achieving full body and mind wholeness in order to truly rebuild and find inner peace.

We live in a society where body image plays a huge role in how others see you, regardless of how you see yourself. Not everyone will understand your battle so be patient with yourself and go at YOUR pace to achieve your personal goals. Although weight loss was a huge stepping stone for me, you have to find what you believe will catapult you back into living your life to its fullest. It took me almost two years to undo a decade of self-harm and become what healthy means to me.

Now I feel equipped to continue to conquer my fears and achieve my dreams and goals. Today, I constantly admire my reflection, and although I’m just beginning, I’m interested in adding makeup artist to my resume. I have a makeup Instagram page @valmarie_aspiringmua. I suffered from social phobia my entire adult life, but added stage actress (in front of a packed house) to my resume earlier this month.

I’ll admit that some days I feel stronger than others. But I feel the same level of different each and every day! By different, I mean change. I stopped doing the same thing expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity. Changing allowed me to accept the new physical me, find inner peace, and fall in love with all of me over and over again.

So, as you take baby steps, enjoy each of those steps in your journey and stay true to it. It’s yours, so make it only about YOU! Don’t do it with anyone else, because of anyone else, and more importantly, for anyone else! This journey has taught me that it’s okay to not be okay, normal to make mistakes, and alright even if you fall along the way. What’s important is that you never give up on yourself and you remain steadfast in your quest to find you again, even if you have redefined who that will be.

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